Tuesday 20 August 2019

Tomás Ó Sé: 'Kerry forwards are all but sitting in their deckchairs when they should be defending'

Defeat is a nightmare scenario for Kingdom but unless they bring a ferocity to Killarney that we haven't yet seen under Peter Keane, I fear they may be bullied by Mayo once again

Kerry’s David Clifford tackles Mayo’s Chris Barrett during the League final but Kingdom forwards struggle to fulfil the defensive duties of the modern player. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Kerry’s David Clifford tackles Mayo’s Chris Barrett during the League final but Kingdom forwards struggle to fulfil the defensive duties of the modern player. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Tomás Ó Sé

Mike Tyson's line about everybody having a plan until they get punched in the mouth comes to mind with this Kerry team.

The best of intentions don't protect you in the big, bad world of senior football. And tomorrow, in Killarney, Kerry step into that world. I keep hearing the argument that this team need time. That they are still young. That you can't be too hard on them until they find their bearings at this altitude.

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But sorry. You're either the Kerry senior team or you aren't. I'd ask players and management... is that not how you want to be judged? Or, more pertinently, should be?

The worry for me is that all the progress Kerry looked to have made in the National League was, essentially, undermined in two games played against Mayo. Were they bullied? Write it down that they were.

Now I speak the exact same way today that I used to speak when in that Kerry dressing-room. That may mean I get up certain people's noses, but my way in a team-talk was always to point out weaknesses. Now, there was a time and place to do that. I'd only do it after others had been accentuating positives. I understood the need for balance.

However, I always felt there was a value in coming down very hard on certain things that worried me too, once all the good stuff had been covered.

The fashion was always to end those meetings on a positive note and I got that. Put lads out that door feeling good about themselves and the battle looming.

However, if there hadn't been room at that meeting to have a right good go at different things, different people even, then to me that meeting hadn't been honest.

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Or at least, not honest enough.

I'm not talking about personal attacks on people. I'm talking about manning up. I always had this deep-set fear of complacency kicking in and lads just not being ready for the physicality coming their way. To that end, I'd even lie. I'd make up stuff. If we were playing Cork, I was never slow to come up with a bit of guff about what some fella or other might have said about us.

Hans Christian Andersen stuff but, if it served a purpose, where was the harm?

The thing was I could look around that dressing-room and know I'd be going to war with strong characters - with men. Half of them probably didn't even listen to me anyway, but if I got a few lads thick I knew they'd channel it into energy.

So it's not in my nature to go tiptoeing around this Kerry team now because they're wearing a jersey that should demand they're ready for championship heat.

One thing I worry about tomorrow is kick-outs. Mayo scored 1-5 direct from kick-outs last weekend; Galway 1-3. Kerry's kick-outs were really poor in the Munster final and while that imposes pressure on Shane Ryan now, it should also shine a light on his targets. The goalkeeper is only as good as the players he's trying to find.

David Clarke looks terrific in this regard because Mayo have men out the field who show up. And I'll make a prediction that Clarke will look world-class tomorrow if Kerry's pressing on his restarts is as limp and unconvincing as it was on Cork's. A press only works if everybody, from corner-back up, is engaged.

Anything less than that is self-delusion.

Cork were successful with 20 of their 23 kick-outs in the Munster final because Seán White could drop back from the forwards, with nobody pressuring him.

Kerry were completely half-a**ed and they were exposed accordingly.

People rightly laud the Kerry forwards for their score-taking ability, but they're still a million miles short of the selfless defensive chasing we see from Dublin, Mayo, Donegal and Tyrone. They're all but sitting in deck-chairs when they should be foot to the floor.

And I include all the marquee names in that: David Clifford, Paul Geaney, James O'Donoghue. I love watching these men on the ball but, Lord God, the penny still doesn't seem to have dropped with them about the requirements of the modern game.

My view is that Kerry have to try to pin Mayo in tomorrow or they're goosed. In doing that, they have to recognise that it's not risk-free. Every now and then a ball will go in over the top and they'll have to be on their guard for that.

This is a huge game for David Moran and Jack Barry, although Barry isn't named to start with club colleague Diarmuid O'Connor picked instead. For some reason, Barry has looked almost over-coached to me. He just hasn't kicked on and put his stamp on a game yet in the way I think he's capable of. He might have to before the summer is out.

Yes, Kerry's midfielders will need the support of their half-backs and half-forwards, but the time comes when you need to show self-sufficiency too. An appetite for battle.

The cliché is that Kerry need to be more physical with Mayo. I agree with that, but this isn't blind encouragement to go out and start a row. A case in point is Galway at the throw-in last Saturday. Look at all the shapes they were throwing. And what happens? The same thing that always happens. Aidan O'Shea comes away with the ball.

Proper physicality is about winning ball, not throwing digs. It's about putting yourself in the way of pain to get the leather in your hands. It struck me that Kerry played a lot of the Munster final in challenge-game mode. And this game will call for an intensity from them we haven't yet seen. Is it in them?

