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caveman tactics Kerry produced a brand of 'puke football' to match anything we've seen in Ulster

Cork deserved win but Kingdom's ultra-negative tactics baffled me

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Gavin White of Kerry is tackled by Ian Maguire of Cork during last weekend’s clash. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Gavin White of Kerry is tackled by Ian Maguire of Cork during last weekend’s clash. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Gavin White of Kerry is tackled by Ian Maguire of Cork during last weekend’s clash. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Donald Trump may be about to be booted out of the White House but my fact-checking crusade continues. So today I will begin with some facts.

I tipped Kerry to beat Cork in the Munster semi-final. Mea culpa - I'm guilty as charged. But every pundit I know also tipped Kerry. So how come my prediction is the only one being held up to ridicule?

Here are some more facts: Cork deserved to win - the scoreboard never lies. The game itself was absolute crap. Kerry produced a brand of puke football to match anything we've seen from teams in Ulster.

Having suggested in my column last weekend that Monaghan's second-half tactics against Cavan were caveman-like, I can only conclude that Kerry's playbook came from the same cave. They were extremely primitive. What we saw was modern-day football at its worst.

Defensive tactics dominated. Both teams deployed a negative, safety-first game plan.

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Paul Murphy of Kerry blocks a shot by Seán Powter of Cork

Paul Murphy of Kerry blocks a shot by Seán Powter of Cork

SPORTSFILE

Paul Murphy of Kerry blocks a shot by Seán Powter of Cork

They worried more about the opposition than themselves. Risk-taking was out of the question. Instead, keeping possession was the key. So we ended up with a forgettable match which was stop-start in nature and featured 57 frees in normal time.

It was a Munster version of puke football in the rain. Despite its awfulness, the game will never be forgotten. Take your pick from the brilliance of David Clifford's point from the sideline, Micheál Martin's vital save, the heroics of Seán Powter, Luke Connolly's free from the sideline and of course Mark Keane's winning goal.

But aside from those cameos, there was the unbelievable tension and drama in both the closing minutes of normal time and again in extra time.

For a couple of hours, we were transported to a world where we could forget about Covid-19 and the hardships affecting this country. We were in our nirvana.


Rather than focusing just on Kerry's failings, let's credit Cork. They played the conditions better - they played like lads who wanted it more, they got their tactics spot on and made sure the contest was played on their terms.

Better still, even when they fell two points behind in the dying minutes of both normal and extra time, their heads never dropped.

I loved Cork's work ethic and their tackling; they might have played second fiddle in the possession stakes, but the key statistic is that they scored 1-8 from turnovers. Yes, I was shocked by the outcome but not totally surprised by the Rebels' improvement.

Cork football has been on the rise for the last 12 months with All-Ireland successes for their U-17 and U-20 teams. For example, though full-back Maurice Shanley and centre-back Seán Meehan were making their championship debuts, they carried no baggage. They had played on Cork under-age teams that beat Kerry. All told, it was a perfectly-executed ambush.

Now, for the painful part. When I heard on Saturday night that Stephen O'Brien wasn't playing, I started to worry. And if you think I'm being wise after the event, I can show you the number of phone calls I made to express my foreboding.

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Kerry manager Peter Keane

Kerry manager Peter Keane

Kerry manager Peter Keane

So, who is to blame? No manager has ever scored the winning point in an All-Ireland final. The players do that, so they must shoulder a fair share of the blame.

Kerry have a lot of talented footballers. A few may become superstars - but even the best of our prospects have a lot of learning to do.

The harsh reality is that they have played in four huge games in the last 18 months: the 2019 National League final; the two All-Ireland finals and last Sunday and came up short in all of them.

Last weekend's result cannot be written off as just a bad day at the office. Kerry football must take on board what went wrong and learn lessons. Success at All-Ireland level doesn't come easy. It must be earned the hard way.

There was a sense of déjà vu about what happened. I kept thinking of the last 12 minutes of last year's drawn All-Ireland final, when Kerry failed to score.

Once again, the team played with fear, there was poor game management, and they took the ball into contact too often. There was a lack of composure too, with players making basic errors and a total lack of leadership.

The Kerry team management are unpaid amateurs, doing what has become a full-time job. Nobody doubts their work ethic. But they don't need me telling them that this is a results-based business and winning the league doesn't count.

Errors on the field were compounded by a series of self-inflicted wounds caused by decisions made before and during the game by Peter Keane and his sideline helpers.

We were told the team was selected on the form shown in the club championship. Having seen virtually all the club games, at least half the team showed zero form in the competition.

As a unit, the forward line was the poorest I've ever seen Kerry field in a championship match against Cork. Granted, we had two outstanding forwards in Clifford and Sean O'Shea, but the sextet included a midfielder (Ronan Buckley), a wing-back (Brian Ó Beaglaoich) and a ball-carrying link player (Dara Moynihan).

Errors in selections were compounded by the tactics deployed.

Don't forget Cork played in Division 3 this season. Their last match against a top side was in the Super 8s in the summer of 2019.

But, instead of taking the game to them, Kerry sat back and handed the Rebels the initiative. Of course, their confidence grew with each passing second that they stayed within touching distance.

Keane likes to tell folksy stories like the one about his late father Tom teaching him how to drive. Peter was worried about the narrow bridge down the road and the father said 'forget about the bridge - just worry about what's ahead of you'

Unfortunately Peter forgot his father's message against Cork. He was two steps ahead of himself and thinking about the challenge Kerry would face against Dublin.

The tactical plan being road-tested was a blanket-defence, counter-attacking one which does not utilise Kerry's strengths - which is their forward play and their kick passing.

Of course, Kerry needed to improve their defence, but they didn't need to reinvent the wheel.

A little tweaking would have sufficed.

It takes time for a new defensive system to bed down. Kerry tried to do it all in the space of two months. It beggars belief that one of the best defensive coaches in the game, Donie Buckley, was deemed surplus to requirements and departed the camp last March.

A successful businessman, Keane is a single-minded individual who likes to do things his own way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but he now needs expertise around him with a recognised coach top of his shopping list.

Last Monday morning when I woke up, I discovered that the world hadn't ended.

We were still in lockdown; the dreadful pandemic is still rampant. But, even if Kerry are out of the championship, life goes on down here.

We move on to next year and congratulate our neighbours.

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