Sam on way to Donegal, suggests Ray Silke

MY brother Brian was corner back for the Galway minors in 1986 when they beat Cork in the All-Ireland final. Later that afternoon Kerry beat Tyrone in the senior game. Brian is 45 now and in the intervening 28 years Kerry have since failed to defeat an Ulster team in an All-Ireland senior final.

Sam on way to Donegal, suggests Ray Silke

Armagh and Tyrone have lowered the Kingdom’s flag three times in the ultimate game of the season since then, and Down (2010) and Donegal in 2012 have both taken them out in the quarter-finals in the more recent past.

Yes, despite Kerry defeating Ulster teams in the interim, the fact remains the most decorated county in Gaelic football have found the top Ulster teams incredibility difficult to counteract over the past decade and a half.

Why? Tactics is the first issue. There appeared at one stage to be a definite refusal by the Kingdom to follow suit and play the defensive style perfected by their northern opponents.

Secondly, Kerry found it impossible to match the harsh intensity and hunger of teams that had never claimed Sam Maguire.

Perhaps, there was a little arrogance on occasions too? Added to the above is that the Armagh team in 2002 and Tyrone in 2005 and 2008 had some exceptionally talented and committed footballers.

Most teams which go out and take on Kerry in a 15 vs 15 open game will lose.

However, the Ulster teams don’t allow themselves be sucked into such scenarios.

When Kerry have been confronted with a massed defence, and especially when the delivery channels have been cut off to their much vaunted full-forward lines – they struggle.

Remember the quarter-final defeat by Donegal in 2012, when Kerry only registered 1-10.

Even though Kerry are the best foot passers in the game, that skill is rendered redundant when there is no space to kick the ball into.

With Tyrone it was the McMahon brothers and Conor Gormley that suffocated the likes of Colm Cooper, Kieran Donaghy and Tommy Walsh and this weekend Jim McGuinness will look to the two McGees, Karl Lacey, Paddy McGrath and the rest to do likewise to James O’ Donoghue, Paul Geaney and Kieran Donaghy.

Things are changing though and while Kerry have taken time to embrace the new strategies required to win All-Irelands against teams that play really defensive systems, they are doing so now under Eamonn Fitzmaurice.

Eamonn is a pragmatist and an innovative manager who has learned from how Donegal swamped Kerry defensively in 2012 and will have studied how naïve defending by Dublin let Ryan McHugh and Colm McFadden in for easy goals in the semi-final.

Kerry now value extremely hard working wing-forwards in the Donnacha Walsh, Mikey Geaney and Stephen O’Brien mode.

Those players are expected to track back and ensure that raiding half-backs/half forwards (is there any difference in Jim McGuinness’s eyes/) are not given freedom to roam.

Fitzmaurice has a game plan and a defensive system that has been working very well.

When Galway were shooting wide after wide in this year’s All-Ireland quarter-final they were faced down by a screen of Kerry players that left them no option but to shoot from distance.

Likewise, against Cork in the Munster final, Kerry set up very defensively and it is hard to imagine they will not do so again on Sunday.

Kerry’s last four All-Ireland successes were against Mayo (twice) and Cork (twice). Both those counties went out to play traditional football and Kerry partied.

To win on Sunday Kerry must ensure Donegal do not get even a few points ahead at any stage, because if they do, they have the capacity to fall back en masse and stop the opposition from scoring.

Patience in possession will be crucial to victory on Sunday. The Kerry players will have to be well drilled in the need to retain possession and to try and draw out the Donegal defence, while at the same time keeping their own defensive set-up well marshalled.

While Kerry have improved their system and set-up enormously under the current management team, Donegal’s structure is four years in place.

Who can forget their 0-8 to 0-6 display in the 2011 semi-final against Dublin, and the structure has been tweaked, adapted and improved incrementally over the past four seasons.

After winning a few Ulster titles and the All-Ireland in 2012, the players have complete belief and confidence in what they are doing and in their system of play.

Kerry’s defensive system is not as well advanced and there has to be question marks over Kerry’s aerial ability in the full-back line and with Brian Kelly in goal.

I think Donegal’s system can nullify the scoring machine that is James O’Donoghue and that is why I expect the Ulster champions to collect another trophy on Sunday at 5pm.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

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