Friday 22 March 2019

'We're a work in progress' - Kerry plans derailed by complex Tribes web

Galway 1-13 Kerry 1-10

Paul Murphy of Kerry is closed down by Galway’s Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Murphy of Kerry is closed down by Galway’s Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The last time Galway beat Kerry in a Championship match the TV coverage was still being transmitted in black and white.

Such was the quality, or lack of, entertainment for so long at a dark and cavernous Croke Park, it's tempting to suggest colour was still absent 53 years on since that 1965 All-Ireland final.

‘He still manages a smile.. Speedy recovery bro @PaulC225 no doubt you’ll be back stronger! #gaillimhabú’ – Damien Comer posted this picture on social media as the Galway players visit Paul Conroy – who suffered a double leg fracture – in hospital
‘He still manages a smile.. Speedy recovery bro @PaulC225 no doubt you’ll be back stronger! #gaillimhabú’ – Damien Comer posted this picture on social media as the Galway players visit Paul Conroy – who suffered a double leg fracture – in hospital

However, the spectacle is pushed to one side by the magnitude of the result.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice put it best afterwards when asked about the presence of the safety net perhaps knocking the edge from his Kerry team.

"A safety net going up to Clones fighting for your life is a questionable safety net," he suggested, in reference to their second-round fixture in this All-Ireland series against Monaghan on Sunday.

This was so poor from Kerry, notwithstanding that they've invested a lot in youth this year and bumps on the road like this can happen. Physically they just weren't ready and when they required leadership, players like David Moran, Peter Crowley, James O'Donoghue and even Paul Geaney for much of the second-half weren't able to give it.

Patrick Sweeney celebrates scoring the Galway goal late on Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Patrick Sweeney celebrates scoring the Galway goal late on Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

In the end, 19-year-old David Clifford gave them a lifeline, scoring 1-5 (1-4 from play) on his first outing in Croke Park with the seniors. He's made for the place.

The win is nothing more than Galway expected of themselves. Nervy and edgy for much of the Connacht final against Roscommon four weeks earlier, they were a lot more composed and controlled here, trusting that their defensive system would hold up against a Kerry team that looked so slick against Cork, a result that has since experienced serious devaluation.

The greasy surface perhaps played into their hands, taking the sting from Kerry, but they brought power and attrition to every position.

Cathal Sweeney continued his fine season and Eoghan Kerin kept O'Donoghue scoreless. Declan Kyne conceded to Clifford but otherwise stormed into the game and even managed to nick a point pressing forward before setting sub Adrian Varley for the first of his two, while Sean Kelly and Johnny Heaney worked between the lines with great industry. Their roles within this system are unheralded but crucial.

Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Galway lost Paul Conroy to a double leg fracture in the 20th minute, forcing a six-minute delay as he was treated following an accidental collision with Kerry's Sean O'Shea.

O'Shea played on but to little effect. Conroy's replacement Peter Cooke was much more influential beside Thomas Flynn, however, and Galway managed to get a strong hold in the middle third.

Kerry's kick-out really struggled at times, with 10 from 27 lost and three going out over the sideline.

At times it was awful to look at, not helped by the lack of atmosphere. Many of the 30,740 crowd were present for the opening game and then left.

The first-half did little to create an atmosphere. The skills of the game, the levels of fitness, the tactical awareness may all be superior to what they once were, but the overall package certainly isn't. Not on days like this when the risk-free environment is at its most evident.

Ten years ago these counties served up a classic All-Ireland quarter-final in a deluge, but here there was never a prospect of that. The slow, patient build-up is a legacy of opponents configuring so quickly into defensive shape, but for spectators it's becoming a drag.

That won't matter to Galway, who have worked hard over the last four years under Kevin Walsh to perfect a strong counter-attacking game.

In that sense the goal to tie it all up at the end will really please them, a turnover on the Kerry 45-metre line pounced on, with first Eamonn Brannigan and then Shane Walsh accelerating into space. Sub Patrick Sweeney's initial shot was saved by Shane Murphy, but he got the rebound for a 1-13 to 0-9 lead in the 74th minute.

They'll be disappointed to concede a late goal to Clifford, a snap-shot on the ground that fell nicely for him six minutes into injury-time, but it's only a small stain on an otherwise compact display.

They could even afford to remove Damien Comer from the action after another underwhelming evening for him that saw him score a point and win a free for Shane Walsh, but struggle to shake off Jason Foley.

Walsh, tracked by Gavin White for much of it, again stepped up with some impressive running, but it was Ian Burke who made the attack tick, especially in the first-half when his elusive movement caused all sorts of trouble.

By half-time his marker Brian Ó Beaglaoich was gone, Tom O'Sullivan replacing him, and while his influence waned somewhat he still presented the most viable threat.

The pressure in Kerry will inevitably mount on Fitzmaurice after a third successive insipid Croke Park performance after Dublin in the league and Mayo in the semi-final replay last year.

Replacing Jack Barry with Anthony Maher didn't work out, while the decision not to deploy Kieran Donaghy, Galway's destroyer-in-chief in the corresponding game last year, was a strange one. Donaghy's form at the tail-end of the Cork game looked decent, but Fitzmaurice explained that some of the substitutions, notably Foley's, were forced, taking that option away.

Inevitably their failure to break down the defensive system, just as they had failed to do in the league game, will warrant closer inspection.

"We've encountered it plenty of times and we've practiced it enough, acknowledged Fitzmaurice. "Of course you give credit to Galway for their plan, they executed it very well, they got some great scores on the break, but you've to look at the way we played as well," he said.

"We didn't kill the ball, we were predictable up front, we weren't dynamic, we weren't accurate the way we can be. It was a disappointing performance, there's no getting away from it."

Walsh admitted that the pressure on them, despite losing the last eight Championship meetings against Kerry, wasn't as great as it was in Connacht and they prospered in those conditions.

"Expectation brings a bit of that and maybe there was a lot of expectation, in particular after certainly not performing the year before. So that probably brought a bit of pressure. But, at the same time, there was certainly mistakes made in that Connacht final in the first-half that we weren't happy with," said Walsh.

"But, then again, you could maybe say the same here. It was three points each after half-an-hour, so it wasn't looking great either. But, at the same time, it was controlled, which was important. Maybe the fact that not many people gave us chances took a bit of pressure off as well."

They brought a lot more fight than they did to the corresponding game 12 months ago and that was a start, but their personnel changes are significant too - Sean Andy Ó Ceallaigh, Kelly and goalkeeper Ruairi Lavelle primarily.

Paddy Tally's assistance since coming in this year can't be overlooked either. The Tyrone man has now enjoyed being involved in Championship wins over Kerry with three different counties (Tyrone 2003, Down 2010 and Galway 2018).

For Fitzmaurice the hope is that the game will bring them on, but patience isn't a virtue back home.

"I keep saying it, that we're a work in progress. We have a lot of changes made. We're trying to go in a direction but when you're doing that, sometimes you're going to get caught with a knock-out and we did today. We just played a team that were a bit further down the line than us, were a bit more streetwise and played better than us."

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