Kernan’s kick-out conundrum

THERE are those who would suggest that recently-retired Kerry goalkeeper Diarmuid Murphy’s greatest achievement as a footballer was finding a way of changing his kick-out technique over the course of his last season in green and gold.

After an indifferent 2008, where he took as much blame as any individual on the Kerry team for the All-Ireland final defeat to Tyrone, Murphy was forced into a period of deep introspection where the very basic elements of his game were called into question. Kicking the ball out to a dominant midfielder, Darragh O Sé, should have proven the easiest of tasks for an experienced keeper but against the cleverest of midfield diamonds, the conventional kickout wasn’t always what was required anymore. In the last 18 months, a traditional goalkeeper like Murphy was in danger of becoming obsolete but the real problem was when he tried to be clever or inventive with his kicks he invariably ended up looking silly or worse still, conceding scores while looking silly.

I thought of the Murphy conundrum quite a lot while watching Galway’s opening league game against Mayo last month. At a time when the premium on clean possession from kick-outs is higher than at any stage in the history of the game, and during a period of relative experimentation by all Division 1 squads with their goalkeeping options (with both of tonight’s Páirc Ui Rinn teams on their third different goalkeeper this campaign, has there ever been as much tinkering between the sticks?) Paul Doherty’s struggle was telling.

When Mayo’s triumvirate of McGarrity, Parsons and Seamus O’Shea were ruling the skies in the first half last month, the lack of variety and ingenuity in the Galway kickout was alarming. Time and again possession was coughed up on the Galway kick-out and by the time the Tribesmen knew what’s what, they were well on their way to a hiding.

It has become almost axiomatic that Galway have struggled in midfield since Kevin Walsh rode off into the sunset seven years ago, but you would have thought at this stage that successive managers would have found a way of masking their deficiencies in this department by devising a strategy aimed at securing possession from kick-outs. It is quite ironic that the county who revolutionised the pop-kick from the restarts (Martin McNamara and Kevin Walsh 1998) are now struggling to find ways of keeping the ball from their own kick-out.

Watching Corofin’s Greg Higgins struggle to the extent that he did against St Gall’s last weekend doesn’t offer any further consolation to the Galway faithful. To become competitive from their own kick-out, Galway are going to have to ask an awful lot more of those with numbers 5 to 12 on their jersies and Joe Kernan’s management group are going to have to find a keeper in whom they can have absolute faith in their attempt at re-inventing the kick-out as Martin McNamara did twelve years ago.

TONIGHT in Páirc Uí Rinn, Leitir Mór’s Eoin O Conghaile becomes the third goalkeeper to be tried out by Kernan this spring and while supporters will point to the league as an ideal testing ground for such a move, O Conghaile is unlikely to have it any easier than Adrian Faherty or Paul Doherty did before him.

With Alan O Connor and Pearse O’Neill manning the midfield berths when he looks to find his two midfielders, O Conghaile is going to need some sort of strategy other than banging it out the middle and hoping Barry Cullinane does his wrecking ball impersonation that proved so effective against Ronan McGarrity in the FBD league final a few weeks back.

Cullinane’s improved mobility and shape recently sees him being tried out once again at midfield but it’s hard to avoid the impression that this is as much a result of Kernan’s desire to get the most out of Joe Bergin at the edge of the square as it is a statement of confidence in big Barry’s ability.

Galway’s cause under their own kick-outs would be greatly helped if Cork were to play one of their forwards as a sweeper for their six backs and thus allow one of the Galway backs the luxury of presenting themselves for the short kick-out without any pressure. Cork, however, are unlikely to oblige, given that it has backfired on them any time it has been tried in the past but more pertinently, because Paul Kerrigan, Donncha O’Connor and Paddy Kelly are all natural forwards whose talents are best exploited as such.

At the launch of this year’s Allianz National Football League Joe Kernan spoke of the importance of finishing games strongly and of changing the Galway mindset in terms of their off the ball work-rate. That undoubtedly was one of the areas that needed addressing in their game and based on the continued good form of Gareth Bradshaw and on the emergence of Donal O’Neill (and Tomás Fahy until his recent injury) and also perhaps on the apparent enjoyment that Sean Armstrong is getting out of football again, Kernan is making inroads in his new post.

A win tonight would represent a step forward. Another win in a week’s time in Salthill against Kerry would represent genuine progress but the real nuts and bolts stuff that earned Big Joe his reputation still need looking after – starting with that kick-out flaw that has bedevilled Galway football for far too long.

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