Saturday 17 March 2018

Familiar failings prove Kerry will need major overhaul to progress

Performances win games and, as Fitzmaurice admitted, Kerry’s weren’t nearly good enough.. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Performances win games and, as Fitzmaurice admitted, Kerry’s weren’t nearly good enough.. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Eamonn Fitzmaurice simplified it down to the basics, which were stark and unavoidable.

"Mayo were better, Mayo were hungrier, they performed better than us," he said.

Really, there was little else that needed to be added after Kerry had suffered a third semi-final defeat in five seasons, but as the questions continued he worked patiently through the answers, including a commitment to reflect on the future.

"I haven't thought about it -today was our only focus. We have to think what's the best way forward for Kerry. We'll do that over the next couple of weeks," he said.

It will take place against the unusual background of Kerry having conceded the highest amount in successive championship games in their celebrated history.

They survived a 2-14 giveaway yesterday week but there was no escape on Saturday when Mayo scored 2-16, countered by 0-17, of which only six points came in the first half.

That's when Mayo put down the foundations, their good work from the 12th minute on largely uninterrupted by opposition who were malfunctioning across every line.

They tried to sweep in their own half, but the handle kept coming off the brush. Long or short, high or low, Mayo beat them, not through a superior tactical system but because they were playing better individually.

It's fashionable nowadays to concentrate on shapes and structures, plays and plans, elevating them to a level of importance that they don't deserve. Performances win games and, as Fitzmaurice (pictured) admitted, Kerry's weren't nearly good enough.

The concession of a '45' by goalkeeper, Brian Kelly off a kick-out in the 18th minute will go down as an oddity in football annals but why did it happen?

His close range targets were covered and he feared that if he went long, possession would be gobbled up by Mayo, as had happened so often up to that point.

Effectively, the county that gave football such great midfielders as Mick O'Connell, Jack O'Shea and Darragh Ó Sé feared launching kick-outs past their '45'. Strange times indeed.

Still, it really was a defining moment when Kelly booted the ball over his own endline, even if the embarrassment was reduced somewhat when Cillian O'Connor missed the target with the '45'. Fitzmaurice will, in all probability, continue as manager but Saturday could mark a significant day in other respects. Was it Kieran Donaghy's last outing in green-and-gold?

He lingered on the pitch a long time after Kerry's defeat by Dublin in last year's semi-final, almost as if it were the end of his inter-county adventure.

It wasn't. He made a big impact this summer, at least until Saturday when he was confined to the peripherals, prior to allowing his frustration boil over in a clash with Aidan O'Shea, which drew red.

Donaghy walked slowly to the sideline, never glancing back at an arena he graced so often. At the age of 34, it may well have been his last time inside the white lines at inter-county level.

But here's a thing. Donaghy wasn't even a first choice for the drawn semi-final with Mayo in 2014, yet three years later he had become essential. What happened to the supply lines?


As for the Kerry defence, a major overhaul is definitely required, as underlined by their concession rate in All-Ireland semi-finals.

They conceded a total of 4-30 against Mayo in two games this year, 0-22 against Dublin last year, 3-11 (excluding extra-time) and 1-16 against Mayo in 2014 and 3-18 against Dublin in 2013.

That suggests serious inadequacies, either in the personnel or the system, and since the latter can't function if the former isn't good enough, Fitzmaurice will surely look to fresh talent.

"There's great talent coming through. The challenge is getting that talent up to senior level. Even then ,that doesn't always equate to success," he said.

Kerry leave the 2017 stage as Munster and Allianz League champions, but in a county of such high expectations that's not enough to keep supporters content.

The manner of Saturday's defeat will frustrate everyone in Kerry, most of all the players and management. As ever though, it's all about the future.

"You go back to the drawing board. You try to get it right. It was what it was," said Fitzmaurice.

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