Tuesday 17 July 2018

Tomas O Se - Kerry can't be relying on O'Donoghue alone to win this'

The bottom line with playing Donegal is that, when they get the turnover, Kerry have to hit them there and then

Tomas O Se is challenged by Michael Murphy during the 2012 All-Ireland quarter final
Tomas O Se is challenged by Michael Murphy during the 2012 All-Ireland quarter final

Tomas O Se

Looking at this week through selfish eyes, I never thought retirement was taking me out of an All-Ireland final dressing-room.

I couldn't see any way that Kerry would be in this territory now, particularly after losing 'Gooch' for the year. So the job Eamonn Fitzmaurice has done in that regard is simply incredible.

He's put belief in this team. I mean it was a lonely place to be when Cork hammered them in Tralee in the League. The word in Kerry at the time was that this was a team with no character, no bottle.

I would have said Cork had the more talented squad back then. But you compare the Kerry team that day in early April with the team now and it is extraordinary the unity and work ethic that has been threaded into it. To my eyes, that League game was a defining day.

A good manager can make a huge difference and 'Fitzy' is clearly doing that. Everyone has their shoulder to the wheel now. Kerry have been learning massively from their mistakes this year but they're about to face a challenge on Sunday that is probably unique in Gaelic football.

Donegal have simply changed the rules of engagement. Plenty of teams go away for five-day camps, maybe to kick-start their season, but Donegal have taken it to another level. Before the semi-final, they basically zoned in specifically on Dublin for an entire week in Johnstown House. There would have been little enough physical work involved in that process, just the repetition of particular drills over and over.

Now there's no way you can bring a team away one month later and do exactly the same again, so I guarantee you that McGuinness will have come up with something different to prepare for Kerry during their five days together in Lough Erne.

Their big thing the last day was a policy of dropping ball down on top of Neil Gallagher. They just banged their kick-outs down the middle, exactly what Dublin didn't want. And Gallagher was clearly told 'look, you're going to have three or four options running off you, just tap it to one of them.'

Once Donegal broke through that initial layer of defensive cover, they were home and hosed because of Dublin's naivety. For me, the real strength of Donegal is that ability to deliver possession at high pace from half-back to a man in a scoring position.

I've often spoken about our game against them in 2012 and how we just weren't tuned in defensively to what they were going to do against us. I was marking Rory Kavanagh, and when he knew the ball wasn't coming to me, he sprinted back into his own defence. If that happens again next Sunday, the important thing is that Kerry's defenders don't get sucked up the field. Because that's what Donegal want you to do.

It's what happened to Dublin the last day, and we were the exact same two years earlier. My attitude was 'Jesus my man is way up there, sure I'll have a cut at attacking here . . .' Then they turned over ball with a pace that was frightening really. It meant that once they got through the initial block, they were gone.

The support play when they broke was unreal. You could have McGlynn, Thompson, the two McGees, any of them bombing through. And we weren't tuned in for that. Rest assured, Fitzmaurice will be.

I'm not sure Paul Durcan will be going long with his kick-outs this time either. He's a very deceptive kicker, giving the impression that he's going to lamp it every time, but then placing it accurately off the side of his boot. It seems to be at the last second that he decides where to kick it but, whatever sign language they have in place, his team-mates always seem to know what's coming.

I'd say one of the things in McGuinness' head might be starting Michael Murphy in on top of the Kerry full-back line, going for the jugular like he did against Mayo two years ago by just bombing high ball in.

Fitzmaurice will have to be ready for that. I don't know who he intends to put on Murphy, but there's no doubting he's the key man for Donegal, no matter where he plays. My view is that it would probably benefit Kerry more if he was out around the middle because, if he's in on the edge of the square, Fitzy will have to come up with a way of crowding that space.

Upbeat

That said, I'm upbeat about this game. Nobody really expected us to beat Cork in the Munster final. Brilliant Kerry teams have failed to win in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, so that was a huge statement from these players, a declaration that they were ready to make their own history.

And the exciting thing is that I see possible improvement in lots of areas for Kerry now.

