Saturday 18 November 2017

Eugene McGee: Sudden fade-outs must be a concern for Kingdom fans

Donnchadh Walsh in action against Pearse O'Neill
Donnchadh Walsh in action against Pearse O'Neill
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Kerry football people are slow to praise their team after a big game unless, of course, they have just won the All-Ireland final. They generally adopt an attitude of being glad to win the earlier games but imply that they will be demanding more as they head for September.

This was certainly the attitude in Killarney around 4.30 yesterday, and it wasn't just the high temperature that had those Kerry fans sweating after the Munster final.

After a dazzling first half when all the great natural traditional skills of Kerry football such as high catching in the middle, clever foot-passing, speedy movement of the forwards, with and without the ball, were on display, those fans were in heaven, but the knowing ones realised that such excellence could not continue throughout the second period in such brutal heat.

Leading by 1-10 to 0-6, and it should have been at least 1-16 but for careless shooting, this all seemed to put even Dublin's performance last week into the ha'penny place, and the unreality continued until the 52nd minute when Kerry led by nine points.

But Cork have a marvellous group of players at their disposal and having made a pig's ear of their original selection, they began to restore some normality with substitutions and switches and Kerry got caught up in a whirlwind of scores, six points without reply, that left them fighting for their lives.

ABILITY

Kerry people have always been very afraid of the ability of Ciaran Sheehan and could not understand why he was not in the Cork line-up as he had done a lot of damage to the Kingdom in recent years. It was not until the 54th minute that he was eventually unleashed, and immediately there was near panic in the Kerry backline.

The biggest difference between Kerry teams nowadays and previously is that they no longer seem capable of dealing with that old-fashioned style of kicking high balls in on top of their full-back line.

Cork decided not to do that for the greater part of the game and it undoubtedly cost them because when some high balls were floated in during the last quarter the Kerry defence opened up like when Moses parted the Red Sea.

But thankfully for Kerry they had a some excellent subs to call on when defeat threatened, particularly Kieran Donaghy, Bryan Sheehan and Eoin Brosnan, and enough Kerrymen held their heads in those final dramatic minutes to regain the Munster title and head for Croke Park for the quarter-finals.

Victory is sweet any time Kerry beat Cork in the final but their fans will wonder about the disparity of quality between the first and second halves.

The first half was possibly the best such period from Kerry over the past decade, apart from when they destroyed Dublin a few years ago.

This was near-perfect football, laced in all aspects with sheer quality.

Colm Cooper gave a masterclass in how to control an attack with his vision, quality of passing and of course his own super goal in the 29th minute. Darran and Declan O'Sullivan tore their opponents to shreds by half-time.

Cork's defence, if you could call it that, was diabolical in this half – their man-to-man marking was non-existent, while Graham Canty seemed to have been dispatched to outer darkness as nobody seemed to know what role he was asked to play.

In the second half, the zip seemed to fade from many Kerry players after about 15 minutes and following a series of team changes, most notably bringing Aidan Walsh from midfield to the half-forward line, Cork began to show their power to good effect as Kerry were left as mere bystanders.

In the space of 10 minutes, five Cork players notched up six points, four from play.

When the ball was eventually directed into young full-forward Brian Hurley, the cracks really opened up in the Kerry defence and he scored two excellent points.

Recent history shows that Kerry do not lose Munster finals to Cork in Killarney and this probably settled Kingdom nerves, but it is a sobering thought for manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice that in the final 25 minutes, Kerry only managed to score two points in response to the Cork barrage of a staggering nine points.

This apparent fade-out will worry Kingdom followers, and clearly the Kerry backline needs more steel before heading back to Croke Park.

It is said that the Munster football final has lost its glamour nowadays since both teams nearly always qualify for the quarter-finals anyway but that is only partially true.

Fitzgerald Stadium on a day like yesterday with a crowd of around 35,000 is still the best football occasion outside Croke Park and, despite some valley periods, this encounter lived up to that reputation.

The variations in performance from both teams yesterday between the two halves leaves each county with a lot of work to do to win the All-Ireland because the fade-outs would have been very serious if either had been facing one of the other few top counties.

Cork nearly always rise to the occasion against Kerry in the championship but their fans must be wondering what the selectors were at with their chopping and changing at the start of the game when three of the players named in their starting line-up were replaced.

This sort of thing is an insult to supporters who pay good money to watch games and also purchase expensive match programmes. GAA fans around the country deserve better than this sort of shabby treatment.

Irish Independent

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