Tuesday 16 January 2018

O'Keeffe: Kingdom are the one team that can beat Dubs

John O’Keeffe in typical pose guarding the edge of the Kerry square. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
John O’Keeffe in typical pose guarding the edge of the Kerry square. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile

Michael Verney

While no-one involved in the Kerry set-up would ever openly admit it, Kingdom legend John O'Keeffe has no doubt that Eamonn Fitzmaurice has been plotting for Sunday's semi-final clash with Dublin for months, and he expects "something different".

April's league decider, in which the reigning All-Ireland champions blew Kerry out of the water to win by 11 points, symbolises a changing of the guard, with O'Keeffe admitting he never envisaged such dominance.

O'Keeffe, a seven-time All-Ireland winner, reckons Fitzmaurice has been eyeing the Boys in Blue ever since and he anticipates an addition of pace in the crucial middle third to thwart Dublin's efficient running game.

"I'd say they were the plans from early on. When I saw Kerry so defensive against Tipperary, I was saying 'what's this all about?' We should have pushed up on Tipperary but we let them have the kick-out. To me, that smelt of preparation for Dublin," he said.

"We have four outstanding midfielders, but they are mainly suited to a game where you have long kick-outs because they are all fabulous fielders. The Dubs have sort of eliminated that from the game.

"I think Kerry at the moment behind closed doors are going to have something different. They are going to address the pace issue in that area."

The Dubs are hot favourites but given what how convincingly Kerry have dealt with Clare and Tipperary, the 1975 Footballer of the Year "just can't write them off" and he's expecting a "proper game" from two footballing sides.

Read more: Sheehan: I don't see how Dublin can be hungrier than we are 

The five-time All-Star, who was inducted into the GAA Museum Hall of Fame at Croke Park last week, believes Jim Gavin's clinical nature removes any complacency doubts but he also feels that "Kerry are the one team that can beat the Dubs".

Regarded as one of the greatest full-backs to play the game, O'Keeffe sees the Dublin rearguard as the blueprint for what a defender should be able to do in the modern game, but he expects Kieran Donaghy to test the full-back line in the air.

"The demands on the players are even greater now," he said. "The game is so fluid, for example a corner-back nowadays needs to very skilful. In my time your instruction was more or less to mark your man very closely, to make sure your man doesn't get possession.

"It was quite negative that way, but now it is so fluid that there are a lot of positives for players. Maybe it isn't a great spectacle for spectators, but from a player's point of view you need to develop your skills far greater now.

"It's an evolving game. The Dubs are a great example, they are the benchmark. Look at Jonny Cooper or Philly McMahon, up scoring at the other side of the field. That would have been unheard of in my time. That is good for the game."

Irish Independent

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