Monday 16 September 2019

Alan Brogan: 'Peter Keane deserves great credit but can he make lightning strike twice in the same place?'

Deployment of Walsh in 52nd minute forced 14-man Dubs into defensive scramble mode

Problem solvers: Dublin manager Jim Gavin (left) and Kerry boss Peter Keane have plenty of tactical conundrums to figure out before Saturday week's All-Ireland SFC final replay. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Problem solvers: Dublin manager Jim Gavin (left) and Kerry boss Peter Keane have plenty of tactical conundrums to figure out before Saturday week's All-Ireland SFC final replay. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Alan Brogan

IT’S difficult to know what to make of Peter Keane. Clearly, he goes to great lengths to say nothing but if Keane’s young team pulled off that win last Sunday, he’d have been fêted in Kerry for ever more.

Given his inexperience, it was only natural to question whether Keane was up to a huge tactical battle with a manager as experienced and successful as Jim Gavin.

The respective difficulty levels in managing at minor and senior levels are incomparable.

But in the 52nd minute, his move in bringing Tommy Walsh on almost won the sweetest All-Ireland Kerry might ever achieve, short of doing five-in-a-row themselves.

That Walsh came on was no great surprise in itself. Plenty of people speculated he might even start.

But by Keane putting him in for Brian Ó Beaglaoich  it altered the dynamic of a match that Dublin, despite their numerical disadvantage, were managing quite well, keeping Kerry at a safe-ish distance on the scoreboard.

But from then, Kerry played ostensibly with seven forwards.

They never had all seven in attacking positions at the same time because they rotated in and out constantly.

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But it meant there was one extra danger on the pitch that required attention.

At that stage, Jonny Cooper had been sent off.

So Dublin, a team usually so methodical and well-drilled, were scrambling at the back.

The Kerry goal is a perfect example of this. There are two moments of misfortune for Dublin in the build-up.

First, Paddy Small's shot – which would have put Dublin six up had it landed over the bar - was probably only a couple of inches away from being out of Shane Ryan’s reach.

Then, Davy Byrne makes a great intercepting catch but seems to lose his footing, then his balance and finally, the ball.

Even still, we’re not quite in goal territory until Mick Fitzsimons leaves Killian Spillane to cover for Byrne on Walsh.

In the circumstances, allowing Tommy Walsh a free shot from 40 yards at an angle on the right hand side of the pitch isn't the worst scenario for Dublin to face. Even giving up a point on the scoreboard at this stage wouldn't have been the end of the world

But given they were a man down, lacking a covering defender and trying to figure out the movements of the Kerry forwards, Mick Fitz just reacts out of instinct.

So like a lot of the things that happened on Sunday, some of it was coloured by Dublin's numerical disadvantage and some of it was simply down to how well the Kerry management and players performed on the day.

They deserve credit for their bravery.

Did their aggressive press of the Dublin kick-out work? I’d rank it as a qualified success.

You could argue the 1-2 Dublin got from long kick-outs that caught Kerry out negated whatever tangible benefit they had in winning six of Stephen Cluxton’s 25 restarts.

But that’s simply collateral damage for setting a tone for the game and how Kerry were going to approach it.

Go at Dublin everywhere. Put them under the most intense pressure imaginable for as long as humanly possible.

The Kerry full-back line, questioned and scrutinised more deeply than any other line in the build-up to the match, got away with six points from play leaked collectively to Con O’Callaghan, Paul Mannion and Dean Rock.

And as a defensive unit, Kerry managed to force Dublin into taking shots from parts of the pitch they don’t normally kick from.

On every slow Dublin attack, Kerry formed a semi-circle of bodies around the circumference of the arc from where Dublin like to take their shots.

It’s impossible to stop Dublin creating scoring chances.

But you can, as Kerry expertly did, coerce them into shooting from low percentage positions.

It takes huge organisation and endless practice but you got the impression on Sunday Peter Keane hadn't simply rolled out this game plan to his players in the days after the Tyrone semi-final.

The other deeply impressive thing about Kerry’s performance was Seán O’Shea.

I’d never seen him play in the flesh before but for all the talk about David Clifford and Stephen O’Brien, he was easily their most influential forward.

We've a habit of overlooking frees a bit when we’re listing the important aspects of a team’s performance.

In games like these, where one point either side can win it, having a free-taker as metronomic as O’Shea or Dean Rock is priceless.

At a time when they Kerry weren't generating too many chances, O’Shea kept them motoring.

His striking of the ball was phenomenal.

Some of those '45s sailed over the bar halfway up the net behind the goals. To kick that accurately with that sort of power under that level pressure is a testament to his character, his skill but also the quantity and quality of practice he’s done on them over the years.

So when you put all those little victories together, we had a situation we haven't seen in a couple of years.

Some of Dublin’s forwards couldn't find space. Some of their backs were struggling. And both midfielders were peripheral.

It wasn't quite the perfect storm from Kerry but it was rough enough to nearly win them the game.

For that, their painfully understated manager must receive huge credit.

The problem for Peter Keane is that Dublin are forewarned. And it’s his job to try and make lightning strike twice in the same place in the replay.

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