Tomás Ó Sé: Will Galway have the guts to take on the Kingdom?
Defensive tactics won’t work against the best teams and Walsh needs to set up his Tribe to test Kerry rearguard
I can't believe I'm about to say this but, if Kerry come up against an ultra-defensive unit in the 'Super 8s', they should look no further than Kildare for the template to follow.
The tactical variation the Lilywhites showed against Fermanagh last Saturday confirmed for me that the days of mass defence are coming to a close. The good teams will just go over you or around you. They'll decommission your use of congestion as a weapon.
And Kildare, good luck to them, are beginning to look a proper force now. That 'Newbridge or nowhere' stand-off has reinvented them to the extent that they'll be relishing the Super 8s maybe more than anyone.
True, they'll be facing a lot tougher opposition from now on, but it's been mission accomplished in terms of getting their season back on track.
As for Kerry, there's a lot to be excited about, yet also plenty of reasons to reserve judgement. For starters, we haven't yet seen how this young team - especially the defence - will react when they're put on the back foot. And I can't wait to see that happen because then - and only then - will we know if they're the real deal.
It probably won't happen on Sunday, though, because I'm not convinced that Galway know yet if they're one thing or the other. They've so many good attacking players, but I honestly believe they still play with too much apprehension.
I met Pádraic Joyce during the league at a time Galway were rattling off all these wins and his worry was that somebody, some day would open the full-back line.
Now let's be honest, there's not a full-back line in existence that doesn't carry that same doubt about them.
But I think Pádraic could have been speaking for the Galway management, because it strikes me that they just don't want to open up. They don't seem to have enough trust in themselves to go man-on-man because of what teams like Roscommon and Tipperary have done to them in the past.
But, at some point in your development as a serious group, you've got to cross that bridge. You've got to learn to trust.
Put it this way, if Galway just concede the kick-outs to Kerry, that's the first battle lost. If they retreat deep, allowing Kerry to run at them? Second battle lost. If they're completely pre-occupied with building a maroon wall in front of Paul Geaney, James O'Donoghue and David Clifford? Third battle lost.
Because, trust me, Seán O'Shea, Stephen O'Brien and David Moran will just kick points in over their heads.
If you can't kick long-range points today, you'll win nothing. You must have the ability to vary your game, mix it up.
Look at the difference in Galway's two halves against Roscommon in the Connacht final. Their first half was awful rubbish, their second exhilarating. The difference in them when they went for the jugular was astonishing. They pushed right up on Roscommon's kick-outs and, suddenly, you could see a whole new attacking threat from Kevin Walsh's team.
Having witnessed that, I think it would be insane for him to revert to ultra-defensive mode now. Actually, it would be tactical suicide. You're in here now with teams who aren't remotely bothered by blanket defence. So are you going to try to beat them or just survive?
I mean, I'd actually worry for Galway going to Newbridge next weekend, especially if Kerry and Kildare are the Croke Park winners.
But that second half against Roscommon tells me there is a lot more to them if they're just willing to express it. They have a gem of a player in Shane Walsh. They have an absolute wrecking-ball in Damien Comer. They have serious attacking talent, but only if it has all the shackles removed.
Has Kevin Walsh the courage to do that? I'm not convinced. Galway strike me as a nervous outfit and that, I suspect, is a consequence of nervous management.
They don't back themselves enough. They don't trust themselves. Not often enough, at least. That Connacht final first half was putrid stuff, Comer and Seánie Armstrong just isolated inside, frustrated as hell. Then they come out for the second half, a different team. Football's Jekyll and Hyde.
It seems to me there's nearly been too much made of Paddy Tally's influence in the sense that they feel duty-bound to play in a really structured, disciplined way when they've good enough footballers to play with more freedom.
I know they'll be saying, 'Look what the Kerry attack did to Cork, why wouldn't you try to put up an extra wall against that full-forward line of Clifford, Geaney and O'Donoghue?' But this Galway side has the potential to test Kerry's mettle, I'm just not sure they will.
And, Lord Christ, what are we to make of Cork now? It was hard to discern any evidence of proper coaching or tactical understanding in them against Tyrone. What was the kick-out strategy? Who were the runners? What was the system, the overall philosophy? I could see nothing. Most senior club teams would look better organised.
Worse than that, they gave up. You can talk all you like about five- or ten-year-plans, but when players have so little sense of respect for the jersey on their backs, you're going nowhere. I was standing beside the parents of one Cork player at the game and, if I'm honest, I just felt embarrassed. So much so that I left after about 15 minutes of the second half. Couldn't hack it anymore.
Cork had nothing. No fire, no organisation and, accordingly, no confidence.
They didn't kick a single long delivery into their forwards until after half-time. This with the two Hurleys inside. And against a team that, if we're all honest, has shown absolutely nothing to suggest they're any different to the group that came up miles short against Dublin last August.
Tyrone still look like a unit with a decent running game, but one just not geared to hurt the top sides.
