Will Kerry learn from Tralee and go zonal?

Kerry's Mark Griffin and Gavin Crowley contest a high ball against Matthew Ruane, Diarmuid O’Connor and Aidan O’Shea of Mayo. Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Tomorrow’s league final presents both Kerry and Mayo with a great opportunity to win a national title in Croke Park. These chances don’t present themselves too often.

For the seasoned Mayo footballers, it could well be their last chance to claim silverware in a final in Croke Park. That thought will not be to the forefront in the players’ minds but it will strike a chord with the supporters, and it will galvanise the Green and Red army to generate thunder in the stand.

The Mayo senior footballers fear no opposition and in recent times they have successfully carved out hard-fought victories over Kerry.

This thought will certainly be to the forefront in both the Kerry players’ and management’s minds. The Kerry supporters fear no opposition but in recent seasons the Kerry senior footballers have lost their innate ability to carve out victories in tight matches.

So far in 2019, the pendulum is gradually swinging back to equilibrium in the Kingdom and they are winning tight matches. This can continue tomorrow for two main reasons.

Firstly, I feel Kerry have introduced more skilful and pacey players who are currently playing excellent football and secondly, looking in from the outside, it looks like the Kerry management have asked the players to leave their egos at home and play for the team and only the team. A good combination.

New players like Diarmuid O’Connor, Dara Moynihan, and Gavin O’Brien have breathed new life into the Kingdom’s dressing room and have forced James O’Donoghue, Peter Crowley, and Tommy Walsh into action. Yearlings like David Clifford, Sean O’Shea, and Tom O’Sullivan have pushed back their shoulder blades and are emerging as leaders in the absence of David Moran and Paul Geaney. Donie Buckley is getting stuck into Jack Sherwood, Gavin Crowley, and Paul Murphy, while the quiet diligent work-rate of Jack Barry has gone unnoticed. Jack holds the keys to a Kerry victory tomorrow afternoon. He will have to step out of David Moran’s shadow and make Aidan O’Shea chase his shadow.

Jack Barry can man-mark any midfielder in the country. He has regularly conceded several inches to his opponents but has rarely tasted defeat in his individual duel in the middle third. He must start dictating the tempo for Kerry. Like his probable opponent tomorrow, Aidan O’Shea, he doesn’t contribute enough on the scoreboard. Barry, like O’Shea and Brian Fenton, can find himself in brilliant scorable positions in every game that should yield him a personal tally of 1-3. To date, he is happy to be the score assister — he regularly passes to a forward in a less advantageous position and as a result Kerry don’t profit on the scoreboard. Hopefully, Barry has many years left in the green and gold jersey but, in order for them to be profitable years, he needs to score more consistently.

Who will partner Barry tomorrow and try to quieten the spirited Matthew Ruane? I would give Diarmuid O’Connor a chance. Mark Griffin has more experience, but Matthew Ruane showed a clean pair of heels to Griffin in round six of the NFL which resulted in Kerry’s only defeat of 2019 to date.

Peter Keane, like his counterpart James Horan, has trusted youth this spring and they both have more to gain by trusting youth again tomorrow. What will be interesting to see tomorrow is whether the Kerry sideline learned from their defeat to Mayo a few weeks ago. Will they change things accordingly?

Kerry won six out of seven league games so far, playing with a solid, zonal defensive unit. They invited forwards into their zone, pounced on them, and broke forward with a fast attacking half-back line. However, against Mayo, they went more man-on-man. It wasn’t exactly a disaster as they only lost by two points.

They are a young emerging back six who are under the scrutiny and tutorship of their prodigal son, Donie Buckley. Buckley will be disappointed that his former Mayo students broke through his rearguard and stole victory in Tralee. We will have to wait until tomorrow to see if the Kerry defence revert and adopt a more zonal defensive structure.

What I would like to see tomorrow is the Kerry forwards playing with real width. They have the ability to stretch the Mayo defenders and create some nice space inside that David Clifford and the in-form Stephen O’Brien will love to exploit.

Kerry have and will use their route one option of Tommy Walsh and while Tommy will claim and score marks, I feel they need to be braver tomorrow and start popping regular angled 30m metre kicks into the scoring zone and use their hungry and dangerous forwards who will be supporting at pace.

Sean O’Shea, Dara Moynihan, and Gavin O’Brien can open up this Mayo defence with their direct running and accuracy. Predictable long-range passing into Tommy Walsh will only work occasionally against this

experienced Mayo defence and maybe not at all if Aidan O’Shea decides to wear the number 3 jersey! Unpredictable and more off-the-cuff Kerry flamboyancy will yield a bigger dividend for the Kingdom.

This is a big chance for these young Kerry players to show that underage success can be a boost to their careers, and not a burden. To show the older Kerry players that they don’t carry the scars of last year’s Super 8. To show the Kerry supporters that Peter Keane was right to replace some experience with youth and that there are more successful days around the corner.

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