Former Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice takes a forensic look at the successes and failures of the drawn All-Ireland final — and the gambits and gambles which may decide this evening’s replay at Croke Park.
A IS FOR AS GAEILGE: Since he has emerged on the inter-county scene in 2016 An Ghaeltacht clubman Brian Ó Beaglaoich’s surname has proved a major tongue twister for many and has been frequently butchered.
For the record try pronouncing it as follows: Breen Ó Beug-Lee-Uck.
A is also for aggression. I was surprised by the lack of aggression from Dublin in the drawn game. Normally they physically push close encounters to the limit but not so on September 1st.
Expect this to be different this evening.
B IS FOR BACKS: Kerry’s defence had been under much scrutiny in the lead-in to the drawn All-Ireland. In the end, they more than held their own with Tom O’Sullivan, Tadhg Morley, Gavin Crowley and Paul Murphy excelling.
Funnily enough, the pattern was the same in the 2016 and 2015 games when the backs were perceived to be under pressure beforehand but it was actually at the other end of the field that things didn’t click to the required level.
Dublin have their own issues at the back and without Cian O’Sullivan at his best sweeping, they look vulnerable.
Has Jim Gavin lost trust in O’Sullivan and Philly McMahon, previous go-to men for him? Eoin Murchan appears to have jumped them in the pecking order.
Could he be detailed to do a marking job on Seán O’Shea?
C IS FOR COOPER AND CLIFFORD: Johnny Cooper had a tough day out in the drawn game. He was like a duck in thunder from the off.
His face was tense and unnerved. He was turned over early by Adrian Spillane after a poor solo, looked decidedly uncomfortable on David Clifford and his body language suggested he would have preferred to have been anywhere else.
He is still one of Dublin’s key defenders and leaders and his positioning and performance this evening will be intriguing.
Clifford will also feel he can contribute more and could explode.
D IS FOR DISCIPLINE: Both defenses are coming up against top-class free takers that will punish any indiscipline.
Seán O’Shea and Dean Rock have made kicking 45s so routine that they are now almost in gimme territory for them.
There was a nasty swirling breeze in Croke Park for the drawn game but neither player allowed it to affect his accuracy.
The Dublin backs were under pressure as was evidenced by the number of times they were caught for off-the-ball fouls and Gavin will look for them to improve here.
Rock had a kick to win the All-Ireland (again) and one of these dead ball experts could be presented with the opportunity to decide the contest.
E IS FOR EXTRA MAN: There was much debate with regard to Paul Murphy’s deployment in the second half of the drawn game. I felt it worked.
His presence allowed the other Kerry backs to attack the ball more, knowing that they had that extra security close by.
Of the Dublin forwards only Dean Rock scored from play in the second half and Kerry won that half by four points.
The move may have been conservative but it was pragmatic and effective. In an ideal world Murphy would have gotforward more often as he did for his shot off the crossbar but an ideal world and an All-Ireland final rarely co-exist.
F IS FOR FENTON: Jack Barry is Brian Fenton’s kryptonite. He has nullified his influence consistently since first tussling with him in the league game in Tralee in 2017.
The significance of limiting Fenton’s influence can be seen in the results across those games with two Kerry wins, two draws and a sole Dublin victory.
Unusually for a midfielder, Barry is willing to totally sacrifice his own game to stop Fenton.
Midfielders are not used to dealing with this type of close, continuous, coverage and usually have more freedom to go and play their game. Expect more of the same and if Barry, with help from David Moran, can spoil Fenton again it is a huge positive for Kerry.
However, Fenton is the reigning player of the year and will have been stewing for the past fortnight. He will react and this individual battle will be both intriguing and game-defining.
G IS FOR GOALS: I expect more of them this evening. Both teams created chances, particularly Kerry, but neither were ruthless enough in their finishing. Assassins were absent.
Both goals came from predictable sources with Dublin's coming from a set play, a kick out to a goal and Kerry’s coming from a lightning counter-attack after a shot for a point dropped short.
G is also for genius and can we see one of the forward lines produce a bit of magic to get a game-defining goal out of nothing.
Clifford, Geaney, O’Callaghan or Connolly might be the men to deliver a moment like Gooch (another G) in 2013 with his step back and pass for Donnchadh Walsh’s first-half goal.
H IS FOR HILL 16: Prior to our championship encounter in 2016 I asked the lads to visualise the Hill still, to picture us in the ascendancy and to take that weapon away from them.
When the Hill is in full party mode it is a swaying mass of bodies and noise. They inspire and drive Dublin.
However, when the Hill is still and quiet and one can pick out individual faces in the crowd from a distance, as an opposition you have them where you want them.
Following Killian Spillane’s goal in the drawn game they were stunned for a while but they found their voice again in injury time. They have fattened on all their success, can be fickle and demanding so if they still the Hill, Kerry are on the way.
I IS FOR INJURY TIME: Dublin really up the ante in this period as they did last day out.
Their work rate improved as did their decision-making. While they had played 35 minutes with 14 men they showed little signs of mental or physical fatigue as the game moved into injury time. I feel that they live for these moments.
