Saturday 24 March 2018

Colm O'Rourke: Kerry need to make this a stink game if they want to come out smelling of roses

Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire cup last year Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Dublin players celebrate with the Sam Maguire cup last year Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Kerry's best chance is for Kieran Donaghy, in action here against Rory O'Carroll and Michael Darragh MacAuley, to play close to goal and make a complete menace of himself. Photo: Ramsey Cardy
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

When Kevin McManamon scored that famous goal against Kerry in the 2011 All-Ireland final and Stephen Cluxton scored the winning point from a free, there were many happy to see a Dublin squad who had been around for a while get their day in the sun.

In ways they were Mayo-lite at the time. Dublin had been close but no cigar for much of the previous decade. The genie was let out of the bottle that day and a monster took shape. Now Dublin spread fear and apprehension everywhere and we are feeling a bit sorry for Kerry, who are getting whipped by Dublin in every competition.

Those with longer memories will remember a time when it used to be like that - except exactly the opposite, only Kerry's domination of the Dubs was longer and more painful. Kerry would ride into town and often gave Dublin a complete mauling before retreating back to Kerry like some Gallic hordes who scattered women and pillaged cattle.

At all times with a sense of mischievous fun. As a result nobody disliked Kerry too much. They were not arrogant or spiteful, their supporters drank their wine but bothered nobody and always looked on defeat as a temporary setback. Now, however, they are getting really worried as the temporary setbacks are looking more permanent.

Recently I was in Newmarket, the centre of the British horse racing industry. A morning in the town and on the gallops is an education. The horse is king and has right of way over traffic and almost every other living thing. Horses seemed to appear from every gate - 30, 40, 50 from every string as they made their way to the gallops. A very civilised system.

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I wanted to visit the yard of Henry Cecil, the famous trainer who had his stables in Warren Place, which is on the high ground away from the town. Cecil was one of the greatest trainers in history and before he died of cancer in 2013 he trained the greatest Flat horse I have seen, Frankel.

Anyway, Warren Place is no longer a training yard after being bought by Sheik Mohammed; it will probably be so in time but for now extensive work is in the offing. The famous rose garden has plenty of weeds and the place has just a run-down look about it.

Nothing lasts forever. Champion trainers die, walls fall down, great horses come and go just like great teams. Those counties with a sense of ambition look to the future and work towards getting the break when an old empire crumbles which can get a new force to the top and remain there for a while at least.

Dublin are a bit like Frankel at the moment but they, like him, will also retire to stud (for want of a better term). There will come a time - and not too far away - when they will appear far less frightening.

Kerry are hardly new but they are looking to get back into the winner's enclosure. If they do so today they have a string of brilliant minors coming along who could help them to dominate again. So don't cry for me Argentina where Kerry are concerned.

The general feeling abroad seems to be that today's game is really the final and that both these sides are better than Mayo. Maybe so. Certainly last Sunday's semi-final was a match of poor standard, even apart from Mayo struggling. This should be a level above in the execution of basic skills.

Today, Kerry's first mission is to deal with Cluxton's kick-outs. This strategy could decide the game. Many have tried to disrupt them but few have succeeded for all the 70-plus minutes. Unless the Kerry players are supplied with Harley Davidsons then Cluxton will eventually find space and a runner in blue.

The option is to really take chances and push up even more men to form a wall. It would be an interesting tactic for the Kerry half-backs to leave their men behind and push right up into midfield with everyone else being able to move farther up the field.

The ultimate full-court press. If it broke down then there would be absolute panic in the Kerry backline but sometimes fortes fortuna iuvat - fortune favours the brave.

The Kerry selection may not be the Kerry team. They are hardly going to set up in advance for the Dubs to pick off. Their best chance is probably for Kieran Donaghy to play close to goal and make a complete menace of himself in there with James O'Donoghue and Paul Geaney lying very close to him. It would make for a formidable old-fashioned full-forward line and might be the first time Rory O'Carroll and Jack McCaffrey could ring in and ask, 'Are you missing us?' Jonny Cooper and Philly McMahon are fine footballers, but have never had to deal with an aerial onslaught against this calibre of forwards.

Kerry also need to tie up sweeper Cian O'Sullivan and that can be achieved by marking him. It may sound like a reversal of normal back/forward roles but his influence is crucial and he needs to be kept busy himself so he can't go around taking the load off others.

Midfield may not really be midfield anymore yet the best player here is Brian Fenton. People might have underestimated him last year and he got little attention, but now he can deal with it and the Moran-Maher combination will need the games of their short lives if Kerry are to be still standing when the time moves to 5 o'clock. Johnny Buckley could add a bit of hard graft in this sector too for Kerry, while Dublin have Michael Darragh Macauley and Denis Bastick to add to the mix.

For the last five years, few have managed to tame the Dublin forwards. The great saint Bernard is close to his curtain call yet he generally rises to the big occasion. McManamon was magnificent against Donegal and Ciarán Kilkenny might start to attack again and kick long-range points. At every point there is danger without Paul Mannion or Eoghan O'Gara appearing. It is only right that O'Gara is available after a slap against Donegal which was barely felt by a Donegal back called McGee, one of the original hard men who must have been embarrassed by the sending-off. Paul Flynn or Diarmuid Connolly have not really taken off yet in this year's championship so Kerry defenders are looking at six short straws when it comes to the draw.

It reminds me of a championship final when I was involved as a player and part of a management team. We were trying to assign markers to the best forwards on the opposition but it ran aground eventually when none of our backs were willing to volunteer to mark three of their best forwards. It could be a bit like that with Kerry! It may be a case of telling fellows that this is your job and just get on with it. So it is probably Enright on Brogan, Crowley on Connolly and the rest can be thrown into a hat for a lucky dip.

Dublin generally run everyone into the ground by the three-quarter stage and send on the fifth cavalry to mop up. Kerry need to be in this game with 15 minutes to go and then they could release the Gooch, Marc ó Sé and Bryan Sheehan. That would give the crowd and the team a huge lift.

Read More: Kerry can draw hope from 1978 ahead of mammoth battle with Dublin at Croke Park

To win, Kerry must make this into a stink game and certainly would need to be far more aggressive than in last year's final. The problem with this is that Dublin don't generally get bogged down in physical games, either the man or ball or both is going too fast for old-style trench warfare. And if Kerry give away frees, Dean Rock will kick easy scores all day.

This is the conundrum facing Eamonn Fitzmaurice. He knows more or less what Dublin will do and so will pack the defence early on and hope this turns into a low-scoring dog of a match. Just like against Donegal a couple of years ago when Kerry players, management and supporters were very happy to ditch pure football in the interests of winning. Maybe Kerry are not so different after all from the savages in other counties who favour winning over romance.

Keeping the score down and stopping goals is one thing, especially if it is wet, but getting support upfield at speed from the half-back area has not been happening.

Paul Murphy may shine in this role but it is a big ask for Brian ó Beaglaoich and Tadhg Morley to do it.

Dublin will play to their usual pattern and hope that hard running, good foot-passing and their superior skill will overcome dogged persistence. Nothing lasts forever but this is Croke Park not Warren Place. Maybe we should not mention the Olympics but the Dubs appear Citius, Altius Fortius. Faster, higher, stronger.

Hopefully Kerry have something different to offer as they have been short on pace against Dublin in their last three games.

But even with a few surprises from Kerry, I expect Dublin to win.

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