Monday 18 December 2017

Five ways Kerry will seek to hurt Dublin this weekend

Conor McKeon

Conor McKeon

For Kerry, this Dublin ‘thing’ is becoming reminiscent of the American tennis player, Vitas Gerulaitis who in 1980, after defeating Jimmy Connors following a run of 16 straight defeats to the great man, declared with mock pride: “Let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in-a-row.”

Sunday will be Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s 10th League or Championship match against Dublin and so far, he has collated just one win, one draw and a deep well full of misery.

Being the astute tactician that he is, the Kerry manager has pulled off mini victories within games but not enough to win any of the great wars.

This, remember, is the man who led Kerry to an All-Ireland success over Donegal at a time when the Kingdom’s ways were being painted as dated bordering defunct while Jim McGuinness and his team were redefining the terms of engagement.

In Tralee, his team were hugely abrasive but that was only the platform from which they set about executing their game-plan.

Some facets of which are self-explanatory.

A GAA statistics website recently calculated that 60 per cent of Dublin’s scores in the Championship over the past four years had their origins in a Stephen Cluxton’s kick-out.

Croke Park crackled last August when Kerry scored two goals after putting Dublin’s captain under extreme pressure.

And it wasn’t by accident that Kerry’s only recent victory in this fixture - that fraught League match in Killarney in 2015 - came about on the back of a largely similar tactic, albeit Seán Currie kept goals for Dublin that day.

Kerry were five up at half-time in last year’s semi-final and four up in Tralee, so they’re clearly doing something right.

Based on those two performances, we’ve identified five areas below where Kerry will seek to hurt Dublin in search of that desperately-needed win, while stopping the five-in-a-row.

1. Negate Fenton

Chief among Kerry’s tormentors over the past two years has been Dublin’s midfield play-maker.

In Tralee, he was subjected to the sort of personal agitation he is likely to have to deal with for much of his career.

Jack Barry’s modus operandi that night was to pull, tug, block and foul the Raheny midfielder off the ball and largely, it worked.

The dividend on the night for Kerry was a far more peripheral Fenton (though he did finish strongly and played a key hand in two late moves that led to Dublin points) and as a consequence, David Moran having the most influential performance of his career against Dublin.

Brian Fenton of Dublin celebrates following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay between Dublin and Mayo. (Photo By Cody Glenn/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

2. Target Cluxton

Routinely said but not nearly so easily done, Kerry have managed it on occasion - and recent occasions too.

Their Aussie Rules-style high press in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final - which left four Dublin forwards unmarked at the far end - yielded two game-turning goals.

They were deprived further opportunity to initiate the press on the basis that they were awarded only one scoreable free in the second-half.

Last time the teams met, Paul Geaney also got into a scuffle with Dublin’s captain after kicking the spare balls he was using to initiate quick kick-outs from behind his goals.

Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

3. Forward Power

Éamonn Fitzmaurice has thus far been deprived the opportunity to field an in-form and fully-fit inside forward partnership of James O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney.

Geaney has scored 3-33 (25f) or an average of six points per game in this year’s League. O’Donoghue has been out with a calf injury suffered in the week before the Dublin match but the two put on a mesmerising exhibition of movement and scoring in Kerry’s first League match against Donegal back in February.

Monaghan, with Jack McCarron and Conor McManus, showed what’s capable against the Dublin defence with two quality forwards pressed high up.

28 August 2016; Paul Geaney of Kerry during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final game between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

4. Sweeper system

There was a dark irony for Kerry in the fact that it was Paul Murphy who kicked that late free straight to Kevin McManamon in Tralee, the error that in all probability, cost Kerry victory.

The 2014 All-Ireland final Man of the Match was the calmest Kerry player in possession all night, their most studious decision-maker in the white heat.

In both last year’s All-Ireland semi-final and League, he hovered around the halfway line, identifying marauding Dublin defenders to pick up in order to alleviate the likes of Geaney and Colm Cooper from such a laborious chore.

Murphy is also one of the best tacklers in the game currently.

Paul Murphy, Kerry, in action against Karl O'Connell, Monaghan in Clones during last year's clash between the sides. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

5. Bench impact

All these years and hamstring injuries later, Darran O’Sullivan still possesses the ability to prompt blind panic in the most organised of defences.

The pragmatist in Fitzmaurice knows these sort of games are won down the stretch and he has, in the past year, built a strong reserve of back-up that, like O’Sullivan, can change the method of attack.

Barry John Keane is worth two points in almost every match he appears in while Anthony Maher represents another stellar option at a time in games when a clean kick-out fetch is invaluable.

There’s talk too that Kieran Donaghy could be back and part of the Kerry set-up this Sunday.

Kerry's Kieran Donaghy, left, celebrates with team-mate Colm Cooper after scoring his second and his side's third goal in the 2007 All-Ireland

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