They are bored when trouncing a team as they regularly do. They love to be challenged, to have to prove themselves all over again. This scenario is definitely one of the areas that Kerry will have discussed and targeted for improvement.
J IS FOR JIM GAVIN: Despite his incredible record, his decision-making was called into question for not moving Johnny Cooper off David Clifford when he got into foul trouble.
Gavin’s got very few calls wrong over the last seven seasons and, believe it or not, he was probably rusty. For the last 18 months, Dublin have rarely been tested and when they have it has been for a half at best.
Usually, they solve any issues and gradually squeeze the life out of the opposition and the contest. The last time they were taken to the brink in championship football was 2017 final.
He has had plenty to ponder over the last fortnight. Outside of the obvious issues of Cooper and his bench not delivering enough, I feel his decision to relocate Brian Howard to wing-back after the sending off backfired.
This move is one he has used in the past with Niall Scully, Paul Flynn and Ciarán Kilkenny all having spent spells at wing-back during games.
Generally, they were on top in those games and could afford the luxury of having an extra attacker against a team playing with extra defenders.
They were also on top in midfield and the auxiliary wing-backs were able to play on the front foot. It is a different assignment entirely when they have to defend under pressure.
Howard’s relocation robbed Dublin of his influence further up the field and he was poor for the crucial Spillane goal where a ‘real’ back would probably have minded the house better.
K IS FOR KICKOUTS: They will be as critical as ever this evening. While Shane Ryan put a few kickouts astray during the drawn game, I was happy with him overall. Even the two misjudged kicks were while trying to do the right thing.
Dublin were not as sharp as they usually are on the opposition kickout, and it will be up another level again this evening.
A long missile over the top could relieve a lot of pressure if Ryan has developed this previously unseen kick during this season.
At the other end, Kerry face an interesting decision with regard to their approach to Cluxton’s kickout. The high press was effective in terms of securing possession in the first half but did not translate to scores. It also showed intent and that Kerry were willing to go after the champions and not sit off and admire them.
However, Dublin pilfered 1-2 when they won Cluxton’s kicks over the press, most notably for Jack McCaffreys goal. So while the press showed intent and an aggression in going after the game, the statistics showed the reward was insufficient to persist. Stick or twist this evening?
L IS FOR LUCK: To win an All-Ireland a team needs the rub of the green. In 2014 we had the game won and yet in the last minute, Donegal hit the post after a goalline scramble.
The following year we couldn’t buy a break, and such is sport. Both teams got a few breaks the last time out with Dublin riding their luck with the Kerry goal chances and Kerry fortunate Tom O’Sullivan didn’t follow Johnny Cooper to the line and being awarded a 45 that should have been wide.
This is an uncontrollable from a players and management perspective but can be momentous.
M IS FOR MAN OF THE MATCH: Jack McCaffrey deservedly got the gong for his performance in the drawn game. Kerry will need to curb his influence to win today. The best way to do this is to force him to defend. He is an excellent defender as well but if he is burning energy defensively Dublin are robbed of his forward thrust. From the Super 8s on Kerry have played with seven defenders with Gavin White (predominantly) or Brian Ó Beaglaoich as a nominal half-forward.
This pair are strong defensively when Kerry don’t have the ball and they have searing pace going the other way to propel counter-attacks. However, neither are natural half forwards. They don’t understand the subtleties of the position and in particular how to present for the ball and act as a link with their back to goal.
Neither have scored while in that half-forward role. I understand the complications of this better than most as a natural half-back having spent a spell in the half-forward line during the 2006 league. If Peter Keane wants to persist with a back in the half-forward line, Paul Murphy could also do that role and he understands how
to attack from there. White could be effective also when attacking from deep when coming onto the ball, a ‘Kerry McCaffrey’. Mayo got it spot on with Patrick Durcan’s stationing on McCaffrey. He was able to account for him defensively but he hurt him on the scoreboard when Mayo had possession.
N IS FOR NOT TODAY: Mentality is huge when winning an All-Ireland and ‘Not Today’ could be adopted as an individual mantra, meaning we are not letting you win today. Before the drawn game I spoke about the individual battles and the importance of winning those and the team that wins most wins the game.
Prior to the All-Ireland final in 2014, Paul Geaney spoke to the group of the simplicity of the challenge from his perspective.
There is an All-Ireland medal up for grabs between yourself and your man and it was about who was going to win that battle and take the medal home. Paul won the battle and the medal in 2014. It’s time for a second one.
O IS FOR OUT: And when used as a prefix it becomes a powerful indicator of what each team will need to do to earn the victory this evening. Out-score (obviously!), out-work, out-run, out-think and out-perform the opposition on decision-making and impact from the bench and Sam is yours for the winter. Easier said than done.
P IS FOR POTENTIAL: On occasion directly prior to big matches, I spoke to the players about the moment of maximum potential.
This is the place just before the gun goes that you think about after the game, generally when things go wrong.
God, I wishI was back there and had another cut at it. I wish I was back in the hotel before we left or I wish I was back in the warm-up room prior to running out onto the pitch and had another go. During a match, that moment of maximum potential switches to half-time where there is 35 minutes left with everything on the line.
