A criticism we’ve made before about Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s Kerry reign was his fascination with Dublin, writes John Fogarty.
Too often it became about aping the Dubs, be it in their media dealings or backroom appointments. If Dublin were or weren’t doing something, Kerry would follow suit. Rather than let Kerry be Kerry and trusting that doing things their own way to succeed, it had to be about Kerry being Dublin.
His engaging interview with this newspaper on Saturday only underlined that theory. He said of their press dealings: “If you were going to beat them, it wasn’t by sitting down doing interviews or giving nuggets, particularly when you were getting nothing out their camp — either from players or management.”
Fitzmaurice admonished himself for feeling he had let the cat out of the bag after the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final when he explained Kerry could only commit to a full-court press on Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs when the ball had gone wide from a free or a 45. “Cluxton is so quick with the out-ball that if you go aggressive press, he’ll have the ball gone out and you’re all out of shape. You only think about this stuff when you’re inside in the middle of it in training.
“Okay, so we want to set this press, but when can you set it? Only when we control the ball and kick it dead. We had to have our half-back line pushed all the way up to the half-forward line. But if Cluxton controls the when of the kickout, we were certain to fall between two stools.”
In the final seven minutes of that first half, Kerry pulverised Dublin on their kick-out. After Colm Cooper pointed a free, there was a delay in Cluxton restarting, Paul Geaney dispossessed John Small, offloaded to Donnchadh Walsh who cleverly put in Darran O’Sullivan for a goal.
Cooper added a point, which was followed by a second goal, Geaney touching to the net an Anthony Maher shot that had dropped short.
Cluxton was rattled.
There have been other times when the game’s greatest goalkeeper has been unnerved — there were short sections in the first halves of both of the last two All-Ireland finals when his kick-outs were being feasted upon by the opposition. However, each time he emerged in the second half to lead his county to success, although Dublin did lose three of their last four kickouts to Mayo in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final drawn game and it was what forced them into a second day.
For at least the early part of next year, Cluxton won’t be able to restart the play as quickly as he has done, simply because he must jog out a further seven metres to the 20-metre line. Seven metres mightn’t sound like a huge deal but when part of the Dublin captain’s armoury is that nobody begins the action quicker than him it’s a hurdle.
Excellent analysis work done by the Irish Times and the Irish News last year and this year threw up interesting stats on Cluxton. In September’s All-Ireland final, his restart time was under 13 seconds (it was the same in 2017), more than six seconds faster than his opposite number Niall Morgan. The only two kick-outs he lost in the first half were struck after 17 and 18 seconds. To stress the importance of making haste, Dublin lost three consecutive kick-outs after he dallied for 25, 28, and 22 seconds.
Against Tyrone last year, Cluxton had the ball kicked in under 10 seconds on nine occasions — one was even dispatched after four seconds.
For a man who will hope to win Sam Maguire for a fifth consecutive season 16 days before his 38th birthday next year, it’s such a tribute that no goalkeeper in the country is as eager to attack as him.
Although Dublin did not speak on the kick-out at last Saturday’s Central Council meeting, they might have been pleased that the tabled motion — that all kick-outs must be taken from the 20m line and reach or pass the
defending team’s 45m — was amended. Nobody seems to prefer short kick-outs as much as Cluxton — in the 2017 Championship up to the final he had kicked 84% within his own half — and having to reach the 45m would have required him to entirely change his kick-out strategy.
That’s not to say these seven extra metres won’t present a challenge.
Aside from the additional seconds, the space in front of him will be a lot more populated by opposing forwards. Then again, he could choose to kick backwards into the corners and present himself as an outlet for his defender. Lateral thinking, indeed.
It was Fitzmaurice’s comments in this newspaper four years ago that, pardon the pun, started the ball rolling to ban ball-boys in Croke Park — he contended the supply was suited to Dublin. Cluxton showed he didn’t need that crutch as he will likely demonstrate this new kick-out protocol can be to his liking.
Nevertheless, it will be intriguing to see how he goes about negotiating it.
Some of the reaction to the joint GAA-GPA statement following John Horan and Paul Flynn’s meeting last week was interesting to say the least. How it could be determined as a victory for the official inter-county players body when the statement pointed out Central Council were always going to review the Gaelic football rule changes at their January meeting was mind-boggling. Horan had said only a couple of days earlier that the GAA
were “not a knee-jerk organisation”.
As Flynn is getting acquainted with his new position, it’s understandable if he wants to stress that the relationship between themselves and the GAA is not so cosy and they are not subsumed, as many believe they are.
However, the GPA had representation on both Central Council and the standing playing rules body. For them to suddenly act surprised and outraged when they knew what was going on all the while shouldn’t fool anyone.
Given the conditions that January usually throws up, seeing these new rules on a drier sod towards the end of spring makes sense. Whatever you think of the experimental rules, they have to be assessed in the most competitive environment available, which turns out to be the Allianz Leagues.
However, Central Council would be well advised at their meeting a week before the leagues begin not to link the competition to a tiered Championship in 2020. It’s unlikely that they will but imagine the uproar if a team relegated from Division 2 played under these rules changes lost their rights to enter the qualifiers. As if there isn’t going to be enough controversy when the managers, beginning in Leinster this weekend, give their post-match thoughts.
It’s year two now without the interprovincials and there does not appear to be too many tears shed about their absence. That’s not to say the storied history of the Railway Cups don’t deserve recognition and, thankfully, that has been brought to bear by Dermot Kavanagh.
A year after producing the fine The Story of Interprovincial Hurling — Railway Shield, Tailteann Games, Railway Cup 1905-2015, the Kilkenny man has delivered a chronicle of the bigger ball equivalent - The Story of Interprovincial Football - Railway Shield, Tailteann Games, Railway Cup, M Donnelly Cup 1905-2016.
Filled with some incredible photographs and reports down through the years, Kavanagh also mentions the importance of how the Railway Cup provided diversity in the form of recognition for players from smaller counties such as Leitrim’s Packy McGarty who won three Railway Cup medals having lost six provincial finals, and Kevin Behan of Louth who claimed two titles with Leinster.
Kavanagh highlights the input of Clare businessman Martin Donnelly whose sponsorship gave the interprovincials a longer shelf-life. He also pays tribute to the 13 dual players who claimed medals in both competitions, six of them from Cork - Jack Lynch, Ray Cummins, Denis Coughlan, Brian Murphy, Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín.
Priced €20, the book is available in the likes of O’Mahony’s of Limerick, Ennis Booksellers, Bookworm in Thurles or can be bought by emailing Dermot at email@example.com