Colm Keys: 'Getting to grips with speed of Patton's kick-out service will be a major priority for Kingdom'
Some 19 minutes into their enthralling 2016 All-Ireland semi-final, Kerry won their first scorable free when sufficient pressure was applied on Dublin's James McCarthy, forcing him to over-carry.
As Colm Cooper stood over the free, which he subsequently scored, there was movement everywhere through the lines. Mark Griffin pushed out from the full-back line into midfield, so too did Peter Crowley from half-back.
Dublin had a four-versus-two advantage inside the Kerry half but Kerry had banked on Stephen Cluxton not getting it that far when the time came. They populated the Dublin half of the field with players to limit the options. Four of them stood in a line in front of him to narrow the shorter channels. Cluxton went long, found Paul Flynn and Dublin soon found themselves three points ahead again.
But Kerry's tactic was clear. When the pause of a scorable free presented itself they would adopt the same pressure on Cluxton, knowing that to try to do so after a score or wide from general play was too risky a strategy with the swiftness of Cluxton's service.
It would pay subsequent dividends 10 minutes later when, facing the same screen, Cluxton hooked a kick-out aimed at John Small into Paul Geaney's hands, and from there the visitors were able to engineer a goal for Darran O'Sullivan.
A surge of energy whipped through Kerry and through the stands where it felt like Dublin were on the ropes for the first time all season.
Kerry quickly followed up with a second goal when a kick-out landed David Moran's way and Geaney subsequently applied enough pressure on Cluxton in an aerial contest to deflect the ball to the net for a five-point interval lead.
Of course, Dublin recovered and delivered arguably their finest half of football in the circumstances to rein in Kerry scoring only points. But what Kerry did that day felt like a turning point in how teams faced an opposition kick-out.
Last Sunday that same pressure by numbers was applied by Kerry to the Mayo kick-out and it became a rout in the first half. Routinely, Kerry had six players inside the Mayo 45-metre line, hedging between marking space and defenders. David Clarke got some away to his left but more often than not was forced to go long and Kerry were able to attack and prosper.
By the break, they had won nine from 17 and crucially scored five points from possession turned over from this set-piece. The effect of that was felt on more than just the scoreboard.
Successfully attacking an opposition kick-out provides a major psychological lift, particularly against the best exponents. Hence that ripple of excitement when Cluxton drives one out over a sideline or into an opponent's arms. They're so rare you can almost remember them individually.
Tomorrow, Kerry's focus on Shaun Patton will need to be 'Cluxtonesque'. After a promising first season, since switching from League of Ireland soccer, Patton has been a revelation this summer with his pinpoint deliveries becoming such a launchpad.
Whatever ground Donegal may have lost when Paul Durcan opted to spend the last few years in the Middle East have been recovered.
Retention for Patton is above the 90 per cent mark so far in this championship. Fermanagh - and to a lesser degree Tyrone - sat off, but still, 77 from 85 by our count over four games is exceptionally high for a goalkeeper who is at his ease in going long and to the wings. It has become a very valuable commodity for Donegal.
What's more striking is what they are scoring off it. Against Meath it was 1-6 directly, including the crucial lead point from Jamie Brennan when Meath had drawn level through Shane McEntee in the 56th minute.
The kick-out against Cavan was also productive with up to eight points attributable, though some, particularly in the second half, involved longer passages in the build-up.
But Jason McGee, Dara Ó Baoill and Oisin Gallen all fisted points cutting in off the right wing which had their source further back in the chain from Patton finding his man.
Michael Murphy is quite often the source, though in Michael Langan, McGee and Hugh McFadden they have other targets well above the six-foot mark too. Height wasn't a barrier to Paddy McGrath getting himself free to receive on the stand side in the second half against Cavan. They can also lay claim to a short kick-out being the source of Jamie Brennan's goal against Tyrone after a defence-splitting move.
Getting to grips with Patton and applying the same pressure they put on Clare is of paramount importance to Kerry tomorrow in a game that, essentially, defines the right to be considered Dublin's nearest challengers.
Last Sunday felt like a turning point for the Kingdom but one they'll have to back up quickly now.
The pace of change in their squad has been phenomenal. Over the last two years 14 championship debuts have been handed out: Shane Murphy David Clifford, Seanie O'Shea, Micheál Burns, Gavin White, Ronan Shanahan and Jason Foley in 2018; Shane Ryan, Robert Wharton, Adrian Spillane, Gavin Crowley, Dara Moynihan, Diarmuid O'Connor and Graham O'Sullivan so far this year. That's almost an entire team in eight games over a 13-month period.
And yet a question mark hangs over Kerry's ability to translate their minor-winning success into something more tangible, certainly at U-21/U-20 level and perhaps even at senior level, compounded by a heavy U-20 defeat to Cork on Thursday in the Munster final.
The first of the five-in-a-row minor titles in 2014 came after a final win over Donegal, completing a memorable double. But from that team just Ryan and Tom O'Sullivan are starters, with Burns, Wharton and Brian Ó Beaglaoich on the bench.
Donegal have, arguably, got more through Jamie Brennan, Eoghan Bán Gallagher and Stephen McMenamin, all now integral parts of Declan Bonner's back-to-back Ulster winners.
Gallagher's loss to a suspected broken ankle (Donegal have yet to confirm this) is inestimable, given the pace he brings to their play. But they still approach this second phase in confident mode, assured by the presence of a goalkeeper who has given them a new dimension.