Friday 20 July 2018

Tomás Ó Sé: Gung-ho Kingdom walking a tightrope - Kerry's tactics were admirable but laced with danger


Colm Boyle scores the second of Mayo’s two goals. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Boyle scores the second of Mayo’s two goals. Photo: Sportsfile

Tomas O Se

You could dive deep into the minutiae of the Kerry-Mayo game to try and find out where it could have been won or lost and, you know what, I think you might drown.

It's hard to know where to start with it all. It was a brilliant game and we nearly had a Hollywood ending for Kerry when Bryan Sheehan had that late free. But when you boil it all down, I don't think either team will have had many complaints heading back down the road last night.

They'll wake up this morning knowing there are positives to take from the 70-plus minutes we saw and things to work on. They won't mind that. At this time of year, all that matters is being in the fight.

The game had everything: big saves and bad wides, brilliant play and terrible blunders, as well as some big tactical calls.

Kerry's big move was that they flat-out went for it from the start of the first half and on another day it might have cost them.

They pushed up hard on David Clarke's kick-outs and, to an extent, it worked. They were able to put him under awful pressure. His restarts have a habit of hanging in the air that second longer than you'd like. Kerry were ready for it and were on it like buzzards on a carcass.

Going after it so hard from the off surprised me a little bit. It can help you get a run on teams, in that you can reel off a few quick scores if you can get turnovers high up the pitch. However, the flip side was that when Mayo got out from under the press they had a run on the Kerry full-back line, who were left very exposed.

Every time I looked up in the first half our three full-backs and their three full-forwards were the only players inside the 65 and it made me nervous. You don't see much of that in inter-county football these days. Of the four teams left in the All-Ireland series, you can be certain that only Kerry would leave their full-back line exposed like that.

And, you know, in one sense I admire Eamonn Fitzmaurice for going after it like that. That's their natural game and trying to force a sweeper system on them at this time of the season would have been mistake. Kerry repeatedly gamble that they'll be able to disrupt the ball going in, and from No 5 to 15 Fitzmaurice asks them to work like dogs and win the ball back.

It worked in parts, but it also means they can get drawn high up the field and leave an ocean of room between the half-back and full-back lines.

And there's no one better at getting out past the cover than Mayo, because they work so hard around the midfield area and they have the athleticism in the likes of Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins to break out past you.

Fitzmaurice would have known that and he went for it anyway. That took balls, but giving any team that much space is a high-risk strategy, as shown when we coughed up two goals early on.

At that stage Kerry looked all at sea and they might have shipped three goals only for Andy Moran's effort being deflected over the bar.

A goal then would have put Mayo six points up and it would have been a long way back from there.

I certainly wouldn't have liked to have been in there, but, to their credit, the Kerry full-backs stuck manfully to their task, even when they were taking water.

Moran, though, did have a great game on the back of the space he was given. It must have been one of his best performances of recent times. Even Kerry's go-to man-marker for inside forwards, Shane Enright, found it tough on him. But that's the pay-off when you push up hard like Kerry did.

As the half wore on, Kerry were getting to the pace of things and Fitzmaurice helped by changing it up on the sideline. But, I tell you, Kerry were blessed to be going into the game level at half-time.

Now, if Kerry's big call was to press up so high, then Mayo's was to put Aidan O'Shea in at full-back on Donaghy. I met David Brady on the way in and I was laughing at him for suggesting it during the week, so I couldn't believe it when O'Shea went in there.

As soon as Kerry saw him in there they were clever enough to know not to put the ball in high on top of him and when they went through the hands Donaghy had O'Shea beaten all ends up.

It's hardly O'Shea's fault. He's not a defender and Donaghy is as cute as a fox with his movement.

As I mentioned, I thought Kerry were in trouble early in the game. Donnchadh Walsh was a loss for the work and quality he brings, but his hamstring injury also meant that Kerry had to start one of their best impact players in Stephen O'Brien.

As part of the shake-up Eamonn Fitz brought on another potential game-changer in Jack Barry at half-time.

With those two introduced earlier than was probably planned, I was worried our bench wouldn't have enough of a say. However, when all is said and done, a draw seemed fair.

You can make a case for either side being in the better position. The replay will be Mayo's ninth game of the championship summer, but I don't buy the 'tired' argument for a minute.

The best football they have played all year has been in the last two games and they'll know they can improve loads from that.

And they'll certainly have taken some confidence from the fact that they kicked the last point to secure a replay.

Paddy Durcan held his nerve to land the big score. I was very surprised he wasn't starting and he'll be pushing hard for inclusion from the start the next day, while Mayo also have to make a decision on what to do with O'Shea.

It will be interesting to see what way Rochford plays his hand next Saturday. God knows he's not afraid to make the big calls.

If you were making a case for Kerry you'd say that it was their first real test all year and it is sure to bring them on. Up to this point they haven't been asked too many questions, but we all expected Mayo to change that. If everyone came through injury free, it will be another plus.

It's all set up for an exciting couple of days next weekend. I can't wait.


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