As we all know there is no going back and it is important to realise the individual and collective potential once the ball is thrown in the air.
Q IS FOR QUINTESSENCE: The essence of this Dublin team has been to get the job done, often with style but occasionally without it, when necessary. They always find a way and different players on different days have found the way for them during the course of the four in a row.
The way they won the 2017 final is a perfect illustration of this. It is one of the things that I admire most about them. They are coming up against a Kerry team that has been consistently excellent in the second half of matches all the way through the season.They too have developed the brilliant habit of knowing how to win tight matches late on.
The classic paradox of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object will be alive and well later.
R IS FOR REPLAY: Replays are a chance at redemption for many players. All-Irelands flash by and often a player can be disappointed with their own performance, despite everything they put in throughout the season.
They relish the chance to redeem themselves and show their true worth in the replay, once their bainisteoir sticks with them. I certainly felt that way in 2000 when we drew with Galway. I had bad food poisoning in the lead-in to the first match and was ordinary.
However, I was delighted to be getting another cut at it and played much better second day out.
S IS FOR SET PLAY: Dublin are specialists at set plays and much was made of Paddy Small putting his hand in the hair to signal a set play with a minute to go in the drawn game. They do this periodically throughout games.
It is difficult to make out exactly what they are setting up but they look to be attempting to slow down the game and to get ready to manufacture a score by a method that has been rehearsed ad nauseam on the training ground. Watch out for it again this evening and it is imperative for Kerry to immediately try and force a turnover to disrupt this set play.
When the hand goes up it should act as a trigger for the nearest Kerry player to go bald-headed for the Dub in possession.
T IS FOR THIRD MAN RUN: To witness the effectiveness of this, look back again at Jack McCaffrey’s goal. Dublin’s kickout is a set play with the first part being the securing of the possession but then how they translate that into a score becomes phase two.
Cluxton arrowed his kickout to Brian Howard who immediately moved the ball onto Ciarán Kilkenny who could have slipped the ball to McCaffrey as he sped past but instead he elected to pass to Niall Scully to ensure McCaffrey was through on goal when he received the final pass from Scully and was harder to stop. Brilliant.
U IS FOR UNFORCED ERRORS: With all the statistics available to us nowadays this is one of the least discussed metrics.
Players under pressure making mistakes is understandable but unforced errors are unforgivable. I hate unforced errors, but they happen, particularly late in games as a fatigued mind and body play tricks.
Dublin are incredible at capitalising on turnovers and unforced errors often lead to them. Think of the turnovers they forced late on in the game. How many of the five injury-time turnovers were down to Dublin’s intensity and how many were down to Kerry mistakes?
Reduce the unforced errors and you are taking away a valuable plank of Dublin’s gameplan.
V IS FOR VERTIGO: Kerry certainly got a small bit dizzy as the finishing line came into sight first day out. Through courage and appetite to get on ball, I feel they lost shape as players came deep looking for the ball to present themselves to the man in possession.
Midfielders and half forwards ran in straight lines back towards their own goals coming too deep and bringing their men with them, making it easier for Dublin to press up.
It would have been far more beneficial if they had the discipline to hold their shape and look for popped ball wide to stretch Dublin’s 14 men. Lesson learned I’m sure and if in a similar position again, they will manage it better.
W IS FOR WANING: Dublin are regressing. I mentioned this at the start of the championship as an indifferent league suggested to us that the strength in depth isn’t what it was. This was evidenced by Gavin not using his full complement of subs in the drawn game when many of his players were under-performing.
For the second game in a row, and only the second game ever under Jim Gavin, Dublin got no score from their subs, which was always a serious weapon for them coming down the stretch. He may have to go back to the future to get more from his bench, to Bernard Brogan and Eoghan O’Gara for a scoring burst and to Philly McMahon to contain Tommy Walsh.
They will be anxious to show that their performance in the drawn game was a blip rather than a pattern signalling a changing of the guard.
They may well be better than everyone else still but the gap is definitely closing.
X IS FOR XENON AS IN LAMPS: The lights will come on during the second half this evening and will be an extra aspect to factor in. It will add to the atmosphere and reminds us that autumn is here and the end of the championship is nigh. Dublin are well accustomed to playing under lights from their Saturday evening league games but it is something slightly different for Kerry.
It won’t throw them but it is a consideration.
Y IS FOR YOUTH: Many of this Kerry team carry no baggage when it comes to Dublin. They are still learning and the power and fearlessness of youth could be a telling factor tonight. On the flip side, Dublin have more mature players but have plenty of youth also.
Their blend, age-profile wise, is probably better at the moment. Either way, Mark Twain put it best: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Z IS FOR ZERO TO HERO: Both sides had significant casualties from the matchday 26 first day out.
Kerry didn’t tog James O’Donoghue and Dublin elected to leave Bernard Brogan in the stand. Both are match-winners and the old line about form being temporary and class permanent certainly applies to this pair.
Don’t be surprised if one of them appears, makes a match-winning intervention to transform a personal annus horriblis to an annus mirabilis for himself, his squad and his county.