Denis Bastick will be hoping that the league can be a launchpad to another push for the All-Ireland senior championship title. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/ Sportsfile

HAVING already sold a substantial 50,000 tickets, with the promise of a 3,500-participant Easter Rising centenary event and the small matter of two league finals to play out, the finale of this year’s early-season GAA action is arguably the best prospect it has been in years.
With Dublin and Kerry – the two main contenders for All-Ireland glory come September – facing off for the first time in a league final since 1987, however, the good natured ribbing between Dublin’s Denis Bastick and Kerry’s Bryan Sheehan can’t hide the edge to a final that has none of the league’s usual early-season indifference.
As Bastick and Sheehan sit next to each other in Croke Park a few days ahead of kick off, they both admit to an added “bite” to this particular fixture, with Dublin keen to maintain their astonishing run of 21 games undefeated in league and championship, and Kerry out for post-All Ireland revenge.
“There’s a lot to be said for momentum,” Bastick throws out cheekily when asked about the Dubs’ winning streak. “We still go by the same old cliche, though. It really is one game at a time.
“Winning becomes a habit, and that’s the place we’re in now. But we’re always trying to get better.”
Dublin’s attempts to get better have been fairly evident throughout their undefeated league season, in fact, not least in the capital side’s use of 35 different players over the course of the eight games that have taken them to the final.
With young star Jack McCaffrey out injured, Rory O’Carroll New Zealand-bound and Alan Brogan having hung up his boots before it all got underway, the experimentation has been substantial.
While Bastick jokes that the side have “not at all” missed them so far, he is keen to talk up the parade of youngsters battering down Jim Gavin’s door in search of a regular first team shirt.
“They’re tough to catch in training,” the Templeogue Synge Street midfielder says of the newcomers.
“It’s really unfair to single any of them out. I think it’s important for the younger guys to continue on. They’re a real bonus.”
Both Dublin and Kerry made light work of their semi-final opponents on the way to the league’s big night. Kerry brushed aside Roscommon, while the Dublin rematch with Donegal – a game given extra edge by the gritty nature of the league contest just two weeks before – proved far from an even contest.
“The league game was tough, so it did surprise us a bit to win by the score we did,” Bastick said of the semi, which saw a Dubs side that made 11 changes and took to the field without the influential Cian O’Sullivan batter the Ulster side 1-20 to 0-13.
“We did our homework, tweaked things around and improved a few things,” Bastick explained. “We upped it a bit. But we were expecting things to be tough.
“We each try to step up to the plate,” he adds. “We have a great panel, and we’re going to need every one of them to step up at some point this season.
“We know they will be big challenges to come.”
Kerry are clearly up for things, too. Bastick declined to comment on the idea that Kerry might be more motivated, laughing as he did so, while Sheehan admitted his side were “still very hurt by losing the [2015] All Ireland final. It would be very nice to beat Dublin, especially when there’s silverware up for grabs.”
As for the good-natured approach to the game?
“It’s always been fair between us,” Bastick says of Sheehan.
“It’s generally good natured, shoulder to shoulder. We’ll have fun now, because that’s what the GAA is all about, but once we cross the line on Sunday it’s all business. That’ll be a different story.”