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27 July 2006 Edition

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The Matt Treacy column

Good ship Kerry on course for icebergs

The last time Kerry and Longford met in the championship was in 1968. Longford had won Leinster for the first and only time in their history having destroyed Laois in the final and beaten Dublin. So they must have been good, Frank! (See Media View by Frank Farrell last week.) In 1966 Longford had defeated the great Galway three-in-a-row team in the National League 'home' final before overcoming New York in the final proper.

It was a team that, as now, contained two Bardens. Paul and David didn't lick it off the street as they say. They met a Kerry team in the All Ireland semi-final that was going through a comparatively lean period, not having won the title since 1962. It was a team that contained such greats as Johnny Culloty, Mick O'Connell, Eamon O'Donoghue and of course Mick O'Dwyer who even then was considered by some philistines to be too old for what he was at! I know the feeling.

Longford gave Kerry a bit of a fright. The Kingdom led by seven points at half time but two second half goals put Longford a point clear before Kerry mustered enough experience and guile to prevail by two. In the final Kerry were once again overcome by their old nemesis Down.

Of course what happened nearly 40 years ago will have no bearing on what transpires next Saturday. Other than that it would be just as big a shock were Longford to win as it would have been in 1968. Such an outcome is unlikely but not impossible. Longford have surpassed perhaps even their own expectations this year, while Kerry have so far failed to shine.

"So far" being the important clause because we are all expecting that they will have at least one good day. Maybe they were hoping to save the good days for later on but necessity dictates that they must produce at least one above average performance before they even reach the semi-finals. And form would predict that if Longford perform as well as they did against Dublin and Derry and if Kerry play as badly as they did in the first game against Cork, that Jack O'Connor's men will exit the championship in an ignominious fashion.

Something akin to panic has gripped some of the Kerry followers. Particular focus has been on an attack that has been exposed conclusively to be far too dependent on an out of form Gooch. Among the solutions proposed has been to shift Seamus Moynihan to full forward but it is unlikely that this will come to pass. In any case, one despondent Kerryman has described all this positional talk as "moving the deck chairs on the Titanic".

So will the Titanic be sunk? Possibly, but probably not on the ice berg Longford.

But do not tell that to Longford supporters! Neither they nor Luke Dempsey's team will be travelling to Killarney just to make up the numbers. Hopefully too some of the pundits who dismissed Longford's chances against Derry will have actually watched them play, or at least thought about what they saw, before analysing Saturday's game.

Having seen Longford tear through Dublin in Pearse Park I was amused to read some of the comment to the effect that Derry's "physical presence" would be too much for the poor chaps from the Midlands who you might have formed the impression were a team of convalescing consumptives. Able for nothing more robust than a vigorous game of backgammon. In fact Derry's "physical presence" against Tyrone had amounted to standing in a line across the '40' with their arms out. Against Donegal it was brushed aside by a fast mobile team who can score. Longford are a fast mobile team who can score. Longford had also been more than able for a Dublin team that would tackle a herd of stampeding rhinoceros. Longford beat Derry. Chaps who backed them at 4/1 and 9/2 were laughing.

So why not back them at similar and most likely longer odds against Kerry? And how to answer that without resorting to hoary old references to 'tradition'? But tradition will count. The tradition of having been there before and knowing how to deal with most eventualities even with a team that may be far from the finished article or possibly even, in Kerry's case, just having crossed the crest of the hill and on the way to gentler pastures.

There is also the fact that Kerry have vastly more experience at playing at this level. As Fermanagh have shown in the past number of years that is not as important as it once was, but it is still important. A year ago Kerry were easing their way to their fourth final in six years. Longford were languishing in the Tommy Murphy Cup.

Kerry may well be forced to draw deep from that well of experience and tradition. In so doing, and depending on the manner in which they succeed - assuming that they do - it may further deplete their psychic and physical reserves. And they will need all of them for their next test against Armagh.

If they do not, it will constitute the biggest shock in Gaelic football since Waterford beat them in 1957 and I would expect Frank, not withstanding his alleged membership of the 'ABD's, to refrain from all further intervention in the field of sports journalism! And to borrow a furry Viking helmet in the colours of the Jackeen to wear until it sticks permanently to his sweaty brow, and to give public thanks in front of a packed Hill on the afternoon of the All Ireland final that we kindly denizens of the capital have seen fit to provide him with a crust and a pint to sustain him in his declining years.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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