Kerry can be kings for decade if they get over the line in the All-Ireland final
They won’t think they will be as dominant as Dublin were between 2011 and 2020 – but they are the team to beat
We are still catching our breath in the Kingdom after finally getting the better of the Dubs.
Let’s be honest, regardless of the views of my Sunday Game colleague Colm O’Rourke, it wasn’t one of the greatest games of all time.
There was a fantastic atmosphere. It was a real roller-coaster ride for the fans and, to cap it all off, we got an incredible finale.
But the quality of the football fell short of what we have come to expect from, probably, the two best teams around.
On balance, Kerry were better and deserved to win, though had the game gone to extra time Dublin might have won.
As my late, great friend Páidí Ó Sé used to say, ‘a grain of rice can tip a scales’.
The burning question for Dublin fans is whether their team has reached the end of the line.
Well, if that’s proves to be the case, then they died with their boots on.
Their big-game players stood up in the second half.
Mick Fitzsimons, who had been destroyed in the first, got the better of David Clifford while Ciaran Kilkenny, Cormac Costello, Brian Fenton and James McCarthy dragged Dublin back into the contest.
Costello’s goal was the best I’ve seen in this year’s championship – he threaded the ball through the equivalent of the eye of a needle.
Fenton became more influential as did Kilkenny. As for James McCarthy. He was on a different planet. What a warrior and leader he is.
But aside from Lee Gannon establishing himself – and their second-half performance against Kerry – it has been an underwhelming season for the Dubs.
They now face an uncertain future. Will Dessie Farrell want to stay on? Will the county board want him to stay on.
I imagine a number of household names will ride into the sunset.
Apart from his free-taking, Dean Rock is not offering anything in open play any longer. Jonny Cooper is literally hanging in – and I’m not sure there is another season left in Fitzsimons, despite his second-half heroics last Sunday.
Dublin could certainly squeeze another season out of McCarthy, if he opts to stay on.
The subs bench is lightweight. Granted the Kerry substitutes didn’t exactly set the place on fire, but they did bring more energy than the Dublin replacements.
Parachuting hurling captain
Eoghan O’Donnell into the squad, so late in the campaign, was odd to put it mildly.
It wasn’t a vote of confidence in the players already there – and given that he only featured for a few minutes against Cork I’m not sure what purpose his presence in the squad served.
The most striking feature of Dublin’s performance was how “un-Jim-Gavin-like” it was.
Their game management was poor, and they repeatedly took the wrong option.
I have never seen Dublin forwards take the ball into contact, and get turned over, so often in the clutch moments of a game.
In the first half, they converted only six of the 13 chances they created. Even allowing for the tricky wind down at the Hill 16 end, this was a very poor return.
And would Niall Scully have taken on that low-percentage shot near the end during the Gavin era? Like hell he would; he would have recycled the ball.
Literally all that mattered to Kerry in this game was getting over the line.
But Jack O’Connor won’t be too annoyed about the patchy performance.
It means he can keep the players grounded. Better still, there are first-team places up for grabs now.
I imagine today’s A v B training match will be tasty, because O’Connor (inset right) picks players on form.
Why did Kerry win? The manager summed it up in one word in his post-match interviews: resilience.
Remember, Kerry hadn’t beaten Dublin in championship football since 2009. They had lost to them in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2019 after a replay.
Regularly, Kerry failed to close out big matches – most recently against Dublin in the drawn 2019 All-Ireland, and then against Tyrone in last year’s semi-final.
There was massive pressure on Kerry to finally deliver here.
By finally beating Dublin, Kerry removed a huge monkey off their backs.
All in all, I wasn’t surprised.The O’Connor factor is huge. He is a winner – and Kerry are a different animal since he took over.
Mentally, they are much tougher.
Remember that infamous night last March when a biblical-like storm hit Tralee.
Kerry eked out a one-point win over Mayo through a 76th-minute pointed free from David Clifford.
Again, in the All-Ireland quarter final even though Mayo were in control in the third quarter, Kerry didn’t panic – and they comfortably saw out the game.
