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Wednesday 3 September 2014

Could this new 'closed door' policy mean that Kerry are planning something special?

Published 22/05/2013 | 11:31

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The weather isn't exactly screaming summer but the county's senior footballer team will take to Fitzgerald Stadium this Sunday to face Tipperary in the quarter-final of Munster Championship.

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And when the ball in thrown in for the first Championship game of the year then that certainly does scream summer, whatever the weather may be like.

Kerry football hit the headlines last week for strange reasons in my view when Eamonn Fitzmaurice announced, on the county's GAA website, that a lot of training sessions will be conducted behind closed doors, as opposed to the age-old policy of Kerry teams training away in Killarney with no restrictions on who could wander in and take a look. I smile at times when I see these modern day managers and backroom boys adopting all that they hear and see other team managers do. And not all from the sport in which they manage teams themselves. I think they like to call it 'professional', either that or they are looking too much at Sky Sports!

There was a time when a trip to the Park, as we locals call Fitzgerald Stadium, was almost like an extra tourist attraction in Killarney. People from different counties would visit with their young families and marvel at the sight of famous Kerry footballers. Alas the scouting system has arrived, or so they tell us, and we don't want to give opposition any hint of what we might be doing. Sorry lads, but I don't buy that one at all. With the advent of fellows on Twitter and players speaking at media events at the invitation of sponsors, it's almost impossible to hide everything about a system any given manager is toying with. And let's be honest about it, very few inter-county managers these days are announcing in advance the actual team that will start the match, be it naming fellows who won't start or making a host of positional changes so that any spectator might as well tear up his match programme and throw it away.

Of course, things change. When other managers in days of old allowed open training sessions the game was different. It was Gaelic football and men, by and large, held down their positions as named and numbered. Now the game has changed utterly. It now is as much about athleticism as it is about the skills of the game. This is why the game has become a little more advanced in counties not traditionally known for their skills in football. Any group of dedicated men can get themselves just as fit as the next group and therefore stay competitive on that front for 70 minutes; it's the difference in the skill factor that ultimately separates teams in the end. You will see this doesn't apply so much in hurling as by and large the real, defining skills of hurling are still there to be found in the game.

Now, of course, the Kerry management are quite entitled to have closed sessions, but making such a big announcement about it took me by surprise. It's a courageous move because if things don't work out in the Championship as planned something like that could be used as a stick to beat the nemk management with. I sincerely hope it isn't.

It could well be that we are not quite sure of where we will play certain fellows or that we have a gameplan that we might not like to unleash until later on in the Championship. Remember, though, that we will be playing challenge games, and news of what happens in those always leaks out, from one source or another, so what's the big secret?

Well, I think it will come down to where certain players will play. The management will be looking at three or four players they feel should be on the field but will be trying to get the balance of the team right. There is a difference between having your fifteen best / in form players on the field, and having the best balanced team on the field. If the management go down the route of accommodating players it could be counter-productive.

For example, I would go with a full forward line of Donaghy, Declan O'Sullivan (pictured) and Colm Cooper. But the big debate these last few weeks is whether Cooper should be played on the 'forty' or stay in his customary corner forward position. Playing Gooch at centre-forward would have a knock-on effect through the front eight of the team. It could mean moving one of three midfielders to the wing forward position, perhaps Johnny Buckley. Or do we leave Buckley at midfield with Maher and play Bryan Sheehan at centre forward, and stick with Cooper at no.13?

Paul Galvin could play on one wing with Jonathan Lyne being mentioned for the other wing forward position, even though he is still rated as a fifty-fifty chance of being fit to start. Would Lyne's absence open the door for Darran O'Sullivan to start in the half forward line, or is Darran going to start regardless? Might Kerry go with Tomas O Se at centre back and start Killian Young and Lyne as wing backs?

One would be only speculating at this stage on all these things, but believe me, all this closed door stuff means that there is something going on and that's no bad thing from a Kerry perspective because the days of treating Tipperary as a pushover are long gone. They are going for a third Munster minor title in a row, and don't forget they have beaten us in an Under-21 Munster final only a couple of years ago. The wide open spaces of the Park will suit a team that play most of their football now in Thurles.

This will be an intriguing game for many reasons. We will want to try and get our heads around the thinking of Kerry management as well as seeing what progress Tipperary are really making at senior level. Their League campaign was, at best, average, but Tipperary might not be the pushovers some people think they will be. Still, anything other than a Kerry win would send shockwaves through the world of Gaelic football.

Let's hope for a positive performance, the right result and a strong first step on the road to a September date in Croke Park. Whatever opponents the year throws up the Kerry hope every summer is for a trip down Jones's Road on a September Sunday. Good luck to all involved in the quest for Sam.

Kerryman

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