Saturday 18 August 2018

Comment: Damaging defeat suggests Eamonn Fitzmaurice's Kerry team are going backwards

Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

So much for the dawn of a new Kerry era full of youthful exuberance.

 If anything, this defeat to Galway would suggest the team is going backwards under Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Being torn apart by a proven team like Mayo is forgiveable, but when the same punishment is dished out by an unproven championship side, then questions have to be asked and you can be sure they will be in the Kingdom this week.

An unhappy Kerryman asked me afterwards where was 'Plan B' - to which I immediately replied that I hadn't seen much of 'Plan A'. What I did see was Kerry handing the initiative to the opposition before the throw-in, much the same as they did in the 2015 All-Ireland against Dublin when they opted not to start their captain Kieran Donaghy.

By deploying a sweeper in Peter Crowley, which they hadn't in their wins over Clare and Cork, I felt they were giving Galway too much respect. Instead of playing their own game, they gave a psychological edge to their opponents which they gratefully accepted as, all through, Kevin Walsh's men dictated the pace of this game - which was incredibly slow.

On a greasy pitch, in which there were bound to be mistakes, it suited the men from the West and their players seemed tactically more clued in, especially when it came to kick-outs. Aside from the excellent David Clifford, who really stood up to the test despite his tender years, Kerry's big players weren't at the races. Paul Geaney, Paul Murphy, and to a lesser extent David Moran didn't lead the line, and the likes of their younger generation - Jack Barry, Seán O'Shea and Brian Ó Beaglaoích - disappointed.

Given Kerry were so bereft of ideas, how Donaghy wasn't brought on in the final quarter is incredible. His track record when needed is good, and, by God, his craft and guile were required. There's no doubt there will be stinging criticism from within and with their championship fate now in the balance, Monaghan can expect a wounded animal in Clones next Sunday but the Farney men will be prepared for what lies ahead.

Last week I wrote how work-rate was Monaghan's greatest asset, and yesterday it proved to be enough to get them over the line against a Kildare team who lacked any of the pace and vigour that saw them light up the championship over the past number of weeks.

Kildare generally perform at their best in open, dynamic games; thus it was a given going into the game that Monaghan were not going to allow the game to be played on Kildare's terms. Malachy O'Rourke would have been delighted with how the game played out in greasy conditions. Dominating the physical stakes throughout, Monaghan should have been more comfortable winners. Strong in the turnover, the Wylie brothers excelled in a stubborn Monaghan defence that has been honed in top-tier company.

Kildare showed a lack of composure in front of goal that has so often been their Achilles heel on the big stage, but I expect better performances from Kildare in the weeks ahead, as the safety net has now been removed.

Galway might only be 12 months further down the road in terms of team development but they showed more organisation and togetherness against Eamonn Fitzmaurice's charges. One could argue that Kerry had enough experience on the field to perform better than they did, but as an overall panel it looks like it will take another season at least to blend the old and the young into genuine All-Ireland contenders.

ruthless In the first of Saturday night's games, Tyrone gave the proverbial two fingers to their critics with a ruthless display of system, style and cynicism, in their rout of Roscommon. Mickey Harte has been moulding this current panel of players over the past number of seasons into All-Ireland calibre, and all the while many observers have been decrying their overly defensive approach, leaving the Tyrone boss scratching his head. Having scored 7-44 over their last two games, it is fair to say that Harte and this Tyrone team deserve a break.

Dublin and Donegal arguably served up the game of highest intensity over the weekend, even if the bar in this regard was not set particularly high. A scrappy Dublin did just about enough, but there were signs that Diarmuid Connolly's absence might still be a deciding factor before the season is out.

Donegal are cruelly a Paddy McBrearty short from being genuine All-Ireland contenders. His big-game experience and pedigree was sorely missed and would have pushed a well-rounded Donegal team to within touching distance of the All-Ireland champions. Declan Bonner must be cursing his luck.

Patrick Sweeney's late goal to seal Galway's historic win over Kerry, signalled one of the few genuine championship roars over a disappointing weekend of action. As the 'Super 8s' move out into the provinces, the safety nets are gone and the stakes will rise. Unlike other years, teams this year are getting years of big-game championship experience over a matter of weeks.

Those that have both the capacity to learn quickly and ability to withstand the physical rigours of the new format will flourish. Experience, as always, will be the key.

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