Sunday 22 September 2019

Kerry must strike more gold from miners on frontline

The Kingdom's highly-rated attack have scored 14 fewer goals than Dublin this year

Kerry’s Paul Geaney fires his shot on the Dublin goal only to see it blocked by James McCarthy during the drawn final. Photo: Sportsfile
Kerry’s Paul Geaney fires his shot on the Dublin goal only to see it blocked by James McCarthy during the drawn final. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If Peter Keane was told before last Sunday's week's game that David Clifford would land only two points, Paul Geaney would be held scoreless and his starting forward line would accumulate a mere six points from play between them, he would have feared that Kerry's attempt to block Dublin's five-in-a-row path had failed.

Probably quite spectacularly too, as such a low haul from play would have pointed to Kerry's total reaching around 13 points, the balance coming mainly from Seán O Shea off placed balls.

Few teams, least of all Dublin, lose games when the opposition score as little as 13 points. Of course it didn't happen that way. Kerry took their total to 1-16, thanks to a 1-2 combined return from substitutes Killian Spillane and Tommy Walsh and a point from defender Gavin Crowley.

At the other end, a previously maligned Kerry defence restricted Dublin to their lowest total (1-16) in 12 championship games, except for this year's Super 8s clash with Tyrone, when Jim Gavin fielded a largely second string team in a meaningless outing.

Given the overall circumstances from the drawn final, Keane will have been pleased. However, he will also feel that there's a lot to come from an attack, where only O'Shea rose to the heights anticipated. In fairness to Clifford, so much is expected of him that he is being judged by exceptionally demanding standards for a 20-year-old.

Scoring two points, earning a penalty and stretching one of football's most experienced defenders (Jonny Cooper) so far that he was sent off before half-time on two yellow cards, had to be acknowledged as an important contribution. Yet there was a feeling that Clifford has more in him, especially when it comes to finishing.

Geaney, who had scored a total of 2-13 (all from play) in Kerry's previous six games, drew a blank, including off a penalty, which Stephen Cluxton saved.

Stephen O'Brien scored a point, but wasn't nearly as influential as in the semi-final against Tyrone, when he scored 1-2, won three frees - which yielded points - and was involved in the build-up for three more points.

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Team captain Gavin White made little impression in an attacking sense and allowed Jack McCaffrey far too much freedom, before being replaced by Jack Sherwood in the 49th minute.Adrian Spillane, who played a more forward role due to Jack Barry's inclusion as David Moran's midfield partner, didn't really get into the game and was replaced by his brother Killian in the 45th minute.

"With the exception of Seán O'Shea, none of the Kerry forward line that started would be happy with their performances. These are seriously good players, but they didn't show it the last day. Not the way they can anyway," said former Cork All-Ireland winning captain, Larry Tompkins.

Tompkins worked with several of the Kerry team when managing UCC Freshers a few years ago and has no doubt they are the real deal.

"The forward line will be thinking to themselves - we could have done a lot more damage against that Dublin defence. And the more they look back on it, the more they will believe that.

"A game like that will be worth a lot to players experiencing an All-Ireland final for the first time," he said.

Kerry's reliance on O'Shea's accurate place-kicking has been a feature of their season. Luckily for them, his consistency rate has remained high, including against Dublin when he pointed four frees and three '45s'.

He also contributed three points from play in an overall performance that made him one of Kerry's stand-out performers.

Tompkins was surprised to see Clifford and Geaney restricted to two points between them, but thinks it's unlikely to happen again.

"We're talking top quality forwards here. Lads like that can bounce back very quickly. Clifford was wide with a few shots he would normally put over in his sleep - he won't do that again. And Geaney is usually good for a few scores. Missing the penalty might have thrown him a bit," he said.

One area of concern for Kerry is their lack of goals. They have scored two goals in only one (against Meath) of their seven championship games. Earlier in the year, they scored two goals in two of eight league games and none in five others.

It leaves them with an overall goal haul of 13 from 15 games, compared to Dublin's 27 from 15 games.

Sub Killian Spillane scored a superb goal last Sunday week, inevitably prompting the question whether he will start the replay. And if so, who loses out?

He replaced his brother in the drawn game, but Keane may feel he needs Adrian's physical presence in the middle third.

"These are borderline calls, often decided by how lads are showing up in training. Killian certainly made a case for himself by the way he took the goal. Kerry needed it and he had the nerve to go for it. A lot of lads would have taken the safe option of a point," said Tompkins.

He also believes Dara Moynihan could make an impact.

"He was brilliant earlier in the year, especially against Dublin in the league in February. He could do damage if he gets the chance," added Tompkins.

Irish Independent

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