Sunday 19 January 2020

Tomás Ó Sé: It’s a big game alright, but it’s about more than just tonight

With summer coming into view, there’s pressure on Kerry to show they are starting to close gap on Dubs

Kerry's Kieran Donaghy is in full flight as he attempts to stop the charge of Dublin's Ciaran Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Kerry's Kieran Donaghy is in full flight as he attempts to stop the charge of Dublin's Ciaran Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
James O’Donoghue got the ball and he was bundled out over the line. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Tomas Ó Sé

I certainly know what I'd like to happen in Tralee tonight - a good-for-the-soul Kerry win. And I think I have an idea of what will happen: Kerry to deliver their best performance of the year.

But it's what could happen is what's making me nervous. And that's that we could be looking at a whitewash.

You see all possibilities remain open. And that's exclusively down to Kerry. These days we are guaranteed that Dublin will perform to a certain level. But Kerry are just too inconsistent to say with any confidence what the scoreboard will look like by the end of the evening.

Let me preface all this with that by the time August comes around, Kerry will be much better than they are at the minute. And I'm by no means trying to run them down here. But taking tonight in isolation, can we honestly say that, on all known form, we can beat this Dublin team? I just don't think so.

Based on what we have seen this year, a comfortable Dublin win, along the lines of last year's League final, isn't hard to imagine.

I don't think that's dramatic. Strip back all of the of records and tradition that have dominated the build-up and simply throw our form up against Dublin's and you'll see where I'm coming from.

Add in the fact that the teams we beat, Roscommon and Donegal, could have taken us for a few goals and the picture will start to form. Dublin just won't miss those chances. In fact, they'll probably create more.

And here's the other uncomfortable truth for us in Kerry. Right now, we just don't have the players to beat this Dublin team. They are better than us right now.

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There's no shame in that because this is their best ever team. Had our lads been around in another era they could possibly be winning more but we just can't crack this Dublin side.

I don't like going back to the 'in my day' stuff but I think it's a relevant question.

Put our team from the middle of the last decade up against this team and ask yourself how many of tonight's side do you pick? Save one or two, I don't think a lot of them would get in.

That's not a slight. We were peppered with great players and there's bound to be a drop-off. It happens all teams. Dublin will have their fall-off too.

Still, there are just too many questions around this Kerry team at this moment in time to make a credible case for us to halt their drive tonight.

Defensively we've done okay but only until we come up against the very top teams.

I can't help but think we missed a trick over the winter in not bringing Donie Buckley back into the backroom team. When I watched Mayo's brilliant defensive display in the drawn All-Ireland final, it had his fingerprints all over it. They were excellent that day and shut Dublin down all over the place.

We could have used him because we're still looking for answers in terms of our backline. Paul Murphy has been our centre-forward for a while now but he was back in the backs the last day.

Paul Murphy, Kerry, in action against Karl O'Connell, Monaghan in Clones during last year's clash between the sides. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Paul Murphy in action for Kerry

We aren't settled at full-back, though Killian Young led from the front there the last day.

We don't seem to do things with enough purpose when either tackling or breaking forward. We're just that little bit off in everything we do.

I'd like to see them play with a bit of swagger and killer instinct. We're not doing that at the minute.

Take the Monaghan game as an example of that. James O'Donoghue got the ball and he was bundled out over the line. Then another Monaghan defender was in just to make sure James knew he wasn't going to have an easy day of it. I was watching this on TV on a close-in shot and expected the cavalry to arrive any minute.

It never came.

It made me mad. I was shouting at the TV. Jesus, Galvin would only have loved the chance to plough into that. Darragh too. A chance to snarl and growl and lay down markers. It came naturally to them. We'd make sure our star men were given the breathing space they needed. That should still be our default setting.

That little episode was indicative of our display that day because we were bullied off the field. Bullied out of Killarney by a team that came the length of the country to play us and lost two of their leaders in Colin Walshe and Darren Hughes before the second half.

So it shows we're just not at the pitch of it. Not even close.

And my worry for tonight is that Dublin don't do bad days. Even when our team was going well, we'd get turned over in a League match here or there. Tyrone were the same.

But Dublin just keep winning. Look at them against Mayo. My God they were frighteningly good. If anything they are getting better. They seem to enjoy putting their boots on the throats of their rivals. Good teams always do.

And they are doing this with maybe half a team still to come back. Like Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn are two fine players but they must be sweating, wondering if they'll be playing come the summer.

All the while they are blooding young fellas in the right way. Niall Scully is having a fine season but he has experience all around him to help him bed in.

Niall Scully of Dublin shrugs off Donegal’s Caolan Ward to slot home his side’s goal past goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley in Ballybofey yesterday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin's Niall Scully

Eric Lowndes has been around a while but he played probably his best game for Dublin against Mayo. They are hothousing these young fellas in the right way so they are nearly fully formed intercounty players by the time we get to see them.

The best example I can give of that is Seamus Scanlon. He won his All-Star in 2009 and he had a great year. But he had Darragh beside him to carry the can as the main figure in there. Scanlon was given the time to find his feet. And when he did, he was brilliant for us.

Look, the future is bright in Kerry too. With all the minor talent coming through, we should be back top of the pile before long. But that's all it is at the minute - a future. It's not the here and now.

I suppose what I'd like to happen tonight is pretty obvious. I'd like Kerry to go out and strike a blow for themselves and the rest of the chasing pack and show everyone that this great Dublin team are beatable.

Cracking them, even once, would boost everything and you could bounce into the summer.

But look they have our card at the minute. And there's pressure down here. I think for the first time Eamonn Fitzmaurice will be under pressure to produce something in this Championship.

I've heard a lot of unnecessary talk blaming him, but he won us an All-Ireland against the head in 2014. So he's done very well, with the players he has had, to be as close as he has.

But with the summer coming into view, people want to see us closing the gap.

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So tonight is about more than just this result for Kerry. Tonight is about showing that we're improving on the things that have held us back.

Are we better in defence? Can we stay with them in the last ten minutes where they have been burning us off?

Have we that extra bit of pace in the team to get behind them? And if we find that bit of pace can we marry that to our skills and kick passing to do some real damage?

We haven't been too far away in championship. And no one in Tralee tonight should forget that - Championship is where it's at for Fitzmaurice and his team.  

We still have questions (along with everyone else) over how to handle Brian Fenton.

We don't have a like-for-like there. Or if we do, he's in Australia after Mark O'Connor headed for the AFL. Best of luck to him, but he's a loss.  

We cough up too much space in front of our own goal. We don't get bodies around the ball. We don't let it in direct enough. If we did, I'd back Geaney and O'Donoghue et al to do the rest.

Look, there's only a few teams in the country that have prayer of beating Dublin in Croke Park later this year. We're one of them but we'll need more pace in the side for playing up there.

Later this year, I can see the likes of Jason Foley, Jack Barry, Brian O Beaglaoich and Tom O'Sullivan in the team for the business end of things. They're raw but they'll bring something different. There's a bit of a cut about those boys.

As for tonight? I think you'll see Kerry's best performance of the year so far. I think you'll see them move with a greater purpose. Tackle with more intensity. Attack and defend as a unit.

A win would be great but it might be a stretch at this stage. This game is much bigger than just tonight's result for Kerry. There's still a gap between the teams. We just need to make shapes towards bridging that.

Because you can't expect to make up that ground in the summer.

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