independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Donaghy call was spot on

Kerry captain Colm Cooper leads his team during the pre-match parade. Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Final, Kerry v Cork, Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, Co. Kerry. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

IT was the talk of the county.

Donaghy. Dropped. Forget Brian O'Driscoll. Forget Warren Gatland. The talk in the Kingdom this day week was of Donaghy and Eamonn Fitzmaurice... and Bomber, we can't forget about Bomber. Liston's was the tweet that set tongues wagging. His was the tweet which caused the team to be announced over thirty hours before it was due to be.

The media wondered about moles and leaks. We mused about how this isn't the way Fitzmaurice goes about his business. We wondered about just how annoyed the Kerry boss was likely to be by this turn of events. Quite a bit, more than likely.

Well, if he was, he wasn't giving much away in his post match press conference. He had a few days to process Wednesday's events by then, of course. That, plus victory over Cork in his first Munster Final as Kerry boss, would have left him feeling a little more zen.

If he was annoyed at Eoin Liston he wasn't going to let it show. Instead he employed a technique he's all but certain to have used in the classroom over the years. Eamonn said he was "disappointed" with "former players" who should "know what it is like". Well played. Fitzmaurice stayed above the fray, casting Bomber in the role of errant schoolboy.

A serious man with a seriously big job on his hand he's wasn't about to be distracted by ephemera. He didn't drop Kieran Donaghy to make a statement. He dropped Kieran Donaghy because he felt it was the right thing to do. Sunday proved it was.

This was Kerry football the way Kerry football should be played. Instinctive. Decisive. Unpredictable and, when it works like it did on Sunday, practically unmarkable. With Donaghy in the side Kerry are much more prosaic.

The shock and awe that his arrival on the scene generated has long since passed. The long ball to Donaghy has become predictable. Full-backs know how to counteract it. This is not a criticism of Donaghy, who has done far more with mediocre ball in the last few years than anybody had right to expect, merely a statement of how things had developed.

He's still a top footballer. He just isn't the right man for the system that Kerry employed to such devastating effect for fifty minutes in the Munster final.

You think about the lines of running, the pace of guys like Darran O'Sullivan and James O'Donoghue, the guile and passing of Colm Cooper and Declan O'Sullivan, the positioning of Donnchadh Walsh, the graft of Paul Galvin and wonder where would Donaghy fit into that?

He's got a role to play. He played one of those on Sunday. He remains a brilliant fielder of the ball. He dug Kerry out of a hole with a fetch around the middle at a time when Kerry were winning very little out there. He remains an inspirational figure, hugely popular with his team-mates. He was the first man Colm Cooper sought out on the full-time whistle. Their bond is obvious. If Kerry are to win the All Ireland this year they're going to need Donaghy at his best, at his hungriest, but not necessarily from the start.

Sunday showed why Kerry are still one of the most fearsome brands in Gaelic Football. It also showed up some pretty serious short-comings. When the pressure came on in the second half Kerry's defence was swamped.

Some players stood up well to the barrage, others not so much. Killian Young had a particularly difficult time of it in the second half on Aidan Walsh.

Walsh has a physical presence that the Renard man wasn't able to cope with. Young is classy and skillful, he just struggles to cope with a hardcharging opponent like Walsh or like Peter Harte. When Eoin Brosnan replaced him, Walsh's influence was curbed significantly. The Kerry captain could find his way back into this team before long.

To single out Young would be wrong, however. The problems were more widespread than that. Kerry lost their shape and they lost their shape because they stopped winning possession around the middle of the park. Anthony Maher and Johnny Buckley were visibly tiring.

The same goes for Tomás Ó Sé and Donnchadh Walsh who were two of Kerry's most effective winners of carpet ball.

Without the ball any team is bound to struggle, any defence is liable to look ragged. Just ask Conor Counihan. With Maher and Buckley dominant, his men looked totally and utterly out of their depth. Counihan is getting a serious lashing right now on Leeside for his team selection. Some of that is justified. Some of it isn't.

Before the match there weren't too many people advocating a midfield of Alan O'Connor and Pearse O'Neill. For Cork to have any chance of living with Kerry's midfield, the theory went, they'd need to play their All Star midfielder. Aidan Walsh played. Maher cleaned him out.

The Duagh man has, unquestionably, developed into one of the top midfielders in the country. When he and Buckley faded somewhat in the second half Kerry stuttered. That tells you how important he has become to the team.

The fade-out in the last twenty minutes will greatly concern the management team. With Cian O'Neill in the fold they're said to be fitter than they've ever been, so it was hardly down to that solely. Was it complacency? Did they think they had the game won? Well if they did, that wasn't particularly wise of them. The Munster Final two years ago proved that you never, ever, write off the Rebels at any stage in a game.

It's probably just as well they didn't win this one pulling up. If they had they'd have gone through the entire Munster championship untested. Fitzmaurice and co wouldn't have learned about their side's frailties in defence. They wouldn't have been warned anew about this worrying tendency of Kerry teams to fade in the closing stages of games (remember the 2011 final).

Kerry will be in as good a position as any provincial winner heading into the Bank-Holiday weekend and, quite possibly, better. Will London give Mayo as good a test as Cork gave the Kingdom? Will Monaghan give Donegal as good a test? Or Meath Dublin? Unlikely on all counts.

Kerry aren't done yet. Not by a longshot.

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