Thursday 29 September 2016

Tomás Ó Sé: Time Kerry laid last remaining ghost of recent past to rest

Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30

Tommy Walsh could have a big say in the outcome of Sunday’s match
Tommy Walsh could have a big say in the outcome of Sunday’s match

The things you do in the week of an All-Ireland final. I had to be in Dublin one of the days so it involved setting an early alarm call and hitting the road out of Cork by four that morning.

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A couple of engagements later and I was heading back down in the evening traffic. But the day didn't stop at that.

There were tickets to collect in Tralee that night. As a player, you took these things for granted, that you'll have the right allocation in the right place, all neatly packaged in an envelope and pressed into your hand on your way out the door of training on the Tuesday night before.

But when you're out of the loop you have to work that bit harder for it.

I could, of course, have picked up the phone and asked Darragh or Marc to oblige me. But that would be leaving things to chance.

Now, I'd trust my brothers with my life for just about anything, but that kind of currency in the week of an All-Ireland final? God knows what they'd hand back to me! They're the ultimate predators in the ticket jungle. Not that they'd leave me short, they just have a nose for where the best seats are.

So it was a journey I knew I had to make myself. Otherwise I could be booking accommodation for the afternoon with the gulls.

The demand has been incredible and it's not hard to see why.

You hear people challenging the notion that this is the 'dream' final but strip the emotion and romance of new challengers out of it and any discerning follower of the game will welcome the fact that the best two teams are the last two standing.

Giants

Leaving the weight of history and tradition between the Dubs and Kerry aside, isn't that what you want from the final of any competition in any sport?

It's the final I wanted anyway. Among my earliest memories that connect to Kerry football were the 1984 and '85 finals..

The Kerry team being back in Ard a' Bhóthair in '85 when Páidí was captain was the biggest thing in our young lives. To see those players walking around the bar, they were heroes to us. Giants.

I had some big wins over Dublin myself, especially early on in my career. They were a team that didn't really bother us. That's not being disrespectful, we just didn't see them as real All-Ireland contenders. All our firefighting was focused on the North. But in the last few years they left their mark.

I can accept some defeats but I hate looking back on them. 'What if we did this, what if we did that.' I shut the door on all that stuff.

The one that grates me most, though, is 2011. There are Dubs that still get cranky with me when I say it was an All-Ireland title we threw away. It was the worst defeat I ever experienced, worse than either of the two finals we lost to Tyrone. A game we should never have lost.

We lost again to them two years ago and that sticks in me too because it was my last game for Kerry, a sickening feeling coming off that field, the worst place in the world. I hated it because I knew what was in the post the next morning, the media and your own people questioning your manhood. 'They didn't have the bottle.' That wasn't the case at all

Kerry lost to Tyrone three times in the noughties, now the county is looking down the barrel of a third successive defeat to Dublin. Kerry need to stand up and get out of this rut.

But Dublin have a lot going in their favour. The benefit of an extra game with Mayo that served Kerry so well last year, a great goalkeeper, fast, mobile defenders so comfortable on the ball and playing with added aggression and an attack whose collective movement can be frightening, almost impossible to defend against.

If I'm ever coaching a team I always stress the need to pull defenders around the place. But Dublin don't just do it for the sake of it. There's method in every step and Bernard Brogan and Paddy Andrews, right now, are very difficult to pin down.

Stopping the supply at source is Kerry's priority. Tom O'Sullivan and Mike McCarthy were two of the coolest customers around and accepted that there would be times when space would open up around them and great forwards could exploit it. But what they couldn't accept was if there was no pressure on the ball coming in. If it was landing on a chest there was something wrong elsewhere.

Kerry need to apply heat on where the ball is coming from. They need to attack the source, stop James McCarthy and Jack McCaffrey making those 30- to 40-metre bursts that eat up territory, force Philly McMahon to defend more on the ground. They need to dominate that 'middle eight' but that won't be easy.

Inevitably the wellspring for so much of Dublin's best movement is their last man back. I don't think it's been emphasised how good Stephen Cluxton was in hitting his targets for 18 out of 19 kick-outs against Mayo.

Mayo played into his hands with their indecision but Cluxton still had to find his man each time. Kerry have to work on cutting that number in half by pushing right up. No half-measures.

They must try to force Dublin to do what they may not want to do and get the ball going long.

In 2013, we established that a high percentage of his kick-outs were going to the wing-forwards in a particular area of the field and we were vigilant. I was marking Diarmuid Connolly, but I never took my eyes off Cluxton.

He read what was happening, though, and began knocking it out to his corner-backs. We were asleep for it. At half-time we regrouped, got it sorted and didn't give that option in the second half. That's the challenge you face with him, like a game of poker. He can keep you guessing with how close his cards are to his chest. A split-second lapse and he has you.

But if I see him hovering for three or four seconds over his kick, I'll know Kerry have gone some way to cracking him. It's just not an option to sit off.

It's not an option either for Kerry to play a sweeper. I don't think it's in their game to drop a man back because it would be counter-productive to the full kick-out press they need to apply. So if and when Dublin get turnovers in their own half of the field, the lines slot back quickly.

It's been said that Kerry are vulnerable when opponents run at them and have leaked goals this way. But, what team isn't? Cork in the drawn game and Tyrone both picked holes, and Dublin's half-forward line is probably the best around.

The greatest trait of Kerry teams over decades though is the ability to adapt and focus on what's in front of them. Eamonn Fitzmaurice illustrated that last year with a solid defensive platform and the role of James O'Donoghue against Donegal.

They've had four weeks now to iron out the kinks exposed and can't allow the same opportunities to Dublin that were coughed up by Tyrone the last day. Bottom line? There'll be no repeat of the six-goal thriller.

Both teams have learned lessons since then. No-one absorbs them better than Fitzmaurice.

How Kerry deal with Kevin McManamon will be interesting. In 2011, we spoke at length about the impact off the bench that Dublin would have and McManamon was a focus. We had a plan for him, but it didn't work.

Two years ago Jack Sherwood was designated to pick him up but McManamon can drop the shoulder and go from just about anywhere in the opposition half.

Kerry's bench is strong too and has made quite an impact this summer. Paul Galvin and Tommy Walsh haven't featured much but my hunch is they'll have a say yet. Kerry are seeking something special here in back-to-back All-Ireland titles and the stakes are very high.

I take them to lay the last ghost of the recent past and win by three.

Irish Independent

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