Monday 16 September 2019

Ciarán Whelan: 'A great act of double bluff cute hoorism. You can't keep up with Kerry when it comes to it'

David Gough will ref the All-Ireland final between Dublin and Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile
David Gough will ref the All-Ireland final between Dublin and Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile

Ciarán Whelan

We may have a couple of weeks to go to the All-Ireland Football final but it seems like the ball has been thrown in already.

During the week, a few former Kerry footballers laced up the boots one more time and pulled on the famous green-and-gold jersey to answer their county's call when expressing the opinion that they felt Meath referee David Gough should not be the man with the whistle on Sunday, September 1.

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Now that Gough has been officially confirmed as the referee for the final, we can expect some Kerry voices now to endorse his appointment in the coming days. Watch this space!

In many ways, what Kerry have achieved here is a great act of double bluff cute hoorism. You couldn't be keeping up with them in the Kingdom when it comes to the art of it.

Let me explain. They expected Gough was going to get appointed from the outset and now they have applied a lot of pressure to him in advance of the final.

What they have achieved is to put a really unnecessary spotlight on the man in black for the All-Ireland final in the hope that their county is the beneficiary of some 50/50 calls on the day.

Maybe it is a sense of fear emanating from the Kingdom?

Anyway back to the real action of last weekend.

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In a sense there were similarities in the games, with both winners coming from trailing at the interval.

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There is something peculiar about the second-half turnaround in Gaelic football – it seems to be more frequent in our game than in most others.

Maybe the side that is leading falls into the trap of saying "just keep doing what we are doing and we'll win", whereas the opposing dressingroom is more clinical, making changes in personnel or position or addressing the shortcomings of the opening half.

Mayo, as they had done a week previously against Donegal, brought a very intensive, physical game-plan.

However, they failed to score sufficiently. And for that reason, from a Dublin perspective, I was confident Jim Gavin's man would respond and go on to victory.

Dublin had failed to function for the opening 35-plus minutes, as Mayo dictated the tempo of the game. They controlled a lot of possession and were better around the breaking ball.

But when all is said and done, they don't have enough real top-quality forwards to put enough scores on the board during their periods of dominance to win an All-Ireland.

Gavin and his management team will not be happy with Dublin's first-half efforts.

For such an experienced side, they did not combine and work as a unit during this period and should really have been further in arrears at the break.

To some degree, you could accuse Dublin of the same in their earlier matches this summer against the likes of Meath and Cork.

However, the Dubs were superb in the opening 12 minutes of the second half, when they scored 2-6 without reply.

The third quarter of games is the spell Dublin have targeted. They sense that it is when teams are vulnerable and they go for the jugular.

They have the players to do it, which is crucial.

In the Kerry versus Tyrone semi-final, there were times when the Tyrone forwards were just too content to clip points in the opening half when – if they were more adventurous – they could have tried to create a goal.

A goal during the first half for Mickey Harte's men might have left Kerry with too much to do.

In the likes of Ciarán Kilkenny, Con O'Callaghan, Paul Mannion and Dean Rock, their antenna is always probing for goal situations – look at their understanding, movement and communication for Con's two goals, as well as Brian Fenton's, while Niall Scully and Fenton again spurned goal opportunities.

It's Dublin's ability to create, with Kilkenny really to the fore for that second-half blitz, and then take goals that strike fear into their opponents.

Dublin have scored 17 goals in this summer's championship (seven games), the same tally as last year when winning the All-Ireland (eight games), with ten different goalscorers – Con O'Callaghan (4), Brian Fenton (3), Michael Darragh Macauley (3), Cormac Costello, Dean Rock, Ciarán Kilkenny, Niall Scully, Philly McMahon, Jack McCaffrey and Eoghan O'Gara (one each).

It's a return to their high goalscoring tally of 2015 (18 in seven games) before their goalscoring rate dropped off in 2016 (eight in seven games, plus two own goals) and 2017 (ten in six games).

It was this fervour for goals after half-time that turned last Saturday's semi-final on its head.

O'Callaghan's early second-half strike gave them the impetus and Dublin penned Mayo in for this period as they assumed total control.

Fenton made some majestic fetches as Dublin, through James McCarthy, Fenton, Macauley and Brian Howard, erected a road block across the halfway line. The traffic was nearly all one-way.

I felt in advance that if Dublin moved four or five points ahead, the succession of games for Mayo and toll of injuries would weigh extra heavy and Mayo would fade out of sight in the rear-view mirror.

So two weeks out from the All-Ireland final, the expectation is rising.

It is two weeks for supporters on both sides to sit back and enjoy the build-up, as it could be very colourful. Certainly the Kerry boys have added a bit of spice already.

We can look ahead in great detail to the final over the coming weeks but one thing is already interesting and worth asking?

Are Kerry players under as much pressure to deliver this All-Ireland and prevent Dublin achieving the five in-a-row as the Dubs are to win it?

It certainly seems that way.

All any ex-Kerry player I met this year talked about was 'someone having to stop the Dubs winning the five'.

Now, the chance has fallen to the men from the Kingdom.

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