That said, whether the teams named will be faithful to how they actually line up is open to conjecture. I'm still wondering will Kerry start Kieran Donaghy for example.

The two McGees are big men and I don't know what sweet nothings they'll be whispering into the Kerry forwards' ears, but they'll talk all day if need be to try and get inside your head.

I have a theory that they are vulnerable to small, fast players and James O'Donoghue is as good a player as you will get in that category. A lot of people in Kerry are thinking that Stephen O'Brien should start now too because of his pace.

One of Kerry's strengths is the delivery of quick ball and that's going to be absolutely vital. People ask 'How do you beat blanket defence?' Well the first thing you do is attack Durcan's kick-outs, because that's the only time they don't have their full defensive unit in place.

Unless they park their half-forwards back, which they haven't tended to do, that to me is the place for Kerry to attack. I think Kerry need to figure out straight away what Durcan is doing, attack it and get balls in as quickly as possible to the likes of O'Donoghue.

People probably don't give Donegal the credit they deserve for the quality they have as footballers. I mean there's not a bad footballer on the team and they've a pace in support that is simply outstanding. And in Murphy, Durcan and Gallagher they have, to my mind, three possibilities for Player of the Year now.

Then you have to factor in the incredible engine of Ryan McHugh and the damage he did to Dublin in the semi-final with his running. Do you man-mark him? If Dublin had their time back again, I suspect they would.

The bottom line with playing against this team is that when they get the turnover, Kerry have to hit them there and then, stand them up all day long from Donegal's half-back line all the way back to their own.

Donegal do the damage with that run from midfield, so it's there it has to be stopped. You can't expect a defence to hold up if there are runners like the McGlynns and Laceys continually bombing through the middle. I'm not encouraging off-the-ball stuff. I'm just saying that middle eight have to work like never before.

There were times in 2012 when we were saying 'Jesus where are these fellas coming from?' There'd be corner-backs running past me on my half-back line with the ball over on the other wing. They'd be making these hard, unselfish runs and my man might be out around the middle. So I now had the problem of knowing who to pick up.

All of that stemmed from the fact that these runners had been let bomb through the middle. Sometimes they'd get the ball, sometimes they wouldn't. But you could be guaranteed there'd be three or four of them making those runs every single time.

I watched the Dublin game in 'The Sunday Game' studio through a camera from behind the goal and it was awesome to watch what they did.

The ball was being lamped out on top of Gallagher and you could see four or five of them sprinting up at pace just as it was dropping. One fella would get it and three more would be sprinting with him, the line now broken.

Unless you took them out with a third man tackle, there was no way to stop them. Even if it broke down, they still had six men back in defence. So it's very hard to figure out.

In fairness to McGuinness, it was a tactical masterclass. I love watching them play simply because I find it amazing that a system can be brought so close to perfection.

One worry I would have for Sunday is that Donegal have more big-game experience than this Kerry team.

Every single one of them, practically, has an All-Ireland medal, whereas a lot of the younger Kerry lads are coming at this for the first time, lads like O'Donoghue, the Geaneys, Peter Crowley, Jonathan Lyne and Fionn Fitzgerald. I think Donegal will play on that.

But they'll have to bring something different to this game than anything they've brought to other games so far this year.

Because Kerry have been hugely impressive around the middle eight in the last few games. David Moran and Anthony Maher were spectacular the last day and I can see big games coming for the likes of Declan O'Sullivan and Donnacha Walsh, a real unsung hero in my eyes. I often put down my fitness as a Kerry player to the amount of running I had to do in training against Walsh. He was an absolute nightmare to mark.

I also know how driven my brother Marc is to have a strong final now. He was, naturally, hurt not to start the semi-final replay, but made his point in the best way possible.

Finals can be funny, of course. Quite often it's a relatively unsung player who will emerge as the game-breaker and, while all the focus will be on O'Donoghue, I wouldn't be surprised to see Paul Geaney having a big game inside.

Bottom line, Kerry can't be relying on O'Donoghue alone to win this for them. I don't think they will be. I believe they know exactly the breadth of effort they're going to need here, including a big input from the bench.

I expect them to win.

Irish Independent

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