Saturday 24 September 2016

Eoin Liston: Kerry must fix major flaws to have any hope of retaining Sam

Published 18/06/2015 | 02:30

Colm Cooper is without doubt the most popular Kerry footballer in decades
Colm Cooper is without doubt the most popular Kerry footballer in decades

Donegal hammered Division 3 side Armagh on Sunday; the result was never in doubt. Last month Dublin put 27 points on Longford, a team that won promotion to Division 3 for next season.

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On Sunday, Kerry huffed and puffed against Division 3 side Tipperary, eventually winning by six points. I have to admit, I'm a little concerned by what I saw.

There were positives: the team will be happy to have won, to be into another Munster final and to have had a good challenge before meeting Cork.

It was vital to get game-time into players like Colm Cooper, James O'Donoghue and Donnchadh Walsh, but beyond that there were plenty of things that Kerry must work hard on if they are to have a hope of retaining the All-Ireland.

I said here last week that this team had to work on their kick-outs - compared to what Dublin do from Stephen Cluxton's restarts, they were only about a two or three out-of-ten against Tipp.

Stretch

There was one stretch in the first half when they didn't win any clean ball in the middle of the field for 15 minutes, and there was a similar period in the second half.

That's not all down to Brendan Kealy's kicking either; that's something that the whole team has to work on. Everyone has to make the right move to create the space, know where to be to pick up the breaks and so on.

Dublin created enough scoring chances that they got 4-25 against Longford. Kerry managed 2-14, barely half of the Dubs' total.

Simply put, they lost too much possession; it was turned over in the tackle, some of the decision-making was poor, the first touch wasn't good enough at times. That all added up.

The game was decided in the five minutes after half-time when Kerry got five points in a row. Tipperary have a strong spine and they are a team going places, but they didn't take enough of the chances they created.

Just seven of the team that started last year's All-Ireland final win over Donegal were in the line-up at Semple Stadium on Sunday, and the next two weeks are hugely important for everyone on the panel and for the management.

Looking at the team, I'm asking myself 'where are my absolute certainties to start against Cork?'.

The full-forward line of O'Donoghue, Kieran Donaghy and Paul Geaney will definitely start. So will Cooper at centre-forward, Anthony Maher in midfield and Killian Young in defence. But beyond that I'm not sure.

Marc Ó Sé and Aidan O'Mahony are both getting on. Johnny Buckley would have been a certainty, but he didn't even make it to half-time against Tipp.

The likes of Barry John Keane, Darran O'Sullivan, Stephen O'Brien, Tommy Walsh, Paul Galvin are all fighting for their place. In the half-forwards and the middle in particular, Kerry have a lot of options.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice has always said that he picks the team on training - whoever is going well in the weeks before the game gets the nod.

This can be a good thing, but it can also lead to a lot of chopping and changing, and this isn't a good thing when you're trying to get your team-work up to the maximum.

When you're playing with the same team, the same lads around you, and results are going the right way, spirit grows, communication gets better and you can read the subtle signs - all a fella has to do is give you a nod and you know what he's thinking.

Kerry have as skilful individuals as any side in the country, but we have to get them working better together as a team.

The decision-making has to be better and players have to be more selfless.

Passes

Dublin can hit two or three passes and open a team up for a score; that's not something I saw from Kerry at the weekend.

I, like all Kerry people and surely all football fans, was delighted to see Cooper (left) starting a Championship game for the first time in nearly two years after coming back from such a serious injury.

He didn't touch the ball in the first 15 minutes and there were few fumbles, but when he finally did get in possession you could see the old Gooch: the urgency, the alertness, the quick thinking and the passing. The 70 minutes he got will bring him on an awful lot.

Without doubt, he's the most popular footballer in Kerry for the past 30 years.

We're all looking forward to seeing what will happen when he and O'Donoghue are fully in harness.

Irish Independent

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