JOE BROLLY believes Cork’s Munster SFC semi-final win over Kerry is as much an indication of the Kingdom’s “terminal decline” as anything else.
The outspoken Derry man feels Tyrone have the indian sign over the Kingdom and that Cork have now emerged as the most serious threat to Tyrone in the race for Sam Maguire.
In a fascinating appraisal of the state of play in the football championship on the first day of July, Brolly said: “There are real signs that Tyrone have put Kerry in terminal decline. Jack O’Connor came back solely to work out the Tyrone conundrum and he may have underestimated the psychological damage Tyrone have inflicted on his squad.
“I think deep down the Kerry players feel they can’t beat Tyrone in a big game in Croke Park. Last year was their greatest opportunity and in spite of the fact that they had such a devastating full-forward line, and that Tyrone were shorn of their best forwards, Tyrone still beat them and without playing that well.”
Brolly sees further evidence for his theory in the Tyrone-Kerry league game this year.
“At half-time Tyrone were about 10 down but then stuck into Kerry and cut them in two in the second half. The clock just ran out on them. Even though Tyrone lost that game they came out with a psychological advantage. Kerry haven’t learned anything from Tyrone. Declan O’Sullivan still goes on long solo runs out of his own defence, the Kerry backs set up man to man and their midfield remains immobile.”
Brolly feels Cork are now better equipped to succeed on the September Road. “Cork have to dominate Kerry if they’re to win an All-Ireland and that process is well underway. Unlike the last couple of seasons, when I said the preceding games were meaningless, this is different. Cork dismantled Monaghan in Croke Park. People said Monaghan weren’t up for it, but their strength has always been in the middle third of the field which they turned it into a quagmire for Kerry in recent years, only for Kieran Donaghy to rescue them. Cork dominated there totally against Monaghan.”
The Derry man says Cork have learned how to play against Kerry from Tyrone. “After beating Kerry, Tyrone’s focus will now have moved to Cork. They just want to win an All-Ireland but this is a new and unexpected element for Tyrone. Kerry seem to me to be in decline. Tommy Walsh is a one-trick pony – if he gets the ball 40 yards from goal and you stay close to him he’ll barge past you and head for goal, but if you stand off him and wait for him to come onto his left then he won’t do any damage.
“Tyrone figured that out for the All-Ireland final last year, and Cork have learned from that. Walsh doesn’t have the speed of thought or foot to deal with proper, logical defending. Colm Cooper can only do so much for Kerry, while Cork are approaching the game cleverly.
“In Killarney, when Kerry had the ball on the wing they transferred it through the middle, where Colm Cooper made diagonal runs across the middle; his outside players didn’t even have to look when delivering it.
“In the replay Anthony Lynch stayed inside him so he made those runs first. The Kerry players weren’t looking where they delivered it again but that was because of the force of Cork’s tackling, and Lynch came away with the ball every time.
“You can’t beat logical defending. When Tyrone played Derry in the league they put PJ Quinn, just out of school, on Eoin Bradley, who was running up big scores. PJ was told to keep Bradley off his left foot so he took a big step out to Eoin’s left every time and out of his 21 possessions, Eoin had to lay it off with the hand 20 times. Clever football.”
Brolly concedes Kerry have one player, however, who might turn things around for them. “Kieran Donaghy is Kerry’s most important player. That was underlined when they began their experiment with him, because Cork couldn’t do anything with him. It’s like what Art McRory said about Frank McGuigan – you couldn’t give him a bad pass.
“Donaghy is a great team player – great hands, great vision – and the most extraordinary thing to come into Gaelic football since Bomber Liston. Kerry will suffer without him because Colm Cooper is markable. Physically he’s markable, and you can double-team him, as Tyrone do.
“You can’t mark Donaghy. If he’s ruled out for the rest of the season then there is no chance of Kerry winning an All-Ireland. He changes the whole dynamic – they don’t have to run the ball through, they can put it over a packed defence and into him.
“That was their problem last year. Tommy Walsh came in and had an impact for them in the championship, which they didn’t expect, and they were left wondering what to do with Donaghy, Walsh and Cooper.
“They brought Cooper out as a play-maker behind the centre-forward, which was a disaster because he couldn’t get scores, and Walsh was getting in Donaghy’s road.
“Walsh isn’t a good playmaker because it takes him too long to think; Donaghy is very good because he’s a quick thinker, the ball’s there and it’s gone. Cooper should have played off Donaghy, not Walsh.”
Brolly, however, admires Cork’s forward line. He said: “Cork have cohesion up front – I have some doubts about James Masters at full-forward but he’s good at that new role laying the ball off, there are enough hard runners around him, and I like the look of Daniel Goulding, particularly as he takes points off his left on the left-hand side – he’s coming into his confidence but could have gone for goal once or twice in the last game.
“There’s more in Donncha O’Connor. My question is where he has the fighting spirit, and he’ll need that if he ends up marking Conor Gormley. There’s massive focus on him and all that will hold him back is if he lacks that, though that’s an ‘if’.”
Brolly sees Cork’s fitness and power as crucial advantages. “Short of a revitalised Kerry, or Tyrone, I don’t think there’s a team which can beat Cork, particularly the way they’re going. People have expressed concerns about playing so well in June, but they have good foot and handpassing skills, their fitness is good.
“I’d like one of their full-forwards become a leader, but that might well come. If your midfield-half-back and half-forwards are 6’2” to 6’6”, 16 stone and they’re all coming at speed and in numbers, that’s irresistible. All that can hold you back after that is finishing.
“And they have strength in depth. Fintan Goold, for instance, was able to come on for Nicholas Murphy. And where in the country would you get anyone like Anthony Lynch, a warrior and a Gaeilgeoir? If my daughter said she was going to marry him I’d go down on my knees and thank the Lord. No dowry would be too large for the Lynch family.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved