Sunday 22 September 2019

Ciaran Whelan: 'Kerry's big dilemma as both Jim Gavin and Peter Keane make big calls'


Brian Fenton, Dublin, in action against David Moran during the 2016 final
Brian Fenton, Dublin, in action against David Moran during the 2016 final

Ciarán Whelan

THE fallout from last Sunday's All-Ireland hurling final rumbles on. It was previewed as a classic but failed to live up to its billing.

Last weekend's game was supposed to be the clash of the ages. It fell well short of that for a few reasons.

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Does all this sound a bit familiar?

Sunday week's footballing equivalent is also a duel between two giants of the game and let's hope it doesn't disappoint. I don't think it will.

However, there were lessons in the meeting of Tipperary and Kilkenny.

Firstly, weather conditions, often underplayed in the build-up, can have a huge bearing on a contest as a spectacle and secondly, the importance of discipline.

One act of indiscipline had a major bearing on last Sunday's clash with Richie Hogan's red card a major setback for Brian Cody's men.

Like James Owens, the football final referee, David Gough, will not be afraid to make the hard calls, so both Dublin and Kerry will have to be on their guard.

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Also, the illness suffering by the young, talented Kilkenny forward Adrian Mullen, which looked to have drained his strength and significantly lessened his influence, resulting in his substitution, also underlined how the sporting gods can bring bad luck.

The 20-year-old Ballyhale Shamrocks clubman was enjoying a stellar senior championship debut season, but one bit of bad luck saw his year end is great disappointment with manager Brian Cody forced to withdraw him just five minutes into the second half.

It just shows how you can be dealt a really bad hand. Controlling the controllables is one thing, but horrible luck is another.

Nearly all the preparation work is done now in the Dublin and Kerry camps. It's all about getting the minds right and rehearsing Plans A, B etc in advance of the decider.

The Dubs took themselves off to Clare last weekend, it has become something of an annual pilgrimage for Jim Gavin and his men in recent times and Dublin fans will be hoping that their team's familiarity with All-Ireland final Sunday will be an advantage against a less experienced Kerry side.

Both camps will probably learn their starting 15s this weekend and both managements have a few selection issues to settle on, arguably Kerry more so than Dublin.

But it's not beyond Gavin to pull a rabbit from the hat and make an unexpected call.

In 2017, the inclusion of Eoghan O'Gara was something of a shock selection at full-forward for the All-Ireland final against Mayo.

The big Templeogue/Synge Street man did not start any game that summer yet was sprung for the biggest day of the year, presumably on outstanding form in A v B games in the lead up to the final.

However, I don't see Gavin making any surprise selections this time unless he elects to return Cian O'Sullivan to his sweeper role and push James McCarthy into midfield to partner Brian Fenton.

Kerry, on the other hand, have a couple of calls to make.

Do they start with Tommy Walsh at full-forward? They will have to try something different against the Dubs, but I think they may hold off on this move until the second half.

Dublin have a great habit of solving any issues at half-time that have caused them problems in the opening 35 minutes, so tactically I think the Kingdom's think-tank will leave any curveballs until the second period.

Like Walsh, Jack Sherwood played a big role off the bench in their semi-final victory over Tyrone so he has now also pushed himself into the reckoning for selection.

If one thing can be predicted without fear of contradiction, certainly based on league encounters between the counties of recent times, it will be a very physical battle with plenty of off-the-ball action.

While my pronunciation of Brian Ó Beaglaoich has let me down on my appearances on The Sunday Game, one Kerry expression I am very familiar with from my TV team-mate Tomás Ó Sé is, 'hammer the hammer'!

However, from Kerry's perspective, who do they feel is the Dublin 'hammer' when they plot their game-plan? Is it Stephen Cluxton? James McCarthy? Brian Fenton? Ciarán Kilkenny? Paul Mannion? Con O'Callaghan?

They certainly have a serious plan for Cluxton and his kick-outs, their full-court press just before half-time in the epic 2016 All-Ireland semi-final could be reinacted.

That day the Dubs led 0-9 to 0-4 after 24 minutes, yet by the break they were 0-9 to 2-8 in arrears after Kerry laid siege to Hill 16 before the interval and were rewarded handsomely with a haul of 2-4 without reply with goals from Darran O'Sullivan and Paul Geaney.

A wayward kick-out by Cluxton was won by Geaney who fed Donnchadh Walsh and in turn O'Sullivan for the first goal. And with the Kerry crowd baying for more, a point from the Gooch brought them level before a speculative Anthony Maher delivery into the danger area was flicked over the line by Geaney.

The half-time break couldn't come quick enough for the Dubs and at the break they settled, with Cluxton resuming his usual incredible restart stats as Dublin edged out the Kingdom in a dramatic finish with points from O'Gara and Diarmuid Connolly - a superb strike off his left foot.

Brian Fenton also poses a big dilemma for Kerry.

Do they throw the challenge down to the in-form David Moran, telling him that if he quells the Raheny man's influence then Kerry will be on their way to their first All-Ireland SFC title since 2014?

While it has been suggested in some quarters that Jack Barry may return to Kerry's starting 15 to try to unsettle Fenton based on some success in league games, I don't think their manager Peter Keane will go with that selection, I've a feeling they'll make the big call and task Moran with the job.

Dublin, likewise, have big decisions to make, especially in terms of how do they try to nullify the threat of Kerry's forward line. How do they stop the likes of Geaney, David Clifford, Seán O'Shea and Stephen O'Brien?

One thing for certain, as I said at the outset, discipline is paramount, especially with freetakers of the ability of O'Shea and Dean Rock on the park.

With just over a week to go the expectation is building and unlike the hurling equivalent, I'm expecting a thriller. It's just a pity there isn't a roof over Croker to guard against the weather!

Herald

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