Sunday 19 January 2020

Martin Breheny: No surprise in Kerry defeat - but Super 8s need them to bounce back

Dead rubbers in final rounds would be a disaster for format that was meant to bring excitement

15 July 2018; Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 1 Phase 1 match between Kerry and Galway at Croke Park, Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
15 July 2018; Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 1 Phase 1 match between Kerry and Galway at Croke Park, Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

As ever, the wily old fox remained wary, sensing that something wasn't quite right about everyone telling each other that the fence around the hen-house would collapse under the first push.

The younger pack had no doubts that Dublin and Kerry would enjoy nourishing feasts of 'Super 8s' chickens, avoid each other in the semi-finals and head for an All-Ireland final showdown.

Mick O'Dwyer was more circumspect, but then he never was one to run with the herd.

"I don't know how anyone can be so sure. There are good teams in both groups and Dublin and Kerry have to get through those first before they're even in the semi-finals," he told the Irish Independent last Thursday.

And there was more. Virtually alone among the punditry classes, he warned Kerry that Galway were a lot better than they were getting credit for. He talked of a new generation coming good and how Galway always had "very natural footballers".

He experienced it as a player when Galway beat Kerry in the 1963 (semi-final), 1964-'65 (finals) and as a manager when they beat Kildare in 1998 and 2000.

As for modern-day Kerry, he urged supporters to be patient. Yes, they have good young footballers but Micko reckoned "they might need a bit more time to develop".

"It's not just a question of putting out a young team of good players and they win an All-Ireland. There's a lot more to it," he said.

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But didn't he do exactly that in 1975? "The likes of 1975 doesn't happen very often," he replied.

Amid the many thousands of words written and spoken about Kerry in recent weeks Micko's short and snappy contribution was the most perceptive of all. He made judgements on what his eyes and experience told him, as opposed to the guff about the emergence of a new generation of superstars.

They may well turn out to be exactly that, but they have to earn the accolades on the pitch, rather than in over-active imaginations.

For reasons that certainly weren't based on solid evidence, Kerry's rating rose to a level where they were classed as the only county with a chance of unseating Dublin. Why? Because they are Kerry and they had good minor teams recently? Or was it because they destroyed Cork in the Munster final?

Cork, in case it's forgotten, came close to being relegated to Division 3 last spring and followed up on their Munster final embarrassment with an equally mortifying performance against Tyrone.

Kerry finished fifth in Division 1 this year, winning only three (Mayo, Donegal, Kildare) of seven games, while having the second worst defensive record in the group, just ahead of Kildare, who lost all seven games.

Yet, they were 4/11 favourites last Sunday to beat Galway, whose only defeat in eight league games was against Dublin. They followed up by beating Mayo for a third successive year, Sligo and Roscommon.

Even now, the main focus is on why Kerry lost last Sunday, rather than how Galway won. And if Kerry lose to Monaghan next Sunday, the probing into the 'Kingdom Crisis' will go even deeper.

In reality, it would be a case of losing to two counties who finished well ahead of them in Division 1.

A Kerry defeat would leave their prospects of surviving in the championship dependent on Kildare beating Galway - and even then they would be in a very precarious position - but so what? Status is determined by results not the past. Prior to the Super 8s, they would be gone from the championship now. This time, they have a chance to get back in, so they can count themselves fortunate.

The same applies to the other three first round losers, Donegal, Kildare and Roscommon, although in the latter's case the odds really are stacked against them after suffering such a big defeat against Tyrone last Saturday.

And, as their bad luck would have it, they follow up their home game against Donegal next Saturday with a return to Croke Park to play Dublin in Round 3.

Will Dublin be heading for top-of-the-table qualifier status or will their four-year unbeaten championship run end in Omagh after Saturday evening? And what of Kildare v Galway in St Conleth's Park on Sunday?

Next weekend is the first real test of the Super 8s, the round where one of the main selling points of the new format gets a chance to deliver.

Four important games at provincial venues is certainly an exciting prospect, each carrying its own fascinating sub-plot.

If Kerry and Kildare win, all four teams will be on two points heading into Round 3. Alternatively, if Monaghan and Galway win, the Kerry-Kildare clash a week later will be meaningless for both counties. Imagine the atmosphere around Fitzgerald Stadium if that's the case.

For now though, we can look forward to a historic weekend where four counties host All-Ireland quarter-finals. They are all equally important in their own way.

Richie, the handpass and the blight on hurling

I was taken to task by email on Monday over a comment in the 'Game at a Glance' panel for the hurling quarter-final where I wrote that Kilkenny could feel aggrieved over Richie Hogan being the only player penalised for an illegal handpass. Noting that I have raised the handpassing inconsistencies in the past, the emailer wrote:

"Now your grievance was that he (referee) did not pull more of them as illegal but you also complain about the one he did pull. Surely that's a contradiction of what you are always going on about. He did what you have been giving out about. Can you decide what you want? It was only one but is that not a little better than none?"

Actually, it's not. Illegal handpassing going unpunished is a blight on hurling. All the more so when the odd offence is picked up while many others are not. Anyway, I'm thankful to the emailer for helping keep it on the agenda.

Richie Hogan in action for Kilkenny. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Wexford and Clare fans didn't deserve to be taken for granted

It came, it went, it's been forgotten. Well, it shouldn't. The decision to play the Clare-Wexford hurling quarter-final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Saturday defied logic, especially since Limerick and Kilkenny, who were in the other quarter-final, are closer to Cork.

The question arises as to why counties that are nearer to Thurles than Cork should be forced to play in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Obviously, the Cork county board is anxious to get as many revenue-raising games as possible into the redeveloped stadium but that should not have come at the expense of Clare and Wexford fans.

Many of them reacted by deciding to watch the game on TV, which reduced the attendance to 10,255. That was 18,000 and 21,000 respectively less than last year for the Clare-Tipperary and Wexford-Waterford quarter-finals, which were played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on separate days.

Supporters from all four counties were happy to go along with the gala weekend to mark the opening of the new stadium but it was for one year only. Clare and Wexford were taken for granted by being asked to do the same again this year and said 'no'. Their protest should be heeded.

Irish Independent

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