Thursday 14 December 2017

Eugene McGee: Kerry keep powder dry for sterner September test

Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Having watched Kerry play in about 30 All-Ireland semi-finals I have no problem identifying a long-standing pattern for the Kingdom. For most of these semi-finals, Kerry are fairly certain to advance, so they play a bit on the casual side, do enough to win and unless some opponents rattle their cage through over-physical stuff or the like, they go off home without comment and get ready for the final.

Occasionally of course Kerry have to pull out all the stops to win the semi-final, and indeed there have been several notable defeats at that stage for them by Derry, Down, Dublin and others.

Yesterday's game with Mayo was definitely in the first category and I doubt if many Kerry GAA people didn't believe that their team would win with a bit to spare. That is the way it turned out and a nine-point victory is clear evidence of that.

So it is in that context that I look at yesterday's game and there was clear evidence at the very start that this was not a Kerry team that was frothing at the mouth in an attempt to crush Mayo out of sight.

In the early minutes they had several great chances and should have had 2-2 on the board before they got scoring.

When you see players like Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy on a couple of occasions hesitating to take up the chase after their opponents had beaten them for possession, you know that this is not the traditional Kerry killer streak.


Further proof of this rather devil-may-care approach at the start of the game was that they only managed a solitary point during the opening 17 minutes and that score came from defender Tomas O Se. It took the much-vaunted forwards 20 minutes to get their first score from play.

Now if Kerry really believed they had a realistic possibility of losing this semi-final they would have had a more cut-throat approach to their work from the word go.

When Jack O'Connor got the players into the dressing-room at half-time and Kerry only led by 0-8 to 0-6, I would imagine there were some frosty words of advice from the manager, and it showed.

In the space of 15 minutes after the break Kerry scored eight points, six from play, to Mayo's two.

So they were ahead by eight points and were home and hosed in the traditional Kerry semi-final manner.

The Kerry urgency was in full flow and the remainder of the game was a mere formality as regards the destination of the All-Ireland final place.

Now having said all that, we also have to acknowledge that for the greater part of this game we had a very interesting contest because even though Mayo were limited in natural football ability compared to their opponents, their positive attitude to the game and the presence of real leaders like Donal Vaughan, Alan Dillon and Ger Cafferkey gave Kerry a test sufficient to cause some serious ripples of concern in the Kingdom.

Unusually in a Mayo-Kerry game, the physical contest was won hands down for most of the game by the former.

They had a policy of hitting early and often and for a long while it upset some Kerry players quite a bit.

But in the second half, when players on both sides began to tire somewhat, that Mayo attribute was gone, so the remainder of the game was decided purely on skill -- and with Kerry scoring 14 times to Mayo's six after the break that told the true story of this match.

At times, the hits by Mayo, mainly fair by the way, did not seem to have purpose other than to exert their determination, but the roughness dished out to Paul Galvin the moment he walked on as a sub was an example of false bravado rather than intelligent aggression.

Indeed the treatment dished out to Galvin by opponents and at times by the referee left a lot to be desired. All players should be treated equally in these cases, regardless of their past.

The GAA is going to spend thousands of euro introducing Hawk-Eye technology next year to cover up for refereeing and umpiring mistakes but what will they do about 'ordinary' refereeing mistakes like the one yesterday in which we clearly saw Cooper lifting the ball illegally from the ground with his knees, which allowed Kieran O'Leary to score Kerry's first point after half time?

By comparison with previous big games against Kerry in Croke Park, Mayo can have some satisfaction in this case. James Horan is starting off a new team and while they have a long way to go they played with great heart and spirit and no little skill. They will need some new players but in general the oft-times Mayo flashy football was replaced with honest endeavour and that is a sound starting point for any team building.

Overall, O'Connor will be reasonably happy, particularly with the brilliance of Cooper as exemplified by his spectacular goal immediately after Mayo scored theirs.

But midfield needs improvement and the full-back line may well cause sleepless night for the fans prior to the final, particularly if Dublin are the opponents.

But of course Kerry in a final as opposed to a semi-final are a totally different animal and that is the greatest weapon in their armoury as they await September 18. More than any county in Ireland, Kerry know how to win All-Ireland finals. Others beware!

Incidentally, this was Kerry's ninth All-Ireland semi-final in the past 10 years, which is a truly amazing record -- bearing in mind that that period covers the first decade of the qualifiers and Kerry have had to work harder to get to the last four as opposed to the old days when they often skated through Munster unchallenged.

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