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Ciaran Kilkenny pulls the strings for the Dublin team

Ciaran Kilkenny pulls the strings for the Dublin team

Ciaran Kilkenny pulls the strings for the Dublin team

IT’S obvious now how the lack of preparation time before matches is shaping this year’s championship.

Before, when the All-Ireland was played on the third Sunday in September, you could go through an inter-county season playing one match for every 15 training sessions you had.

That was the ratio.

For players, it was a nuisance. For managers, a godsend.

Three weeks between championship games gives enormous scope to analyse opposition, devise a game plan and drill the players in their roles.

Running plays. Walking through scenarios.

Repetition, repetition, repetition.

Particularly when we were playing Donegal or Tyrone, two teams who posed unique tactical questions, we could spend the guts of 10 training sessions microscopically examining their play and an entire training weekend intensively running drills to hone plays we’d use to try to beat them.

Looking at Kerry’s last two League games against Monaghan and Donegal, it was obvious that Peter Keane had something different in mind for this year’s championship.

I wonder now how much of that had to do with last year’s All-Ireland final replay.

Con O’Callaghan, Ciarán Kilkenny and Paul Mannion ran riot that day, all scoring four points each.

Dublin were much more direct than they had been in the draw. And the Kerry defenders struggled.

If you’d have drawn a wish list of items for Peter Keane to improve his team, the top two would probably have been tight-marking defenders.

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The next best thing is having a system that prevents your defenders from being in those situations.

And so the selection of Ronan Buckley, Dara Moynihan and Brian Ó Beaglaoich against Cork, technically as part of his attack, suggested that Keane was determined to protect them this year, that they wouldn’t be so exposed in one-on-one scenarios again.

I’m not sure the Kerry full-back line needed that thickness of blanket against Cork.

But with such little preparation time between games, management obviously decided they had to go with that from the start. That cobbling together of a new style of play between Munster and the All-Ireland series wasn’t a runner.

But in doing so, it gave Cork a chance to beat them. Particularly in the conditions we saw in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday.

Would Cork have been able to handle a Kerry attack that had Stephen O’Brien and/or Killian Spillane and maybe even Paudie Clifford, all more natural forwards, in it?

Even the best teams don’t have five or six strong man markers. If you overload your attack with scorers, someone is bound to spring a leak.

There were other factors in Kerry’s downfall.

But their setup was wrong for that game. And I just wonder if they had Dublin’s forwards in mind when that strategy was devised.

It’s important too not to exaggerate Kerry’s shortcomings last Sunday.

They lost to a freak goal in a dogfight amid a tsunami.

It happens. That’s sport.

But equally, their decision-making was poor.

No system in the world will protect you from your captain and star forward missing close-range frees or from your talisman midfielder kicking away possession from 50 yards out with a slim lead in extra-time.

There was one moment in extra-time when David Clifford caught a ball and was entitled to a ‘mark’ but kept going and fudged a shot wide from 25 yards at the left hand post.

pressure

That’s pressure. It’s the sort of lapse of judgement your mind inflicts on you when you’re rattled.

But it comes back to management.

In Dublin, we worked relentlessly on that over the years. We’d suffered enough defeats in close games to teach us that skill or strength or speed wasn’t what we were missing.

Scenario-based training. Making sure the right player has the ball at the right time.

Ensuring the appropriate players were on the pitch at the very end. Keep the ball. Stick to the plan. Nobody tries to win the game on their own.

It takes time. And you have to do it wrong a million times before you start to do it correctly by reflex.

The upshot is that Kerry are out.

And for all the talk about easing Dublin’s path to another All-Ireland, I don’t think any of the players will have taken much notice.

It’s said that being an inter-county player is like living in a bubble. This year, that’s literally true.

You’ve just a week to prepare for games and in the meantime, you’re limiting contact with the outside world.

There isn’t enough time to be preparing for matches, let alone taking in the scenery.

Like most people, Ciarán Kilkenny was the highlight of the Dublin/Westmeath game for me last weekend.

He looks in incredible shape and you’d have to say now he’s hitting his peak as a footballer. Certainly, his importance to the team has never been quite so pronounced.

Playmaker, scorer, general dogsbody around the middle. His score-taking was exceptional but what’s most impressive about Ciarán is his instinct.

He keeps it very simple most of the time, laying off, retaining possession, but then intuitively knows the right moments to take his man on.

He never takes a shot that he shouldn’t.

He’s the ultimate team player with the ultimate football brain.

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