talking point | 

I don't know what Joe Brolly was on about when he named the best footballer in Ireland

Brolly was wrong to suggest Darren McCurry was the best player in the country.

Pat Spillane rates David Clifford as the best footballer in Ireland. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Pat Spillane

SOCCER fanatics have become accustomed to a weekend diet on Sky Sports of Premier League action.

We have Super Saturday and Super Sunday and occasionally Super Monday.

The doomsday scenario happens during international breaks when the action consists of League 1 and League 2.

Still, it is a useful exercise as it demonstrates the gulf in standards between the Premier League and the lower divisions.

We had a similar experience last weekend when TG4 televised the four divisional league finals.

There is no point in sugar-coating the reality. The gulf in skills, standards and pace between Division 1 and Division 4 is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Before I review the games, there is a caveat: I’m convinced neither Galway nor Mayo were focused on winning their respective Division 2 and 1 finals.

This was particularly obvious with Mayo – the players looked very leggy, which suggested they had trained very hard in the preceding seven days.

Even allowing for the fact that so many of their first-choice players were absent, it was a very atypical Mayo performance.

There was none of the traditional hard running out of defence, and a complete absence of the kind of intensity they normally bring to the battle.

They seemed to accept their fate from a very early stage, allowing Kerry to play on their own terms. And the real proof that they weren’t too interested in the outcome is that they left Padraig O’Hora isolated on David Clifford, with absolutely no protection, for the duration of the contest.

What was worrying from the Mayo perspective is that without the penetrating runs from Paddy Durcan, Oisín Mullin and Eoghan McLoughlin Mayo are a one-trick pony.

They don’t really have a discernible attacking play. They have no identifiable support runners, no evidence of intricate pre-planned forward moves or no target man or focal point to their attacks.

When they are unable to run the ball, they are snookered, because they don’t have a credible kicking game to deliver the ball into the forwards.

I sound like a broken record, but there is one simple reason why Mayo haven’t won an All-Ireland in the last decade.

They don’t have a sufficient number of quality forwards. Last Sunday, for example, the Kerry forwards scored 1-14 from play; their Mayo counterparts hit 0-5. No further comment required.

After ten minutes of the match I turned to my wife and said, ‘game over’ And it was.

Kerry gave an exhibition in every department: their kicking game; their forward play; and their defensive play was all top notch.

What more can I say about David Clifford? I’ll just reiterate what I have repeatedly written over the last three years: he is the best footballer in the country.

I don’t know what Joe Brolly was on about, when he suggested Darren McCurry was the best player in the country.

As they say down here in Kerry, he wouldn’t be fit to lace Clifford’s boots.

The pluses for Kerry from the league is that their defence has improved, as evident by their concession of just one goal from open play in eight matches.

Their work rate and tackling off the ball is off the charts compared to previous years.

The key to Kerry’s success is the speed of their transition play.

Kerry struggle to break down blanket defences when they move the ball slowly, via hand-passes. They don’t have the tactical nous to unravel the blanket.

However, when Kerry transition quickly – and remember they have the best kicking game in the country – opposing defences don’t have sufficient time to get every player back, and set up properly.

In the first 30 seconds last Sunday we got a taste of how Kerry wanted to play the game. After Adrian Spillane was fouled, his first reaction was to kick the free into the danger zone as quickly as possible.

On numerous occasion Kerry players kicked the ball without bothering to either hop or solo it first. Defences haven’t time to set up – and that is the key.

Jack O’Connor knows there are bigger fish to fry in the coming weeks

He knows that unless he delivers an All-Ireland on the fourth Sunday of July, winning the league will count for zero in Kerry.

The Division 2 curtain-raiser between Galway and Roscommon was akin to a challenge match – lots of open football and an abundance of scores.

Roscommon remind me so much of Monaghan: You underestimate them at your peril.

The big difference between Monaghan and Roscommon is that the Connacht side is blessed with an abundance of forwards. Once they get on the ball, they are not just looking to bag a score, they are capable of doing so.

I will give Galway the benefit of the doubt and say they must have had one eye on their championship showdown against Mayo in two weeks’ time.

Even allowing for this, there were worrying signs. Two of best players during the spring, Sean Kelly and Matthew Tierney, were largely anonymous.

Too many of their forwards were waiting for things to happen, and their appetite for battle was way below the standard required.

Maybe I was guilty of hyping up the influence Cian O’Neill was having on their defence.

They were shocking at the back. Every time a Roscommon player ran at them, the defence opened up.

Diarmuid Murtagh’s winning goal was a stunning strike. But in his zigzag run in the build-up, he went past at least five Galway defenders. Defensively, this is unacceptable at this level.

The key to success in Gaelic football is getting the balance right. Kerry, for example, had the best attacking record in Division One, but they also had the best defensive record.

Galway are shooting the lights out up front, but that was the second week in a row they conceded 1-20 to Roscommon.

Add in the fact that they conceded 2-17 to Cork and 3-10 to Offaly earlier in the league, it is obvious they didn’t get the balance right in those games.

The Division 3 final between Limerick and Louth featured a clash between two contrasting styles. Under Mickey Harte the Wee County has become a kind of ‘Tyrone lite’.

They sat back and attacked on the counter. Limerick are a physically powerful and athletic side, which attempted to run through the Louth defence.

But their approach lacked the subtle touches needed to make progress against a packed defence, and Louth eventually picked them off.

Still, it has been a great spring for both counties, even if neither will make much progress in the All-Ireland series.

Watching the first half of the Division 4 decider between Cavan and Tipperary, it was hard to credit the fact that they both featured in the 2020 All-Ireland semi-finals.

The two camps parked the bus and conceded space and possession to their opponents, allowing them to amble up to within 30-metre range on the goals, before engaging them. It was awful to watch.

There was the usual collection of fellas with ear-pieces, laptops and notepads along the sideline. Watching them I couldn’t help wondering if even one of them could not come up with a more innovative tactical approach.

True, there was an exciting finishing, but it couldn’t disguise the fact that the standard of football was very poor.

Cavan’s success was down to the two goals they scored – both created as a result of turnovers. So much for the effectiveness of the Tipperary blanket.

Right now, neither deserve to be rated among the top 16 football teams in the country. They have a lot of work to do in Division 3 next spring.

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