Sunday 25 August 2019

Road-testing over for Kerry - it's time to show they can live in fast lane

Seán O'Shea. Photo: Sportsfile
Seán O'Shea. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

This is where Kerry's first real test arrives. Munster brought some problems, mostly of their own making, and once they beat Mayo in the first round of the Super 8s, the path to the semi-final opened up.

Losing to Donegal would have left them vulnerable, but still in with a decent chance of surviving. It's different now.

There's no safety net for a test, which will prove whether the new Kingdom model under Peter Keane is ready for life in the fastest lanes, where you can be driven off the track in an instant.

There are mixed views, even in Kerry, about where exactly the squad stands. Optimists believe that, as in 1975 and the coming of Micko's new generation, they are poised to make the big step-up, while others suspect that another winter/spring of road-testing and tweaking is required.

That applies particularly in defence where the leakage rate has been too high for a team at this level.

They conceded 3-11 against Mayo in the Allianz League final and 3-10 against Cork in the Munster final, followed by 1-20 against Donegal in the Super 8s.

A similar giveaway against Tyrone would almost certainly bring the end of the line for this season, irrespective of the attacking potential of David Clifford (provided he is fully fit), Seán O'Shea, Stephen O'Brien and Paul Geaney. Kerry have scored sizeable amounts in Croke Park in fairly recent seasons and still didn't win, which is worrying for them.

Their 2-14 total was only enough to draw (they lost the replay) against Mayo in the semi-final two years ago, while a similar amount left them two points behind Dublin in 2016.

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Mickey Harte knows that and while Kerry have undergone extensive change since then, the trend has been the same up to now this year. He is expert at setting up Tyrone to clog the opposition's attacking channels, while countering with power and space.

It worked well early in last year's All-Ireland final, but it wasn't the first time Dublin had encountered something similar. They didn't allow the initial setback to distract them, instead using their experience to work back into the game and gradually take over.

Kerry don't have that level of seasoning, so how will they react if Tyrone dominate the early stages? Will they recover or spend the day chasing in vain.

At face value, Tyrone appear to have a stronger case, but then they haven't been challenged with an attacking force of Kerry's quality so far this summer (ignore last Sunday's non-event against Dublin).

Irrespective of how well-structured the Tyrone defence is, they will find it difficult to cope with the pace of the Kerry forwards. And with Clifford capable of producing a special magic in the tightest of corners, Kerry are well placed to run in a good score, especially if David Moran delivers as he can at midfield.

That puts the onus on the defence to tighten the bolts. They will find Cathal McShane's size, athleticism and clever positioning difficult to deal with close to goal, but if they do a reasonable marking job on him, it will greatly weaken Tyrone's case.

Keane's maturing forces have been second favourites behind Dublin for the All-Ireland since the start of the year, a rating their prolific forwards can help vindicate tomorrow.

Verdict: Kerry

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