Kingdom to reign!

Close final on cards, but Clifford and O’Shea can edge it for Kerry

All-Ireland SFC Final: Kerry v Galway on Sunday in Croke Park at 3.30 pm

The hurlers of Limerick and Kilkenny whetted our appetite with their exertions last Sunday in what was a magnificent All-Ireland decider and now the stage is cleared for the footballers of Galway and Kerry to show what they can do as the Sam Maguire Cup is up for grabs in July for the first time ever.

Given what we have seen so far this year, Kerry must be the favourites to win. They haven’t tasted All-Ireland success since 2014, which, for the Kingdom, is a famine. This year they brought back Jack O’Connor to try and get them to the summit and bridge that eight-year gap.

Kerry have many talented players and there are many observers who feel this team’s time has come. Until they faced Mayo in the quarter-final Kerry had no real challenge in this year’s championship. Indeed many will say that they didn’t get a serious challenge in that game either. Then Seanie O’Shea’s magnificent long-range free saw them edge home against the Dubs after a mighty battle in the semi-final. Now Kerry are surely ready for their destiny. Or are they?

It would be very foolish to dismiss the Galway challenge. Over the years the Tribesman have proven time and time again that they relish playing on the biggest stage of all (in Croke Park). Galway always perform well at headquarters. With Padraic Joyce in charge they will be well prepared for this challenge.

Galway have answered every question they have been asked so far…by Mayo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Armagh and Derry. Different players have come to the fore and the pleasing thing from a Galway point of view is that the narrative which would suggest that they are dependent on Shane Walsh, Paul Conroy and Damien Comer in order to win is now redundant as several more players have stepped up to the mark in this year’s championship.

The likes of John Daly, Cillian McDaid, Johnny Heaney, Rob Finnerty, Sean Kelly and Matthew Tierney have all made major contributions as the championship has unfolded. They will have to do so again on Sunday if Galway are to cause an upset.

As in all big games in the modern era, the match-ups will be crucial. Galway will have to decide who will pick up Kerry danger men David and Paudie Clifford and Seanie O’Shea, while Kerry will be placing the focus on Shane Walsh, Damien Comer and Paul Conroy.

That said, I think this game will be settled further out the field. Arguably Kerry’s most effective line in this championship has been their half-back trio of Brian O Beaglaoich, Tadhg Morley and Gavin White, who have been ready to attack every time Kerry win possession. All three players are pacy and skilful.

Kerry have been kicking long diagonal ball into their full-forward line this year and with Clifford, O’Shea and Paul Geaney inside, it is very hard to counteract that kind of tactic. Out in the centre Conroy and McDaid will have to have the game of their lives for Galway.

There are question marks over both defences. Galway look weak under the high ball and it will be interesting to see what Kerry do in that regard. Meanwhile, the Kingdom’s rearguard can be vulnerable when a team runs hard and direct at them, and that should suit the likes of Comer and Walsh.

I’m predicting a close final. While I am not totally convinced by this Kerry team I am giving them the nod to prevail by a couple of points. In front of another full house, David Clifford and Seanie O’Shea can be the match-winners for the Kingdom.

Prediction: Kerry.