Last Sunday Kerry were at their resilient best. Despite surrendering a six-point lead and allowing Dublin to level twice, they still found a way to win.
They had to be brave. Twice in the clutch moments they gambled on short kick-outs; drove out of defence and kicked the ball into their forwards, where they won the two frees which decided the match.
It was in total contrast to the drawn final back in 2019 when, after taking the lead late on, they didn’t mount a meaningful attack for the rest of the game, and Dublin got a draw.
They have nothing won yet. But if they beat Galway next Sunday there is a strong possibility they will dominate football, much like Dublin did in the last decade.
I don’t think they will be as dominant as Dublin were between 2011 and 2020. But they will be the team to beat in the All-Ireland series.
On a personal note I want to thank everybody who has been in touch since I announced I was stepping down from the Sunday Game. I have been overwhelmed by the reaction.
Sometimes we forget the silent majority are the soundest of people. So, thanks again.
As for the other last four showdown – so much for the evolution of Gaelic football.
We had the doomsday scenario eight days ago of Galway and Derry setting up in a mirror image of each other in the first half of an All-Ireland Football semi-final.
The fear factor was palpable, with players literally afraid to shoot.
This was a classic case of the ‘paralysis-by-analysis’ mentality of some of the game’s leading coaches.
These are bright people. I cannot understand why they cannot come up with a better system for dealing with massed defences.
There is no effort to work the defence, and they don’t ask questions of defenders.
Instead, everything is done in front of the defence, which makes life very comfortable for the backline.
The team in possession don’t attempt to get the ball or their runners into the space and – believe me – space does, indeed, exist.
There is not enough hard running with players coming off the shoulder of the player in possession.
Kicking points from beyond the 30-metre range ought to be ‘bread and butter’ for inter-county players, yet we rarely see it.
In fairness to Galway, they finally copped on after about half an hour, got their act together – and did what they do best, and won comfortably.
The ‘fly’ goalkeeper has become the key fad this season.
I’m not sure what tactical guru came up with the plan. But I have doubts about its merits.
Of course, there are occasions when having an extra body in the middle third is valuable.
However, the primary job of the goalkeeper is to stop goals and take care of the kick-outs.
Kerry set traps for Rory Beggan in the league this season, and two of their three goals came as a result of the Monaghan goalkeeper being caught out field.
Armagh’s Ethan Rafferty did well in his outfield excursions, but then he is an outfield player.
Then again, his lack of goalkeeper skills was exposed in the penalty shoot-out against Galway. He didn’t get close to saving any of them.
The roamings of Derry’s Odhrán Lynch were an accident waiting to happen – and it was no surprise that Galway, eventually, managed to catch him out.
Basically, Derry boss Rory Gallagher dusted down the 2011 Donegal template and brought it to Croke Park.
It is more than a decade old and all coaches have found a way around it now.
Forwards always have, and always will, win matches.
Derry converted seven of their 19 first-half scoring chances, and their six starting forwards scored the grand total of two points from play.
They couldn’t utilise their counter-attacking game because they had to slow down the transition of the ball to allow players to sprint straight up the field and get into position.
The delay also allowed Galway time to put their defensive structure in place.
The dimensions of Croke Park may be no different from many other pitches around the country, but Croke Park is an athlete’s pitch.
As has been repeatedly proved, it is virtually impossible to sustain a hard-running counter-attacking game in Croke Park over the course of an entire game.
Then there is my old bugbear of ‘sticking to the process.’
Rest assured, over the past three seasons, Gallagher has got his players to walk, jog and run through endless repetitions in order to perfect their game plan.
The weakness of this approach is that the players become so programmed they don’t know any other way of playing.
Even when the process clearly isn’t working, they cannot change it.
One wonders at times what kind of information do the match analysts give the team management.
It is hardly a state secret that the Galway full-back line looks vulnerable under a high ball.
Yet, even when their cause looked hopeless, Derry didn’t attempt to test the Galway rearguard with a few ‘Hail Mary’ kicks.
It’s not as if they had anything to lose.
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