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Defensive system top of Fitzmaurice's agenda if Kingdom are to take aim in pursuit of Dubs

Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

There's no denying that Kerry are the roaring-hot favourites to make it six Munster SFC titles in a row, but they come into their provincial opener against Clare with a lot of questions to answer.

Munster is a one-horse race to many but, unlike Leinster - where Dublin are streaking further away from the opposition - the pack is getting closer and making ground on the Kingdom.

There will be huge competition for places in the Kerry ranks which leaves no room for complacency. Fellas will be keen to hold on to their jerseys - with a wealth of talent waiting in the wings to impress. The squad depth is without compare but the potential of the forward line really jumps off the page at you.

With David Clifford and Seán O'Shea expected to debut up front, there is serious weaponry there and it was interesting to read David Moran's comments last week because there is pressure on Eamonn Fitzmaurice to unleash a load of All-Ireland minor winners straight into the senior side.

It doesn't work lie that, however, as the step up is massive and you're not going to discard lads just because they have come up a score or two short in a handful of big games. Everyone will be needed for a gruelling Super 8s campaign.

One of Kerry's biggest issues is their defensive system, or the lack thereof, as I didn't see anything different throughout the league. However, the acquisition of James Weldon - a well-known Kerry basketball coach - should start to result in subtle changes at the back.

Séan O' Shea in action for Kerry. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Séan O' Shea in action for Kerry. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

If they can shore things up there, they are a huge threat to Dublin but it can't be the case that there are one-on-ones or two-on-twos in defence. That simply doesn't happen with any other side with serious All-Ireland credentials and it shouldn't happen with Kerry.

Look at the way Cian O'Sullivan covers off that inside line for the Dubs. It's inexcusable to leave our full-back line totally exposed like we have been and solving this problem could prove to be the missing piece of the Kerry jigsaw.

Everyone knows how good the likes of Gavin White, Brian O Beaglaoich, Tom O'Sullivan and Fionn Fitzgerald are on the ball but no one can thrive within a system where defenders are hung out to dry and I'm expecting huge changes, starting on Sunday.

With Stephen Cluxton - and most recently Monaghan's Rory Beggan - highlighting the necessity of an effective kick-out strategy, it's high time that we caught up in that aspect of the modern game.

The bar has been raised time and time again but we're falling just below it. Huge movement out the field and dummy runs to create space can help develop efficient restarts, provided the accuracy is there.

As for Clare, they showed the level of progress achieved in recent seasons - making the All-Ireland quarter-finals in 2016 - by dishing out a right beating when clocking up 1-23 against Limerick, having only scraped a result against the same opposition 12 months previous.

Much like Carlow in Leinster, Clare are a model for what it takes to climb up through the ranks and get the best out of what you have and Colm Collins deserves huge credit for taking them to the next level.

Before Collins took charge, there was a general apathy floating around the county after shipping some morale-sapping reversals but they are no longer a soft touch. Clare football is scarcely recognisable from when Colm took the job.

There's a marked contrast to when he started his reign as it's now attractive to play for Clare and getting the best footballers on board - including his Mayo-born nephew Eoghan - is no longer an issue.

They sit below the likes of Kerry but the gap is closing. Whenever I played against Clare there were always four or five marquee players that would have been a match for us but there was a significant tail-off thereafter.

That's no longer the case, with an array of talent all over the field while Jamie Malone, Keelan Sexton, Eoin Cleary and the ever-reliable David Tubridy are as potent an attacking quartet as you will find.

Every team needs leaders and Gary Brennan is the Banner's heartbeat. I remember Gary was in for trials with the International Rules during my time involved and you could see by his attitude what a brilliant captain he would develop into.

Last year's performance against Kerry - where they were in the game until a late Stephen O'Brien goal - will give them heart going into the weekend, as will a decent spring where they finished third in Division 2.

The Super 8s is unlikely to do them any favours, however, and if they fail to make that stage it will be hard to break that glass ceiling as they are missing out on a glorious opportunity for development.

While the Super 8s will be exhilarating, that's a massive worry. It just has the appearance of the strong getting stronger and the weak getting weaker and top-class games shouldn't take away from the fact that some counties will be left further behind.

Clare's graph is continuously on the rise though and I expect them to trouble a lot of teams this year. Will they put it up to Kerry in Killarney?

That ground-breaking performance may take a little longer to come as Fitzmaurice will be adamant that Kerry hit the ground running.

Irish Independent

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