Ronan McCarthy's interviews afterwards concealed a multitude. You could read his anger even if he didn't openly articulate it. I'd say his intention will be to draw a line through nearly half the names that featured for Cork this season and spend the winter seeking out fellas with a bit of spine. Because the way Cork played last Saturday, Corofin would have hammered them.
Jesus, it makes you wonder where is their sense of outrage? People should be shouting from the rooftops about a need to fix this but, instead, I detect a familiar old attitude of, 'It's the footballers, who really cares?'
What happened last weekend should embarrass Cork GAA people. It should focus minds on coaching strategies and long-term planning, and setting the best standards on and off the field. There needs to be a root-and-branch examination of what they're doing and, maybe more importantly, not doing.
Listen, there's no shame in losing. But there's shame in dropping the head, in giving up, in letting an opposition just dance through you as if you're made of straw. There's a lot of things you can't control in sport. But you can control your work-rate.
This might sound primitive to some but, if things are slipping away from you to that extent, there's something to be said for starting a row. At least it might change the energy around the team. Don't just wave them through. Cork were a disgrace last Saturday, pure and simple.
And that's why there's still an asterisk under Kerry now.
Still, one thing that excites me about Eamonn Fitzmaurice's team is the style with which they're playing, albeit that style has been produced in games that didn't challenge them. Munster was a wash-out.
But, if Kerry win enough ball tomorrow, I honestly don't think it matters how many bodies Galway get back in defence. Because there'll be a threat everywhere they look. I think you'll see the two midfielders, David Moran and Jack Barry, blasting forward. You'll see Gavin White blasting forward.
I've been saying for a while that Kerry should give these lads free rein more often. Sometimes I think Barry, especially, is too programmed to follow his instructions to a tee. He doesn't play off-the-cuff enough.
Talking to lads in the Kerry set-up after the Cork game, the broad message I got back was 'Good display, plenty still to work on!' At first, I thought to myself, 'Lord Jesus lads, lighten up. A good day is a good day.'
Yet I've been thinking about that since, and about how Mayo rolled over a lot of these fellas last year. Because two statistics out of that Cork win jumped out at me afterwards. While Kerry kicked 3-18, they had 42 shots at goal. Which means they missed half of those shots. Now you look at the stats of any of the top teams in the last few years, they weren't missing 50pc of their chances. Their ratio would be well over 70pc.
Another thing Kerry were lauded for against Cork was their turnovers. If you classify a turnover as (1) a ball dropping into a goalie's hand, (2) a pass that's intercepted or (3) being tackled and losing possession, Kerry were up in the 40s which was unbelievable. But Cork actually had 32 turnovers on Kerry too!
Now that's a sobering statistic this week, isn't it?
Bearing in mind we've yet to see this Kerry defence put under serious pressure, there's an awful lot Kerry can improve on, particularly given that same Cork team subsequently looked like U-16s against Tyrone. That said, one quality Kerry have in abundance this year is pace. Yes, there are question-marks over the full-back line and how they'd fare in one-on-one situations. Daniel Flynn, after all, kicked 0-6 off Jason Foley, who is Kerry's man-marker, in the league this year.
But every full-back line is vulnerable if armchair ball is going into the forwards.
To be honest, this weekend will have a slightly artificial feel, because the Super 8s was never meant to be about Croker. The whole point of it was teams going on the road to tight venues that would be packed to the rafters. The new competition will be defined by the atmosphere in those venues next week when Kerry pitch up in Clones; Galway in Newbridge and the Dubs in Omagh.
So we won't get the true flavour this weekend and I think that's a mistake. Donegal have two away games to play before they bring Tyrone to Ballybofey. What was their reward for winning the Ulster Championship?
By the time they play their home game, they could be out of the championship. That's unfair.
I'll never forget the atmosphere in Limerick for that Kerry v Mayo replay in 2014. Now I didn't agree with the idea of Croke Park not being available because it was being rented out for an American Football game, but it did illustrate that we don't have to play every big game in Headquarters.
Look, the Super 8s has the potential to be brilliant because this year's Division 1 teams have all made it through. As a consequence, I don't think we're going to see too much parking the bus. It's simply too risky to go ultra-defensive against the best, most intelligent teams around.
Look at what Donegal and Kildare did to Fermanagh, or what the Dubs did to Tyrone last August. The best teams just aren't fearing packed defence anymore. They might still come up against it, but they won't struggle and they won't panic.
I know Fitzmaurice won't thank me for saying this, but I think the potential is there for Kerry to blitz Galway.
I mean, if you see the likes of Walsh and Comer sitting deep tomorrow, Galway are in the wrong place psychologically. They'll end up chasing this game and doing that against Kerry won't be much fun.
So, as you'll gather, I'm just not sold on Galway because I reckon they're not inclined to back themselves.
That said, the next few weeks could plant doubts in everybody's minds. And when that happens, it all comes down to character. How do you deal with it? How do you come back from it? The chaff is gone after all. Lose your first game and you're under serious pressure here.
You have to be ready for war now. And, in that environment, the next few weeks will tell us who is bluffing and who is not.