Monday 17 June 2019

Tomás Ó Sé: Kerry on the ropes after their football Armageddon

Fitzmaurice is under pressure to get his side firing again, and starting Donaghy in Clones is way to go

Galway’s Ian Burke in action against Kerry duo Jason Foley (left) and Peter Crowley on a day the Tribesmen were almost always first to the ball. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Galway’s Ian Burke in action against Kerry duo Jason Foley (left) and Peter Crowley on a day the Tribesmen were almost always first to the ball. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Tomas O Se

It was the last thing I wanted to do but yesterday morning I turned on the tape of the Kerry-Galway game in the hope that a few embers lived in the ashes of a galling defeat.

I'll be straight with you. I was already walking out of Croke Park when David Clifford grabbed a goal to put a gloss on the scoreline Kerry didn't deserve.

And coming out of the place I couldn't quite believe what had happened because I was very hopeful for Kerry. Maybe I got carried away. Maybe I didn't give Galway's wins over Mayo and Roscommon enough credence. But I thought what we saw in Killarney against Clare and in Páirc Uí Chaoimh against Cork was a renewed intensity and hunger for work.

However, the numbers show that that disappeared in Croke Park. Stats can be misleading but they can give you a broad outline of things too, and they make for interesting reading. Kerry made 48 tackles against Cork but that dropped to 30 at the weekend.

There were 49 turnovers forced against the Rebels but just 28 on Sunday. Attacks fell from 49 to 37 too. Kerry weren't anywhere near where they needed to be.

I'm sorry to say that after looking back over the game, there was nothing to change my mind that this had been a complete systems failure.

For about 10 minutes, all was well. Kerry did the right things early on - Kevin McCarthy took on his man, swapped passes with Paul Geaney and he kicked a point. Shortly after that Kerry threw the ball around, asked questions of Galway and eventually worked Geaney into a shooting position.

He missed but at least Kerry were creating chances. Soon after that Killian Young burst forward and set up Stephen O'Brien for a shot that also went wide.

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In their next attack, Young was leading the charge again. This time he blazed by four Galway players and found Clifford, who pointed. Kerry had been a little bit wasteful but they were doing the right things.

At that point I thought to myself 'this could be Kerry's day'. But after that, it was football Armageddon. The pace went out of the attack and there was no pressure on the Galway kick-out. From there, we imploded.

You can go through the Kerry team line by line and see major problems everywhere. And to top it off, Kerry had a bad day on the sideline as well.

The first mistake was deploying Peter Crowley as a sweeper. That's a decision I'll never understand. It had a knock-on effect on the whole team and meant we were going away from all the things that worked in the Clare and Cork games.

In those matches we were direct and squeezed the living daylights out of them by pushing up on the kick-out. With Crowley sitting back, we lost that part of our game. Having retained about 80pc of their restarts in both their games in Munster, that figure fell to just 65pc on Sunday.

Ruairi Lavelle had a field day. Kerry gave him plenty of help, grabbing just 29pc of Galway's restarts, down from 42pc of Clare's and 47pc of Cork's.

At the other end, Shane Murphy struggled hugely with his kick-outs and put four out over the sideline early in the day. That was worrying on a weekend when the likes of Rory Beggan, Stephen Cluxton and Niall Morgan underlined how important having a solid kick-out strategy is.

Kerry couldn't push up hard on Lavelle's restarts because Crowley had slipped back down the field for the early part of the game. Monaghan, Dublin and Tyrone pushed up much harder. They asked questions and it paid dividends.

For some reason we went away from the things that made us look so impressive against Clare and Cork.

Even allowing for the significant step up in terms of the opposition we should still have played the game that suits this bunch of players. We didn't and we paid the price.

But that was only part of the problem because on top of that Kerry made an unforgivable amount of unforced errors. The conditions were difficult but still the handpassing was sloppy, going two feet in front of a man or two feet behind.

Again the numbers make for bad reading for Kerry. Galway turned over Kerry 28 times.

On top of that our work-rate was miles off where it needed to be. Jesus, it was infuriating to watch. Our big men were nowhere to be seen when leadership was required.

There are a lot of young Kerry lads there who you can say might need time but where were Paul Murphy, David Moran, Peter Crowley and Paul Geaney when we were shipping water? Geaney is our main man up front but he spent 20 minutes out the field in the second half.

Then with the game on the line you have Young picking up a silly red card. He threw the arm. I don't know how he thought he was going to get away with that in Croke Park. There's no excuses for that but it was indicative of the frustration everyone was feeling.

By the end of it I don't think anyone could put up their hand up and say they won their battle with the exception of Clifford and maybe Stephen O'Brien. Jason Foley kept Damien Comer fairly quiet also but outside of those three, Kerry were beaten all ends up.

Fair play to Galway for that. They did their jobs well. I still don't think they are world-beaters but they made sure they won the battle first and they went from there.

They are hard to break down, but Kevin Walsh will see that Kerry didn't ask too many questions of them but were still within a point after 55 minutes.

They are hard men. Eoghan Kerin was in the middle of so many things that at one stage I was afraid he was going to start an argument with himself. If he was on my team I'd love him for it. Kerry just didn't have anyone doing that, setting the terms of engagement.

Instead our lads stood around hoping a lovely game of football would break out. You just don't get those at the business end of things. You have to earn the right to do the nice stuff. Kerry didn't do that.

We had a bad day on the sideline too. I've said already I don't know why we used a sweeper after it went so wrong for us against Mayo in Croke Park last year.

I'm also not sure why James O'Donoghue was taken off. For me Sean O'Shea and Kevin McCarthy could have been called in earlier.

I also wonder why we didn't see Darran O'Sullivan or Kieran Donaghy introduced. Darran has pace, something that can cause those massed defences real problems, while Donaghy would surely have done his usual fox in the hen-house routine around the edge of the square.

If nothing else, his presence alone would have caused a little bit of consternation in there. We got nothing off our bench. Galway got 1-2.

Kerry will analyse that game this week and know they let themselves down. And now they have just a week to turn it around.

There's not a rougher place Kerry could be going than to Clones to save their season. Monaghan won at the weekend and it won't be lost on them that they beat Kildare without Conor McManus firing on all cylinders.

Malachy O'Rourke will have seen too that Kerry struggled to break down Galway's mass of bodies. He'll be telling his boys that if they can keep it tight they can put Kerry out on their arses and out of the championship.

Monaghan will be very comfortable playing that way. They'll see that if you pose hard questions early you can rattle them. I thought Kerry would win last weekend. Did I get it wrong about this team? Are they not ready?

I still think they can do it but a lot will depend on where their confidence levels are at. Rebuilding that belief is the job for management this week.


The keyboard warriors, a poisonous group at the best of times, are out in force and Monaghan have no fear of Kerry. The pressure is well and truly on. We haven't beaten a Division 1 side in championship football since 2015 and this is a real acid test for this young side.

It's effectively knock-out football, the stakes couldn't be much higher.

Lose this weekend and Eamonn Fitzmaurice will be under pressure. He'll know that. Playing a dead-rubber 'Super 8s' game in Killarney would be cruel, so he knows how big this week is for the county.

If I was him I'd make one change and start Donaghy in midfield for Jack Barry, or even at full-forward, just for ball-winning ability alone. Dry ball next weekend might be different too.

After that I'd put it up to the lads who didn't perform last weekend.

I'd challenge them to go back to what they did in their first two matches and run hard and straight and get support runners around the ball carrier and push up on the Monaghan kick-outs.

I'd like to see them kick it long when it's on but most of all we have to see a bit of dog come out in them.

If Kerry can find that, I still have belief in this side.

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