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There is an elephant in the room in Kerry football - and there will be no All-Ireland unless it's addressed

Pat Spillane


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Pat Spillane is very worried about the Kerry defence. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Pat Spillane is very worried about the Kerry defence. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Pat Spillane is very worried about the Kerry defence. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

ALL during the long winter months, we consoled ourselves down here in Kerry with the thought that we have the second-best GAA team in the country.

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David Clifford is box-office gold. And with the conveyor belt of young talent coming on stream, surely the All-Ireland breakthrough is nigh.

But as George Hook used to say ‘Hold it there and back up the caravan’. In other words, don’t get carried away.

It’s early days yet, but I’m worried the issues that cost us the All-Ireland last year have not been addressed.

Kerry need a wing-forward in the Brian Howard/Niall Scully mode, that is physically imposing and possesses the kind of engine which enables him to operate at either end of the field. Such a player has yet to emerge in the Kingdom.

Funnily enough, we could export corner forwards with David Clifford, Paul Geaney, James O’Donoghue, Killian Spillane and Tommy Walsh vying for three places.

But what’s worrying is that too often the forward line is playing too deep, with just one player operating inside, or across, the 20m line.

But the elephant in the room is the defensive set-up. Unless this issue is sorted, Kerry won’t win the All-Ireland in 2020.

We have too many ball-playing defenders and too many half-backs. We still require at least two hard-tackling, no-nonsense defenders.

Remember how Eoin Murchan was allowed waltz through the Kerry defence and score what proved to be the winning goal in last year’s All-Ireland final replay.

There is no way, for example, that Clifford would be able to race through the Dublin, Donegal or Mayo defence without a hand being laid on him.

The manner in which Brian Fenton ran around Kerry defenders to score points at will in their first round of the league or Galway’s Shane Walsh sprinted past two defenders and scored a gem of a goal in Tralee last weekend suggests nothing has changed.

By the way, the decision by County Board delegates not to back, by the required majority, the motion which would have allowed Kerry team managers appoint the team captains is nothing short of a sick joke.

Delegates trust the manager to pick the team and decide on the tactics. Surely, he should also be allowed decide who should be the leader on the field of play?

It was a retrograde move which will come back to haunt Kerry again – as it has in the past.

Meanwhile, despite playing in second gear, All-Ireland champions Dublin are still the team to beat.

At times their play during the opening two rounds of the league has been very un-Dublin like.

Their forwards failed to score from play for 60 minutes against Kerry, while they were very sloppy in the first half against Mayo.

Despite being a man up from the 15th minute their forwards only scored 0-2 from play during the remainder of the half.

Yet one cannot but sit back and admire them still.

Their decision-making, composure and ability to retain possession are first rate. They rarely carry the ball into the tackle or get turned over, while they’re always able to get their best shooter on the ball and in the best position.

There is no rocket science involved. It’s down to getting the basics right and doing them well consistently. This is what makes Dublin a great team.

One cannot but marvel at the seamless way they have introduced newcomers like Aaron Byrne, Dan O’Brien and Conor McHugh into their system of play.

Then you have the brilliance of Ciaran Kilkenny who always takes the right option when on the ball; the athleticism of Fenton and the genius of Dean Rock who underlined his class with the wonder goal he scored against Mayo.

Great teams and great players make the game look simple, which is why Dublin are still well ahead of the chasing pack.

The new rules continue to be a source of debate and angst.

Even though the mark hasn’t been utilised so far I’ve noticed teams are funnelling additional players back into defence.

As a result, opponents are holding on to possession for longer and transferring the ball via hand-passes.

This was the scourge which the advanced mark was supposed to get rid of it.

Furthermore, I cannot understand why defenders can avail of what is supposed to be an offensive mark.

As for the black cards, I believe referees are not interpreting the rule correctly.

Kerry’s Graham O’Sullivan was black-carded after an accidental collision with John Small, while Mick Fitzsimons got a black card against Mayo.

He was guilty of a late challenge – which merited a yellow card.

It certainly wasn’t a deliberate body check.

We witnessed the impact of the sin bin in the Kerry/Galway game. The visitors failed to score in the last 15 minutes.

For 12 of those minutes defender Cillian McDaid was in the sin bin.

He couldn’t get back on the field after the designated 10 minutes because it was suggested there was no break in the play. But I counted two breaks.

The worrying thing is, if they can’t get this right in a high-profile inter-county game, how can the GAA expect a club referee, who could be operating solo, to implement the rule correctly.

Online Editors