Sunday 28 August 2016

Colm O'Rourke: Kingdom can make class tell in company of wolves

Colm O'Rourke expects Kerry and Cork to emerge today -- but they will have to scrap for it

Published 05/08/2012 | 17:00

One of the great certainties of life is that Kerry will be in the All-Ireland quarter-finals and this year they were like the three wise men who went home by a different route to avoid King Herod.

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Kerry were sent on this adventure by Cork and the ship very nearly ran aground in Mullingar. After that, the fixture-makers gave them their greatest gift, a home draw against Tyrone, a game with so much baggage that they had to win or the players might as well have packed up and disappeared quietly in the dead of night to live under an assumed name in some foreign country like North Korea or Kilkenny, there to spend their lives in silent prayer to atone for past sins.

Anyway, it didn't come to that. The old hands discovered form at the eleventh hour and within a few weeks the team that looked finished is now the side that everyone wants to avoid.

If Donegal have drawn the short straw, then they don't seem overly concerned. They appear to have a stoic mental state where they accept everything that is thrown at them and just get on with the job in hand. Every game throws up a new puzzle and very often Donegal respond by picking a new team. It has worked so far and with more style than last year, but the basic building blocks remain the same.

If anyone thinks Donegal are less defensive than last year then they should go along to Croke Park today-- there won't be any change. The only difference is that, in possession, Donegal will commit more men to attack and as a result have run up big scores.

There is no point in even talking about Donegal in terms of backs or forwards anyway, as everyone does basically the same job and the spread of scorers in the Ulster final reflects that. Ten scored then but just as important they probably had ten backs most of the time too. This depends on an enormous level of fitness which grinds the opposition down.

Even at that a few players this year seem to have improved dramatically. Ryan Bradley is a powerful man at midfield, David Walsh, Frank McGlynn, Leo McLoone and Paddy McBrearty are significantly better. Add in Colm McFadden, Rory Kavanagh and Anthony Thompson, who have continued in good form, although Michael Murphy has not shown up particularly well. Mark McHugh has been one of the top five players in the championship so far with his non-stop running but he did himself no favours in the public eye when he lay down after getting a couple of harmless shoulders off the ball from Benny Coulter in the Ulster final against Down.

Last year, the Donegal style hardly pleased any football followers, but, as I have said all along, that is their business. However, the cynical side did not impress me and it was both surprising and disappointing that McHugh went down in this way. Nobody on the Donegal side needs to do anything except play their own football, whether that finds favour with the critics is largely irrelevant.

The big question for Kerry is whether they can overcome a very good team who will make this more than just a football game, it will be a war of attrition. They have failed in that regard a few times in Croke Park and victory over Tyrone does not mean the ghost has been exorcised. Tyrone now are a million miles from the the side that frustrated Kerry three times. What Kerry face again is a team like the Tyrone of seven or eight years ago but perhaps even more defensive.

So the Gooch can expect half a dozen markers and even he might struggle with that. Unless Kerry move the ball at speed, whether by kicking accurately or players pouring forward, then they will get caught up in a web. If Kerry start passing the ball over and back across the field, Donegal will have one part of their job done.

The way Donegal set themselves up will force Kerry to play in more or less the same way and Kerry showed that when it came to flooding players back into defence they could do it even better than Tyrone. Kerry need to get in front early in the game and force Donegal to come forward a bit more. This will leave a bit more room for Declan O'Sullivan, Gooch and Kieran Donaghy. If Donegal get ahead early in the second half they will turn out the lights and will be almost impossible to break down.

Anyone looking for an open game of football should go to a club match this afternoon. This will probably be a tight, low-scoring match and kicking the ball will be a last resort unless it is for a score. It is also a remarkable day for Marc and Tomás ó Sé who are setting new records in appearances for Kerry in championship football. They are winners too. Kerry need a lot more like them because this will be as big an examination as any other game these great players have played in this arena. In this ultra-competitive atmosphere, Paul Galvin will find it difficult to keep his nose clean, but he is the sort who should thrive in the battle on the deck for broken ball.

A lot will depend on the referee too. Which way will decisions go when six men tackle one as will happen every few seconds of this game? If the ground is wet and slippy it sounds like the game from hell for the referee as Kerry will hunt in packs similar to Donegal. While they may not enjoy the reputation of Donegal for spoiling tactics, Kerry are wolves in sheep's clothing. They will need to be to win this one. They may have a bit more class too. Kerry to win.

The 'minor' game is worthy of top billing. A real contender against the former champion looking to reclaim the crown. Cork are still smarting from collapsing against Mayo last year while Kildare have yet to beat a serious team in Croke Park, something they have not managed despite hanging around the fringes of big-time football for several years.

Over the last few championships, Kildare have had unfortunate experiences with referees and umpires, but there comes a time when a team has to be able to put all distractions out of the way and win. The clock is ticking for Kildare.

Last year, they looked slightly the better team against Donegal and just came up short, the same applied against Down in 2010. The margin for error was too tight to overcome some bad decisions and, to succeed at the highest level, Kildare need to improve substantially so that they are more than three or four points better than the opposition.

The form this year would indicate that has not happened. A good performance last time against Sligo must be put in the context of the displays against Meath and Limerick. Indeed, whatever bad luck Kildare had over the last few years was balanced out against Limerick.

The biggest problem for Cork is the lack of matches. One of the more absurd characteristics of the present format is a team can be penalised for winning. Cork have had one serious match since winning the league in April and that game against Kerry four weeks ago may not have been too serious at all. A local skirmish in a much bigger war. In fact, it is better to lose the Munster final, because it is so early, and have competitive matches on the road instead.

Cork have their usual physically strong team with very good subs in Pearse O'Neill and Paddy Kelly. Their forwards are the best part of the side -- even if they don't convince as having any great pattern. The defence is a weakness and Kerry created a lot of goal chances; whether Graham Canty is a help with all the miles and wallops is a moot point.

Kildare are better with Rob Kelly and Mick Foley at midfield but the decline of John Doyle is the single biggest reason why Kildare don't seem as good as last year. Maybe they have timed their run to perfection and Emmet Bolton is the one player who could light the spark.

Yet Cork are a long way ahead of Meath, Limerick or Sligo and if they can sort out their defence -- which was ripped apart by Mayo last year -- I expect them to qualify for the semi-final.

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