Saturday 24 March 2018

Indiscipline undermining Kingdom cause

Concession of frees in scoring range becoming a real issue for Kerry

Dean Rock converts one of the nine frees he dispatched against Kerry on Saturday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Dean Rock converts one of the nine frees he dispatched against Kerry on Saturday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

If any more compelling evidence was needed as to the changed face of Kerry football, it presented itself in two instalments, 24 hours apart, over the weekend.

If your leaning is towards Dr Crokes and you've watched those agonising trio of All-Ireland semi-final defeats to Crossmaglen Rangers, Ballymun Kickhams and Castlebar Mitchels in successive years, then the destination is far more important than the mode of transport you took to get there.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Thus, a four-minute spell of 'keep-ball' while protecting a two-point lead at the end of last Friday's final - even with an extra player on the pitch - saw a move incorporating over 60 passes (including two frees), before finally a position was established for Colm Cooper to have a shot at goals from another free. It wasn't pretty, but it was pretty effecitve and done with perfect execution.

Denying Slaughtneil possession between the 58th and 62nd minutes was a risk, but not nearly as great a risk as pushing further up and risking being turned over in a tighter space, it seems.

So there was the unusual sight of Colm Cooper, in a conducting role, operating as last man back at times as he directed operations like a quarterback.

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More and more football has a become a retention of possession game, evident when 10 different Kerry players completed 25 passes over almost a minute-and-a-half at the of the 2014 All-Ireland final to engineer territory after Donegal's Christy Toye had cut their lead to two points. Or when Dublin worked 32 passes between 12 different players over a two-minute period in the last quarter of their 2015 All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo before Philly McMahon put them five points clear.

But hard pragmatism is really sweeping Kerry football when Crokes choose to extend such a sequence to four minutes to close out a match of this stature.

That same pragmatic thinking was prevalent in Austin Stack Park the following night when Kerry welcomed Dublin to Tralee but manifested in a different way. Though maybe the word pragmatism should be substituted for cynicism, if the concession of frees within scoring range is anything to gauge by because it's becoming a problem for them.

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They may be currently occupying mid-table in the top flight of the Allianz football league but when it comes to the number of scores they are conceding to frees and penalties, they are market leaders.

Coughed up

In their two Saturday night matches in Tralee alone they have coughed up 23 opportunities within the range of two of the best marksmen in the game, Dublin's Dean Rock and Mayo's Cillian O'Connor. O'Connor put over nine of his 12, missing two in particular which he would normally expect to convert while Rock converted nine of his 11, some in really tricky circumstances given the wind that blew.

So far, Kerry have shipped more scores from frees and penalties than any other team in the top two divisions - 2-30 from the 4-66 conceded accounting for 46.15 per cent of their entire total against.

Only Monaghan come close with 0-27 from 2-56 giving them a 43.54 percentage concession from placed balls. Mayo, in contrast, are conceding just one in every five scores from a foul.

The amount of scores from frees conceded can't be considered the definitive metric for levels of cynicism because of the variables at play, the quality of the opposition free-taker and the interpretation of referees.

Read more: O'Shea brothers return as Mayo battle the drop

Nor can black cards, the evolution of which was cynical play, but in that respect Kerry poll well too with 14 in the Division One group stages over the three years since its introduction, on a par in second place with Sligo and just two behind Down's 16.

Kerry can legitimately argue strongly against the awarding of at least two of the nine frees that Rock converted on Saturday night, but so many more were avoidable as Dublin players were taken down in less threatening positions that presented Rock with decent opportunities.

There's a rashness to these tackles that's becoming a cause for concern Eamonn Fitzmaurice who was willing to admit to afterwards, not for the first time this season.

"We weren't good enough at times in the tackle again tonight and it's something we'll work on," he promised, having said much the same thing about indiscipline after the Mayo loss.

The fractious nature of the exchanges was in keeping with the visits of some of the top teams to Tralee over the last year.

Donegal manager Rory Gallagher left Austin Stack park privately seething after last year's pitched battle which resulted in heavy fines for both County Boards as flashpoint after flashpoint erupted.

Read more: 'I didn't get it wrong on purpose, I didn't see it' - Gough on Kerry call

So many Ulster-based managers have repeatedly pointed to Kerry and Dublin cynicism when the spotlight shines on their own province.

Only two years ago Kieran McGeeney claimed Ulster teams "weren't in the same ball park" as Dublin, Kerry or even Mayo when it came to physicality. It was a little more understated with Mayo last month but still, a melee at the end yielded one-match bans for Mayo pair Tom Parsons and Danny Kirby and Kerry's Donnchadh Walsh.

And last weekend the card count reached 14 - eight yellows for Kerry, five for Dublin including two for Ciaran Kilkenny which resulted in red) - only partly reflecting the level of confrontation that developed into so many skirmishes and off-the-ball incidents.

The occasion, the atmosphere and the emotion of the build up, referenced by Fitzmaurice afterwards, all contributed to that as they did to the over-zealous tackling.

But Kerry paid a price on the scoreboard for it that has become too familiar a theme this season.

Irish Independent

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