Tackling

Well, everything is in place to bring it out of them if it is. Put it this way, I've worked alongside Donie Buckley with UCC. I've seen in detail what he is about, the spatial intelligence, the understanding of a properly functioning press, the benefit of collective tackling in the right areas. He's absolutely brilliant at what he does, but I don't yet see his stamp on this Kerry team.

Now I'm not spilling any state secrets here when I say the county board wanted Buckley on the management ticket whoever took over from Eamonn Fitzmaurice. To me, it made perfect sense. The defensive naivety that undermined the team last year is his area of expertise.

Now, hindsight tells us, the defensive improvement from the team in the early stages of the National League was something of an illusion. And Donie's immersion into the Kerry camp since isn't, for whatever reason, evident in how the team has been defending. Maybe it's difficult to change the attack - an attack the younger fellas are accustomed to, but I have to ask is Buckley being given enough time with the players? Because I can't see his mark on this Kerry team. Not yet at least.

Perversely, I can still see his hand on how Mayo defend, in little tell-tale snapshots. Like O'Shea chasing Michael Daly and Cillian McDaid down the sideline last Saturday and turning them over. Jason Doherty doing the same to McDaid down the other side. That doesn't happen by chance.

Mayo defend with a really hard edge. They have the look of a team that actually likes defending. Kerry absolutely don't.

Mayo don't throw shapes. Yes, they will cut you in two to get a ball. Yes, they'll even cross the line on occasion.

But that's what it takes. To be borderline.

When I look at this Kerry team, the first thing that hits me is the gulf between minor and senior football. And that strikes me with management as much as players. This is a hard world they're in now. They need to adjust to it or lose another opportunity.

The forwards won't get the space they like tomorrow, that's for sure. So what are they going to do? Clifford's been the only one really sparking in there. We need far more from Geaney and, if he plays, O'Donoghue.

Now it isn't all doom and gloom.

Watching last Saturday's game back this week, it struck me that - take the two early goals out of it - Galway were right there. James Carr looks a class act and his second goal was absolutely spectacular. But the tackling?

I still have nightmares over Peter Canavan's goal in the '05 All-Ireland final. A class finish from an Owen Mulligan knock-down. I should have dived on Canavan's boot that time, but I was convinced he was going to come back in towards my man. It's an awful regret I have because my efforts to stop that goal ended up looking pathetic. And that was how the Galway defence looked for Carr's second goal. Like training cones.

I don't doubt those two goals will haunt Kevin Walsh through the winter. Because Galway had Mayo more or less pinned in their own half for 16 minutes of the second half, pushing up on Clarke's kick-outs, just not letting them breathe. They just left themselves with too much to do, but Kerry will have seen the unease they managed to put in Mayo.

I've a hunch that a strong referee will be needed tomorrow. Tyrone's Seán Hurson is the man in the middle. Hopefully, he is disinclined from taking that wretched cop-out of issuing two yellows whenever anything flares. Shane Walsh was a victim of this rubbish on Saturday. At a time Galway had the ball and were chasing the game, he ended up in a tangle with Mayo substitute Eoin O'Donghue, who had just come on.

Yellows

You didn't have to be Inspector Morse to figure out what had just happened. But it's the stock reflex of the GAA referee now. Two yellows. Move along. Nothing to see here. That stuff wrecks my head.

At the start of the year, I took some abuse from close to home for suggesting Kerry weren't in the top three, but I still hold with that. Is there honestly any argument to make for them being ahead of Mayo, Donegal and Tyrone right now, never mind Dublin? I don't think so.

That doesn't mean they can't win this game, but I'm genuinely worried about it. Killarney will feel like a bear-pit tomorrow, similar to Limerick in 2014. But the Kerry supporters need to show up here and make their voices heard. Because this rivalry right now is one that Mayo are controlling.

That word 'bullied' keeps coming to mind. When I think of Mayo today, the expression I'd use is 'organised craziness'. Players and management look wired. And you could see they were already zoning in on Kerry before they even left the field last Saturday.

Imagine the lift their season would get now from beating Kerry in Killarney. It'll all but put them into the All-Ireland semi-finals. Defeat is a nightmare scenario for Kerry, then having to face Donegal in Croke Park pretty much to keep their season alive.

Personally, I'd have preferred to face Galway in this game. Like, I see these new forwards Mayo have found, Fionn McDonagh, Carr, Darren Coen, young bucks but all over 23. In other words, further down the road of physical development than some of their Kerry counterparts. I see Cillian O'Connor now back and in form. And I see a team that have absolutely no fear of Kerry.

For both teams, tomorrow promises to be a defining day in their season because whoever comes through will probably make the All-Ireland semi-finals. To win this game, Kerry will have to produce their best performance in two years. I hope it's in them.

My worry is that it mightn't be.

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