Kevin Walsh was roundly criticised for the overtly defensive shape that Galway adopted during his reign. The concession of 3-23 yesterday shows his logic. A balance between both approaches may be what is required.
A good weekend for Kerry. They have the winning of the Division One title in their own hands heading into the last weekend of the competition after a solid display in Monaghan. Peter Keane and co will be delighted to have a game of significance under their belt, two points in the bag and context for training this week. The strength of the panel was further highlighted. Any absentees, regardless of status or credits will be getting uneasy and restless in light of some of the individual performances they witnessed. A few weeks out from championship they will know they need to get back and fast. Manna from heaven for Keane.
When teams emerge from a period of inactivity, it’s possible to see patterns of what has been worked on in training. Clearly Kerry have been focused on having a strong defensive shape without the ball. Kerry knows they have the forwards to win most games but can they keep the top teams out? Without the ball they flood bodies back while working hard to force turnovers and mistakes. This involves huge work rate, mobility and fitness levels.
Keane typically goes with four half forwards in his attacking line-up to help with this. Ronan Buckley, Dara Moynihan, Seán O’Shea and Micheál Burns all put in massive shifts as they tracked back and counter-attacked at pace when they won the ball back. Diarmuid O’Connor’s mobility and appetite for work also complement this system. Because these players track back to force turnovers, often it is the backs who have the energy and legs to go the other way for the counter-attack - i.e., Jason Foley, Gavin White, Paul Murphy and Tom O’Sullivan all attacking at pace with effect at different times during Saturday’s game. For 65 minutes, Kerry really frustrated Monaghan with this system and the hosts had to rely on outside shots and frees for scores.
The downside of this system is twofold. It takes energy and huge fitness to sustain it for 75 to 80 minutes. It’s too early to say if this was a factor for the final ten minutes when Monaghan came back at Kerry. The second disadvantage is it is harder to create goal chances. Kerry created a few on Saturday but converted none. They have scored four goals in six games so far in this year’s league and it is something I am sure they will be looking to balance in the coming weeks.
They have other works-ons also. David Clifford again shone when on the ball, creating and scoring with aplomb. They will look to get him on more ball going forward. They will also look to close the game out better. In the 65th minute, they worked a great score for Clifford which illustrates what they want to do late on when well ahead. They held possession frustrating Monaghan and sucking them up the field, Shane Ryan found O’Shea with a great foot pass, who in turn found Clifford with a pass for a mark and score. For the rest of the game, their game management wasn’t as sharp and will be addressed in coming sessions.
Monaghan will be disappointed with much of their display. They came strong in the end but never looked like getting a result. The introduction of Conor McManus at half-time and relocation of Shane Carey to centre forward improved matters but too many delivered substandard performances. Unsurprisingly they lacked sharpness and made rudimentary errors but more surprisingly many of them looked short on energy and maybe even fitness. They are still in a relegation battle and while their head-to-head record with Mayo is a help they still need a win next weekend against Meath. With Cavan in the championship a week later they need to get their house in order fast to avoid relegation and an early championship exit.
There were plenty of noteworthy results as inter-county football resumed. Cork promoted on a big score, Wicklow hammered Antrim in Division 4, Division 2 remained up for grabs, and Dublin mixed the good and bad to see off a plucky Meath. We will reserve judgement on them to see if a malaise is indeed setting in or if they are merely blowing out the dirty petrol.
The relegation battle in Division 2 next weekend will make for some viewing. Fermanagh are gone, and there’s one other to join them — and with the implications that relegation brings for next year, the stakes are high.
As league moves into championship, expect to see the influence of the coaching teams during games more and more. While the aim is to create an environment where it is the players who are leading the decisionmaking on the pitch, often in the heat of battle, with physical and mental exhaustion setting in, reminders are necessary, hence the role of the Maor Foirne.
With no crowds, vocal coaches can get constant instructions to their players. The mid-half water breaks are a time-out, in effect, and concise guidelines and reminders given to players here have the potential to be significant. I can think of more than one occasion where I would love to have had a time-out in the middle of a half, just to reset.
The resumption of intercounty action with blanket coverage across the weekend was gratifying. In these challenging times, there was something reassuring about it. Amateur players, management, and officials all deserve massive credit for providing this entertainment for us during a pandemic. They will all be back in work this morning, far from the bubbles and gated communities of professional sport. We should give them impunity from over-the-top and personalised criticism for the rest of this season. Many of the players seemed to play with a joie de vivre, appreciating the fact that they are getting the chance to play games again after so long.
While the romance and parochialism of the club was so enjoyable to follow for the summer months, watching the best of the best tussle at the highest level has a different level of fascination for the nation. Once safe to do so, hopefully it can continue.
On Saturday evening, while the country’s chief medical officer was informing the nation of 1,276 new Covid-19 cases and eight further deaths, we were able to watch Roscommon and Armagh going toe-to-toe.
That escapism will help keep us sane, and will be important for the winter months. The possible permutations next weekend, at both ends of the table, across all four divisions will keep us nattering for the week.
Isn’t it great?