From Kerry defensive perspective, a case of job done. And done well

When I was in charge of Kerry one of the our mantras at different stages was: “Earn the right to play, then play.”

From Kerry defensive perspective, a case of job done. And done well

When I was in charge of Kerry one of the our mantras at different stages was: “Earn the right to play, then play.”

This was about setting the tone from the off with physicality and strong body language. When that battle was won then football could take over.

Naturally that can sway back and forth over the course of a game but prior to the throw-in in Fitzgerald Stadium yesterday Adrian Spillane and David Moran in particular set the tone from the off.

There was serious horsing going on before the ball was thrown in at all and, crucially, Moran won the ball when it was eventually thrown up and Kerry were able to go after Mayo from the opening whistle.

And they never relented from there.

While the Kerry attack will get plenty of headlines with some excellent movement and score taking, with Paul Geaney, Stephen O’Brien and David Clifford, in particular, a joy to watch I was delighted to see the backs play as well as they did.

To seriously contend at the business end of the Championship then Kerry need to have that kind of ferocious defending day in day out.

They must have been annoyed and motivated by the handy chat doing the rounds that they (the defenders) were the Achilles Heel of this team and that they were not fit for the task either in terms of the personnel or structurally.

They responded in style yesterday but they will know that this has to be the norm rather than the exception.

They were tight, aggressive and disciplined. They attacked the ball with confidence and this was personified by Tadhg Morley and Jason Foley in particular.

The most important thing for me was how every back was playing with a defensive mentality, getting on the right side of their direct opponent and forcing Mayo into errors.

Their primary focus was on minding the house and then augmenting the attacking play when they could.

That was a noticeable flip of mindset from the Munster final against Cork last month.

Any marginal balls kicked into the Mayo forwards were contested keenly and when there was broken ball to pick up it was Kerry jerseys that were swarming there in numbers.

By the final whistle five of the starting six Mayo forwards had been substituted.

From a Kerry defensive perspective, it was a case of job done. And done well.

Peter Keane and his management had an excellent day out.

I know more than most that the best-laid plans can count for little on big game days but when implemented as successfully as they were yesterday it is enjoyable to be on the line.

All of the hard work to get to that point melts into the background.

They got everything right and all of the changes worked also.

I felt that Donie Buckley’s insider knowledge was of immense value. In the first half, Kerry pressed the David Clarke kickout brilliantly forcing him into error after error.

I had a great view of what he was being presented with and it seemed to me that everything he was looking to do was being anticipated by Kerry.

When he moved from option A, to B, to C he was being outmaneuvered and as a result he was forced into going long and with the puff of breeze that was there it meant his kickouts were hanging for that split second too long giving Moran (outstanding throughout), Spillane, Stephen O’Brien, Seán O’Shea and others the opportunity to attack the restarts.

Whenever there were breaks to be gobbled up Kerry were simply ravenous.

Shane Ryan of Kerry blocks a shot on goal by Donal Vaughan of Mayo. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Shane Ryan of Kerry blocks a shot on goal by Donal Vaughan of Mayo. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Success in this sector then gave the Munster champions a valuable attacking platform in the first half and they were relentless in adding to their lead.

I have been at pains to suggest that Kerry, as a county, needs to allow time for these young players to develop.

Many of them are operating at a high level already and will only get better with experience and conditioning.

A positive example of this developmental process in action was how Seán O’Shea ran Lee Keegan into the ground.

Seáie is 21 next week and is already a huge leader for this team.

One of the areas of his game that he would have targeted for improvement would have been how to stay involved in a match when being marked by an aggressive physical marker, operating on the edge.

Keegan is brilliant at snuffing out the opposition key man but Seánie has a huge engine and never stopped moving yesterday.

He took Keegan (and his sore ankle) all over the field and he kept himself involved and making positive interventions.

Jason Foley’s performance was also another player showing his class, with plenty of experience now under his belt.

Mayo looked off it from the start. The cumulative effort of the last few weeks seemed to catch up on them and they never got to the pitch of the game.

I travelled to the game yesterday on the train from Tralee and as we crossed over the junction in Farranfore I saw that the Mayo bus was just caught there with their Garda escort.

They were delayed for 10 minutes as our train had to wait for a train from the Killarney side to pass.

Such a scenario is not ideal when a team is anxious to get to the venue and get into their normal pre-match routines.

It reminded of the Irish rugby team in Murrayfield a couple of years ago when their escort took them the long way round and they were late getting to the stadium.

Joe Schmidt mentioned after the game that he felt they were late for everything on the pitch as a result.

Maybe it had no bearing whatsoever on the performance but I can’t remember a Mayo team making so many unforced errors.

They turned the ball over too often and Kerry were excellent at capitalising on these mistakes.

The prime example of this was Jason Doherty’s double hop that finished up in the back of the net at the other end for Paul Geaney’s goal.

Now James Horan will attempt to regather them for next weekend, try and beat Meath and then hope that Kerry do them a favour which means their final game against Donegal in Castlebar will be an all or nothing game.

James Horan has plenty of headaches this week but if history has shown us anything about this team they will respond.

The beauty of the Super 8s is that the big games just keep on coming.

Kerry and Donegal is a huge match again next weekend. The winner will be in the All Ireland semi-final with a game to spare which is a luxury everyone would love to have.

Kerry will be in recovery mode and I’m sure Peter Keane and his men will have feet firmly back on the ground straight away and will be stressing the need to back up yesterday’s performance again next week and build consistency.

A young team, with confidence and momentum is a dangerous animal though.

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