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Off the Ball: Why Kerry can't afford to take on Donegal at their own game

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Donegal's Michael Murphy causing havoc in the square for Dublin 'keeper Stephen Cluxton. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Donegal's Michael Murphy causing havoc in the square for Dublin 'keeper Stephen Cluxton. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Donegal's Michael Murphy causing havoc in the square for Dublin 'keeper Stephen Cluxton. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

After watching Kerry's first championship game against Clare earlier this year I wrote here about the demise of Kerry football.

My argument was simple - Kerry didn't have a good league, were not impressive in Ennis (I didn't give enough credit to Clare), had lost too many legends of the game and the players replacing them were not of the same standard.

When they lost their third league game in a row to Mayo they were in serious relegation trouble for the second consecutive season. Ten of the team that beat Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final replay two weeks ago played that day with three more coming off the bench.

The turnaround in Kerry's fortunes has been incredible. Sunday's final might not have the two best teams on paper but it has the best two managers and the two teams with the most effective game plans. It's the most fascinating final for years simply because we don't know what is going to happen tactically.

Kerry have mixed their team and tactics up so often this season that Jim McGuiness faces his biggest challenge yet. Will Kerry match Donegal's defensive style? Will they push up on Donegal's kickouts? Will they go with the long ball to Kieran Donaghy? Will they even play him?

I've played under numerous managers at inter-county level and they all said the same thing - 'we pick lads going well in training'. They never did. The big names always played despite often showing nothing in training.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice picks on form so we won't know the Kerry team until tomorrow night. No player is safe from being dropped - just ask Marc O'Se. It creates incredible intensity in training games when the second team believe that if they impress they will start.

I fancy Donegal to deploy Michael Murphy on the edge of the square for most of the match. Physically I'm not sure if Kerry have a defender to match up with him.

The kickouts will be so important. Dublin pushed up on Donegal's extra defenders leaving their defence exposed to long Paul Durcan kick outs. Kerry won't do this. I'd imagine Kerry forwards will try to split the extra men at the back, standing half way between two Donegal defenders, daring Durcan to pick one out. They will leave some of their half backs in their positions minding the house.

As far as I'm concerned the only way to beat the blanket defence it to use a variation of one, yourself. But then you're taking Donegal on at their own game. For this reason, and because Donegal have better defenders suited to match off against Kerry's forwards, I believe Sam is heading for the hills again.

Irish Independent