Wednesday 29 January 2020

Eoin Liston: There's not a hope in hell that the Aidan O'Shea experiment will ever be replicated again

Aidan O’Shea. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Aidan O’Shea. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Eoin Liston

The easiest thing for Eamonn Fitzmaurice to do after Kerry's below-par performance last Sunday would be to overreact with sweeping changes for the replay, but now is not the time for rash decisions and his cool head will likely see him stick with the tried and tested.

A radical overhaul of personnel would be misguided as the manpower didn't let Kerry down, it was a system failure at the back. Even a defender of the highest calibre couldn't survive with 40 yards of space in front of him and it'll be a case of once bitten, twice shy as they won't fall into the same traps again.

There was logic behind what Kerry were trying to do by building a barrier 50-60 yards out from their own goal to stop the Mayo runners at source, like Pat Gilroy introduced with Dublin during his reign, but it was just too far out and that left too much space inside for tricky forwards like Andy Moran to work with.

If that congestion was 35-40 yards from goal, there would be far more cover around the 'D' and the one-on-ones and two-versus-twos would not materialise. I've no evidence of Kerry's defensive system or utilisation of a sweeper in recent years but hopefully Fitzmaurice has been keeping his powder dry because it was open season the last day and, from Kerry's point of view, that can't happen again.

Kieran Donaghy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kieran Donaghy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

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If they can reduce the influence of Moran and Cillian O'Connor, and I expect them to be marshalled much tighter, Mayo will have a lot to worry about as their half-forward line was held scoreless with a measly five points from 15 attempted shots outside of that pair.

They did make hay from short kick-outs, however, with 1-6 directly resulting from 13 quick restarts as they thrived in bringing the ball at pace through a crowded middle third resembling Times Square.

As for the Aidan O'Shea (pictured, above) full-back debate, there's not a hope in hell that will ever be replicated again. He hasn't that defensive instinct or the quick acceleration to play there and I'd have been licking my lips seeing him come in on me on the edge of the square. It was unfair putting a novice in there.

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In our Kerry team the fastest line was always the full-back line of Jimmy Deenihan, John O'Keeffe and Mick Spillane and relocating a brilliant attacking player, who is not electric in the speed department, to full-back was a mistake.

There's huge skill in the art of good defending, learned from years honing your craft against top-class forwards, but pace is the biggest asset for a No 3 and I know only too well because I got more roastings than I care to remember from O'Keeffe in Kerry training.

He had blistering pace and much Colman Corrigan from Cork was another midfielder-turned-houseminder, but the modern game has different requirements. It's far too easy to be critical of Stephen Rochford, however, as he'd have been heralded as a genius if they had pulled it off.

The criticism has been over the top because Kieran Donaghy (pictured, below) has caused them trouble for over a decade and they felt the need to take drastic action. People need to realise that there's far more to Donaghy than the high ball and this was a classic example.

That's the nub of this debate - it was a brave move which backfired because Kerry were able to think on their feet. They changed tack without hesitation, didn't pump long ball in and Donaghy still led O'Shea a merry dance so it's about time people realised that Donaghy is no one-trick pony.

I'd hate to be in the situation of picking Donaghy's marker for Saturday but Donal Vaughan is the most likely candidate and he will be tested severely under the dropping ball while Fitzmaurice should keep faith with the majority of last week's selection.

I'd never judge anyone on one game in isolation and Mark Griffin and Shane Enright should be trusted to make amends in the full-back line after enduring a bad day at the office. If Aidan O'Shea lines out at centre-forward, as I suspect, I'd make a straight swap with Tadhg Morley and Griffin and allow Mark to bomb up the field a la Mayo's Colm Boyle.

It's also becoming increasingly obvious that Kerry can't afford to have Anthony Maher, David Moran and Johnny Buckley on the pitch together at the same time in Croke Park as they are too alike in the size and speed department. While they're all brilliant individual players, big games require a mix of pace and physical presence and Jack Barry and Darran O'Sullivan could be the benefactors.

Moran and Maher are very similar players in the middle of the park while Barry did enough the last day to earn his starting place. If Kerry were to progress they need to get as many minutes into him as possible because he's tailor-made to thrive against Dublin or Tyrone with his speed and natural ability.

I've heard it said in some media circles but don't anybody tell me that there are serious question marks over James O'Donoghue's form. I watched him in the first half and he was one of few to excel in difficult conditions and with his class, he's the type of player I'd never take off.

There are certain players that make things happen, he's one of those and a piece of his magic could be what tips the balance in Kerry's favour after another epic.

My Kerry team v Mayo

B Kelly; S Enright, M Griffin, K Young; P Crowley, T Morley, P Murphy; D Moran, J Barry; S O'Brien, J Buckley, D O'Sullivan; P Geaney, K Donaghy, J O'Donoghue.

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