Over the past week it's becoming increasingly common for it to be said that Dublin are in a vulnerable position and that Kerry are actually nicely positioned, coming into an All Ireland quarter-final as underdogs. That's not the case. Dublin will never get a better chance than this, Dublin will never be better positioned than this, to do something they've failed to do for the last decade or more – beat a champion side.
For all the Leinsters they've won, for all the thrills they've provided and cracking games they've been in, this Dublin team have only beaten fellow would-be contenders, never champions. Against the sides that contest All Irelands – the Tyrones, Armaghs, Kerrys and even Mayos – they've always slipped up. The natural progression for this side is to finally beat a side of that calibre and profile, and in an experienced but waning Kerry, they've been handed the ideal opponent, a bit like an up and coming fighter one fight away from a shot at the title being handed a fight against a proud but aging former champion first.
Being such proud champions – indeed the root of Kerry's current problems may be that too many of their players are too proud – Jack O'Connor's team will have questioned Dublin's right to beat them when that Dublin team is so vulnerable itself. David Henry is the only proven championship footballer in their full-back line; if Colm Cooper clicks and Henry has to be moved off him, who do Pat Gilroy and Mickey Whelan switch onto him? Ditto that Dublin half-forward line; there are major questions in particular about Diarmuid Connolly's temperament at this level.
Dublin must go out with the view of not just beating Kerry but of destroying them, and show the attitude Cork displayed against the same opposition in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, rather than the more tentative manner in which they played them a week earlier in Killarney. Run at them and make them doubt whether they have the legs and heart for this level of football anymore. In other years it was a mistake to engage in a shootout with Kerry, but this year it's your best chance, rather than an edgy, low-scoring dogfight where in the last 20 minutes the fear of losing and having to wait another August for redemption may creep into the minds of Dublin.
For all the reservations we'd have about their full-back line and half forwards, this is Dublin's to lose. They have the players to come in at midfield and in Bernard Brogan, they have the real deal, a player to take them to the next level. Just because Kerry are back in Croke Park it's not like as if they can just switch on a light. Normally teams have cranked up by now. Kerry did so against Longford in '06; last year against Mayo, Tyrone had a storming 15-minute spell after Conor Mortimer's missed goal chance. Kerry's last 10 minutes against an Antrim side weary from losing a provincial final hardly qualifies.
All fine teams come to an end. Kerry effectively ended John O'Mahony's Galway this weekend seven years ago, and Joe Kernan's, this weekend three years ago. Armagh died hard. Kerry deserve to die hard. It brings to mind the famous scene in The Lion in Winter, where the sons of King Henry are on the verge of being executed by their father. As he approaches, Geoffrey says to his brother Richard, in the dungeon, "You chivalric fool, as if it matters how a man falls down." To which Richard, played by Anthony Hopkins, replies: "When the fall is all there is, it matters a great deal."
Kerry are too proud and chivalric to fall down easily. But fall they will. Dublin by three.
ALL IRELAND SFC
DUBLIN v KERRY
Croke Park, Tomorrow, 2.00
Referee P McEnaney (Monaghan)
Live, RTÉ Two, 1.30
KERRY D Murphy; M Ó Sé, T Griffin, T O'Sullivan; T Ó Sé, M McCarthy, K Young; D Ó Sé, S Scanlon; P Galvin, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh; C Cooper, T Walsh, Darren O'Sullivan
DUBLIN S Cluxton; D Henry, D Bastick, P Andrews; P Griffin, B Cullen, B Cahill; R McConnell, D Magee; P Flynn, D Connolly, B Brogan; A Brogan, C Keaney, J Sherlock