Back to the Future

And so it’s down to one. One team that can halt this great Dublin machine. One team that can stop the first ever five in a row. One team that can deny the Dubs the chance to be named the greatest Gaelic football team of all time without any lingering doubts.

And it’s Kerry. It had to be Kerry. It was always Kerry.

37 years have passed since the Kingdom had their own quest for five in a row torn apart by a late Seamus Darby goal. Darby epitomises this year’s challengers, someone who had achieved so much in the past coming out of the wilderness to stamp their name in history. The Kerry team of 2019 can live forever by stopping the five in a row while wearing the green and gold that is surrounded in history.

Only three teams have been in this same position as the Dubs, Kerry twice and Wexford. These sides achieved four All Ireland victories in consecutive years, with players like Paddy Mackey and Gus Kennedy from Wexford (1915-1918), Kerry’s J. J. Landers (1929-32), Pat Spillane, Sean Walsh and Jack O’Shea (1978-1981) along with Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton and Bernard Brogan (2015-18) who played on the ‘4 in a row’ teams.

The names that stand out along the list of great players are Eoin Liston and Brian Fenton. Fenton started his career in 2015 and has yet to experience the bitter taste of championship defeat, racking up four All Ireland medals along the way. Similarly Liston didn’t lose a championship game until 1982, while collecting his All Ireland medal at the end of each season.

‘Bomber’ was pivotal to Kerry’s four in a row dream team, just as Fenton is for the current dominators of Gaelic football and their inter-county careers have followed quite a similar path although decades apart. Both late bloomers, Sports pointed out last summer in their ‘Team of 15 legends who never made their county minor team’ that neither Liston nor Fenton played minor football for their respected counties.

Liston missed out on two championship games through those four years, missing Kerry’s Munster semi final clash against Waterford in 1978 along with the 1980 All Ireland Final. Likewise Fenton has played all but two games for the Dubs since his first season, missing the two Super 8s ‘dead rubber’ games against Roscommon (2018) and Tyrone (2019).

History cannot be discussed in GAA circles without the giants Kerry and Dublin, the two leaders on the GAA role of honour. The rivalry these sides have built through the years has been (and still is) enjoyed by generation after generation and while looking through Liston and Fenton’s careers, comparing the two great teams they played on is a must.

Liston’s first two All Irelands came when the rivalry was at its peak, Dublin going for three in a row, only for Kerry to come along and wrestle the Sam Maguire from their grasp. Fenton shared this experience as during his breakthrough season Dublin’s main objective was to dethrone Kerry, which like Liston, was mission accomplished.

Season 1 (1978/2015): Liston’s best performance of the year came in the All Ireland Final against Dublin – Fenton’s best performance of the year came in the All Ireland Final against Kerry.

Liston didn’t hit top form in his first season until the 1978 All Ireland Final (his third senior championship game), when he top scored on the day with a remarkable 3-2 in a 5-11 to 0-9 victory over old rivals Dublin. ‘The Bomber’ saving his best performance of the year for the most important game, outscoring Dublin by himself.

Fenton kicked four points from midfield in Dublin’s seven games throughout the 2015 championship. Like Liston, Fenton’s best performance of his debut year came in the All Ireland Final against Kerry, where his midfield display earned him the Man of the Match award while he also captured his first all star in his first year.

Season 2 (1979/2016): Liston scored 0-1 in his sides victory over Dublin – Fenton scored 0-1 in his sides victory over Kerry.

Fenton’s second season was parallel to his first although he didn’t contribute as much on the score board, kicking 0-3 throughout Dublin’s seven games. However his performance levels didn’t drop and his displays throughout the year earned him the number eight position on the All Star team for the second time in as many seasons.

Liston scored 3-3 in the ’78 championship, going one better the following year, converting 3-4 during the four games of Kerry’s ’79 season, the might of Kerry again toppling Dublin in the All Ireland Final. Liston’s biggest personal tally came in their 9-21 to 1-9 demolition of Clare in the Munster Semi Final when he finished the game with 2-2 to his name.

During Kerry’s clash with Dublin in that year’s final Liston scored 0-1 while in Fenton’s second year for the Dubs he also recorded 0-1 against old rivals Kerry as he gained his second All Ireland medal.

Season 3 (1980/2017): Liston’s worst scoring return of the four years – Fenton’s worst scoring return of the four years.

Liston’s third season in the green and gold was the first in which his Kerry side didn’t face the Dubs while Fenton’s third season was also the first time that his Dublin team won the All Ireland without beating Kerry along the way.

Liston finally earned his first All Star in 1980, his 3rd season, although he only featured in two of Kerry’s three games. This was perhaps his worst championship during the ‘4 in a row’ years, particularly on the scoring front as his 2-2 return that season was the lowest he had recorded during this period.

Likewise, Fenton shared an underwhelming 3rd season, going by his own high standards, as the 2017 season was the only one in which he didn’t get his hands on an All Star award while scoring 0-2 in six games, kicking one point in both the All Ireland semi final against Tyrone and the All Ireland final victory over Mayo.

Season 4 (1981/2018): Liston’s best scoring return of the four years – Fenton’s best scoring return of the four years

The 2018 season was the first in which Fenton did not achieve 100% attendance, being rested against Roscommon in their Super 8’s tie. However this did not dent his other performances as Fenton not only capture his 3rd All Star award but also earned Player of the Year, scoring a huge 1-12 in seven games for the champions.

Liston’s 4th season saw him awarded with an All Star award for the second year running as Kerry seized their four in a row. Liston finished the year with 4-6 to his name, although he uncharacteristically failed to score in the final win of the season against Offaly, the only forward who didn’t contribute on the scoring front that day.

Season 5 (1982/2019): Liston’s side lost the five in a row – ?????

At this stage everyone knows what happened during Liston’s 5th season in the green and gold, playing a further five games unbeaten before that famous Seamus Darby goal, although he did earn himself a 3rd All Star.

His Kerry team were seen as the most dominant in GAA history, unbeatable and deserving of the ‘5 in a row’, as some of the greatest players ever to play the game featured on this team. Dublin without doubt are the ‘untouchables’ of the GAA right now, having not been beaten in championship action since 2014.

The last time Dublin dominated the All Ireland scene was in 1974-1977, (winning three All Irelands in four years), when a young, fresh team from the Kingdom featuring names like Walsh, O’Shea, Moran and Spillane, showed up and as they say the rest is history.

Will history repeat itself on Sunday? Only time will tell!