Kerry football legend and RTE Sunday Game analyst, Pat Spillane.
Kerry football legend and RTE Sunday Game analyst, Pat Spillane. 

Spillane touts Kerry as Dublin's only serious challengers for Sam

By John Harrington

Kerry’s Pat Spillane and Dublin’s David Hickey were in opposing camps during a golden era of Gaelic Football in the 1970s and it looks like not much has changed in the interim.

Hickey declared in a recent interview with the Irish Star that the current Dublin team were about to embark on a new five-in-row and he didn’t see any other team getting close to them, least not Kerry, who he labelled “a crowd of imposters”.

Unsurprisingly, Spillane was not inclined to agree with that assessment of his native county when he spoke at the launch of RTE’s coverage of the 2020 GAA Championships yesterday.

“Dublin deservedly won five-in-a row-last year, can they win six in a row? Currently they are in pole position,” said Spillane.

“There is only one serious challenger and despite what David Hickey might say the only serious challenge to Dublin’s crown are going to be Kerry.

“Stats don’t lie; Kerry got to two national finals last year. Kerry really surprised me last year. I genuinely believed in Peter Keane’s first year, the would be in transition, there would be a bit of rebuilding and a lot of things surprised me.

“They got to a League Final, they got to an All-Ireland Final and with 12 minutes to go before the referee blew the whistle, when Killian Spillane kicked that point Kerry were one point ahead and should have closed out the game so they were very, very close to depriving Dublin of five in a row.

“There were a lot of things that impressed me about Kerry, there was more football in David Moran, I thought his best years were behind him but he was magnificent last year and won a deserved All-Star; Tom O’Sullivan, an attacking half back, you would not have thought that they would have converted him into a tight man-marking corner back but they did and then, of course, the big question up front David Clifford, would he suffer from second season syndrome, would his opponents get the better of him?

“He got better so there was a lot of positives. There were negatives too. They got to three finals, a league final and two All-Irelands and did not win any of them. Defensively, they still need work but I will tell you this, Kerry are a serious threat, a really serious threat. I am not bigging them up, I am basing it on several things.

“A lot of these lads were young last year and I think they have matured, I think they have come on. I think they will learn. Kerry people do not shrug off defeats as “we were unlucky on the day”. The Kerry lads and management will learn from their failings on the day.

“The one thing I notice about them and I know lots of the lads around here, there is four from Templenoe, three from Kenmare on the panel. Physically these lads have developed and they can match Dublin in that department and they couldn’t last year.

“There is certainly a lot of hope, if they can get a defensive system, get an even midfield and they have a lot of firepower up front. Kerry have potentially the best forward line in this year’s championship.”

Pat Spillane believes a Kerry forward line spearheaded by David Clifford is the best in the country.
Pat Spillane believes a Kerry forward line spearheaded by David Clifford is the best in the country.

How about a neutral view on Kerry’s ability to knock Dublin from their perch in the upcoming championship?

Spillane’s fellow RTE Sunday Game analyst, Sean Cavanagh, is not convinced a winter campaign will suit the Kingdom.

“I agree with him (Pat) with him in terms of their forward capability. We have been talking about this for the last couple of years.

“I don’t think there is any county that has Kerry’s firepower up front but in this championship there are going to be a lot of games played in poor conditions, a lot of battle of attrition and I am not necessarily convinced that Kerry have the ability to play that sort of game.

“They have beautiful footballers who flourish in the summer but it is winter footballers who will be required in November and December but going on the last couple of years it does not appear to me that they have that sense of maturity and togetherness of a team that can win those tight games and we are going to see more of those kind of games in the coming months.”

Regardless of who eventually is crowned All-Ireland champions in either code, Spillane believes the big winners will be the viewing public at home who will have a spectacle to enjoy that will help in some way to diminish the misery of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I think we need a championship, the country needs a championship, the country needs sport and the championship over the next 10 weeks is he escape we need to get away from the doom and gloom," said Spillane.

"It will be, as someone has said, a symbol we are trying to fight back in some way against this deadly virus Covid-19 and I am looking forward to it, I really am.

"It is going to be very different, it is going to be the new normal between next weekend and the All-Ireland final there are 10 weekends. Eight of them are football weekends, two league and six championship it is going to be helter skelter, winner on the day.

"It opens up the championship, winner on the day is going to suit an underdog now and then, I am looking forward to it I really can’t wait."