Tuesday 20 March 2018

Eoin Liston - Nothing less than fifth gear will suffice if Kerry are to thwart the threat of high-flying O’Shea

Kerry's David Moran in action during the SFC quarter-final. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Kerry's David Moran in action during the SFC quarter-final. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

Aidan O'Shea has often been an easy target for criticism when things aren't going right for Mayo but when the going got tough earlier this summer, the Breaffy powerhouse was the first to get going, and he hasn't slowed down since.

The 'Mayo News' compiled an interesting graphic for his seven championship appearances this year and they highlight his remarkable influence with 156 possessions, 27 frees won, 18 scoring assists, 16 kick-outs won, six successful throw-ins and four marks.

There may be trouble ahead for Kerry if O'Shea dominates around the middle during Sunday's semi-final and Eamonn Fitzmaurice must rectify some glaring weaknesses which have been exposed in the white heat of championship in recent seasons.

Brian Kelly's kick-outs improved immensely against Galway but there has been serious question marks about the restarts against top-tier opposition and Kerry's ability to win breaking ball at crunch time when teams force them to go long.

Every team has a period of pressurising and not giving away possession handily and with the O'Shea brothers, Aidan and Seamus, and Tom Parsons around the engine room, there will be a lot of bodies hovering as the ball spills loose.

David Moran, Anthony Maher and Jack Barry will not be allowed to dominate in the skies and Mayo will fancy their chances when it's on the deck so it's an area where serious progress must be made because it has let Kerry down badly.

There may be trouble ahead for Kerry if Aidan O’Shea dominates around the middle during Sunday’s semi-final. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
There may be trouble ahead for Kerry if Aidan O’Shea dominates around the middle during Sunday’s semi-final. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Stephen Rochford could throw a spanner in the works by throwing in the returning Lee Keegan at midfield for some time to exploit a perceived lack of Kerry mobility in this sector and it would be interesting to see how Eamonn counteracts his pace.

The half-back line of Patrick Durcan, Colm Boyle and Donal Vaughan excelled when driving forward against Roscommon and if they stay intact, Keegan may be freed further up the pitch as they adopt the mantra of the best defence being a good offence.

There are huge similarities between Sunday and the replay in the Gaelic Grounds three years ago and there's going to be baggage spilling over from that day but the physicality will be bumped up another notch as the 2017 championship really starts this weekend.

The phoney war is over and that should signal a clear change from Kerry. There will have to be less silly fouling in the scoring zone because if Kerry have aspirations of winning an All-Ireland, you cannot commit rash tackles inside 55 yards.

That should be drilled into them by now because against top free-takers, it's a point every time and there needs to be huge improvement in that area. It has cost Kerry All-Ireland titles in recent years against Dublin and there are doubts in that department.

Kerry have good defenders individually but collectively they can be suspect. We all know the Tyrone defensive plan, the old Donegal system and Dublin's shape at the back revolving around Cian O'Sullivan, but no one really knows the Kerry system.

Everyone needs to work in tandem and if there isn't more cohesiveness, difficulties await around the corner. It's not about 'what my man scored', it's about how much is conceded as a team and that takes fantastic organisation.

Mickey Harte is a master at ingraining that in his teams and Kerry defenders shouldn't be left isolated like they were against Galway. The day of the one on one or the two versus one should be long gone - modern defence shouldn't afford anyone the opportunity to be hung out to dry.

Half-backs like Paul Murphy and Peter Crowley need to bomb forward at every opportunity and Eamonn might adopt a similar approach to Mayo as they can't afford to be over-dependent on Paul Geaney and James O'Donoghue, they need nine or ten scorers.

More tactics than the traditional diagonal ball to Kieran Donaghy should also be on the table but as has often been the case in the past. Eamonn could pull a rabbit out of the hat and bring something different to the party on Sunday. If Kerry don't improve, they'll be dumped out as Mayo are road-tested this year whereas Kerry are coming in cold. Donie Buckley, one of our own, has turned Mayo into a ravenous team when they don't have possession and they are experts at stealing ball.

Donie is always studying and trying to improve. He has been over to the All Blacks and to American football teams, he'd do anything to pick up some nuggets to help improve his team. Any place he can get an inch, he'll take it.

He's forgotten more about football than most people have learned and the homework will be done but the balance still tips in the favour of Kerry, though nothing less than fifth gear will suffice.


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