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Free flowing tag is a myth

TO take in even a brief mumble of the conversations around the forthcoming All-Ireland football semi-finals is to learn that on Sunday week, when Dublin and Donegal dance again, the dark and evil forces of defence will attempt to black out the bright, hippyish colours of make-it-up-as-you-go-along attack.

This Sunday, meanwhile, two teams who like to play the game 'the way it should be played' will duke it out, mano-a-mano, for the first spot in the All-Ireland final.

Kerry, in particular, tend to be spared the cold finger of analysis on the archaic logic that their dangerous overpopulation of 'natural footballers' render them exempt from the trappings of tactical nuance.

If there's guns to be slung...well then, Kerry have the slingers.

"Free-flowing football," considers their captain, Fionn Fitzgerald, "Is there any such thing as free flowing football any more?"


"I'm not really sure, but we'd like to think we play it in as best a way we can anyway.

"I think the way the game has gone now," he continues, "there's a going to be high intensity football on Sunday, but I think that both teams have very good systems in place and are tactically quite strong, but ultimately we do go out to play football.

"We tactically go about things and we've a good system going at the moment we feel and Mayo have their own system and they've been very successful with it up to now.

"It might be a different game for the onlooker and I understand about the purists, but I think it's always a tactical type of game at this level, really."

Similarly, people tend to immediately identify Jim McGuinness as football's great tactician/messianic motivator and few would refute the nomination.

But by virtue of the fact that he manages Kerry - pure as the driven snow - Eamonn Fitzmaurice doesn't often get the full credit his management has deserved.

Yes, he is regarded as being shrewd.

Yet such is the lay of the Kerry land, no garland will fall at his feet until Sam Maguire rests again in the Kingdom.

But when has he got it wrong?

Twice, after awful starts to the League, he has arrived at a team strong enough to spare Kerry relegation with just enough time to do so.

And twice (from two), they have won Munster titles, despite being outsiders prior to both competition's commencement.


You couldn't say he did anything particularly erroneous on the line in last year's All-Ireland semi-final either.

In Dublin that day, Kerry just met a team a little further up the road than they.

"There's different games, different days," Fitzgerald explains.

"We've tended to do different things. I don't think any two days this year we've played the exact same way, but maybe we (Kerry's defence) haven't attacked.

"When you have forwards as good as we have at the moment, you don't need to necessarily clog up their space and take away runs from the likes of them."

By his own admission, Fitzgerald likes "an aul sally up the field," every so often himself, even if such forrays have been few this season, the one in which he left the 'promising Kerry footballer' zone and entered potential All Star territory.

"It's not about me or about individuals kicking a point," he points out.

"It's very much about having a system or a structure so that not every time it's a score, so you have to be in a position to defend or to have some sort of structure if it breaks down.

"But if the situation presents itself, absolutely, there's backs there that are well able to go up and contribute to the attack."

"One of the big things with Eamonn is that he would empower us to play our own game," Fitzgerald adds.

"Obviously there's structures within...but we're encouraged a bit to cut loose and have that little bit of freedom too and that's important as well I think.

"I'd like to think you wouldn't be thinking about it too much when you're out there on the day. You implement your system to an extent and you obviously rely on your own natural abilities and instincts. That's why you've been playing since you were a young kid."

Of Mayo, the Dr Crokes man insists: "Over the last two or three years they've been very, very impressive at building a platform from their backs.

"Their half-back line is probably the strongest half-back line in the country.

From an attacking point of view they're absolutely, there's nobody better than them just now," Fitzgerald concludes.

"They're the kingpins of it at the moment."