Monday 16 July 2018

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Comment: Kerry of 2014 were better than the current group and the lack of a defensive system is hard to fathom

Kerry play Mayo in an All-Ireland semi-final replay this Saturday.
Kerry play Mayo in an All-Ireland semi-final replay this Saturday.

Paul Curran

It was the game that the championship needed and the result means that we will get another look at two of the best teams in the country next Saturday evening.

It was a fascinating duel between two closely matched teams and despite the poor conditions, the entertainment was top drawer.

Kerry will be the happier because they will feel that they underperformed. Whether that was down to a lack of games over the last seven weeks or a lack of real competitive games so far this year, either way they will be delighted to have the opportunity to go at it again.

Mayo, on the other hand, will feel that they had the opportunities to close out the game but again that lack of composure in front of goal denied them the victory that was there for the taking. They will surely come up against a better, more organised Kerry team next time, who have a huge amount of room to improve and recent history have shown us that the best chance of beating Kerry is always on the first day.

Three years ago, Mayo had Kerry dead and buried in the semi-final but a Kieran Donaghy-inspired last five minutes meant that the teams had to travel to Limerick for a replay that gave us everything and in the end Kerry were able to find a way to win it.

The Kerry team three years ago was probably a better outfit than the current group and had a massive amount of experience to call on for the replay and, ultimately, for the All-Ireland final win over Donegal. Now, though, that experience is lacking.

The other main concern for Éamonn Fitzmaurice is his full-back line, who have had a difficult time of it this year. They looked all at sea again for long periods of the game.

The lack of a defensive system is hard to fathom, particularly in the modern game, but it did seem to be missing from the Kerry gameplan and that lack of cover enabled the likes of Jason Doherty, Cillian O’Connor and the outstanding Andy Moran to cause all sorts of trouble.

Moran was at his very best and chipped in with an impressive tally of a goal and five points from play and had a hand in a host of other scores. His ability to get on ball is very impressive and he always seems to make the right decision while in possession. How Mayo would love another forward with his class and intelligence.

He had great support yesterday from Doherty and O’Connor but if Mayo are to win the replay they will need another big performance from Moran. They will also need a lot more from their half-forward line who didn’t manage a single score between them. The fact that Aidan O’Shea played most of the game at the other end of the field may have robbed Peter to pay Paul but I thought O’Shea had a decent game and used the ball well throughout.

His was deployed at full-back, of course, to negate the aerial threat posed by Kieran Donaghy and he did that very well but Donaghy was excellent on the ground and was able to get his hands on a lot of ball and was involved directly in a lot of the Kerry scores.

I think it would be a mistake to ask Aidan O’Shea to do a similar job in the replay because you can be guaranteed that the Kerry tactics will be clearer the next day. I also think that Kerry will learn a lot more from the game and have more players that will be disappointed with their own performances.

That said, Mayo are back to the levels that we have come to expect from them and have now played eight games in the competition. They have shown great battling qualities this year and even yesterday when the game was going away from them they were still able to work the equaliser.

That is a quality that only the very best teams have but they need to win an All-Ireland to rank among the best. It promises to be another titanic battle but for me the advantage is with Kerry and they will surely be better having had a proper championship game under their belt.

The second semi-final between Tyrone and Dublin next Sunday will probably be more tactical. Tyrone will bring everyone back for their own kick-outs and Dublin are unlikely to push up fully so it will certainly come down to how well both sets of defenders cope with the opposition’s running game.

Dublin have the experience of winning the tactical battles, learning from 2014 when Donegal sucked them out the field. I expect a very low scoring first half with few goal chances.

Tyrone are much improved and have been building a good team with a solid defence. Unlike some of their northern neighbours, they also have an excellent offensive plan that has produced big scores this campaign against all Ulster teams.

Dublin, however, will be a different proposition altogether. Everyone is back fit, hungry and ready for this challenge. They have more options off the bench than any other county and I believe that it will come down to the strenght of the substitutes.

I think Dublin have enough quality and will make yet another final.

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