COLM COOPER: Kerry must release the handbrake

Maybe everyone jumped a couple of steps too far ahead. Within Kerry certainly and even beyond. Football needs somebody to give Dublin a game. And especially with Mayo gone early, Kerry were anointed, in most places, as this year’s contenders.

The way people were talking, the Pope landing at the end of August was the main thing holding up a Dublin-Kerry final.

It was dangerous talk and it can seep into players’ heads.

So let’s park opinion and deal with facts.

If you go through their results, league and championship, the last couple of years, Kerry haven’t beaten too many Division 1 teams.

There aren’t many victories banked over the Mayos and the Monaghans. They are putting away the lower division sides alright, but that can give you a false sense of where you are.

I think that has probably happened to Kerry. And it’s something they must look at next year; the need to be beating these teams on a more regular basis, spring or summer.

But the priority now is to dig out of a hole in Clones todau. And it sure has been a sobering week at home.

I was always cautious, especially with the young players, that it mightn’t happen for them in year one. But we were scratching our heads in Croke Park last Sunday, amazed at how all that energy and enthusiasm we had seen for the six weeks before had just ebbed away.

Galway delivered a fairly frank reality check for everyone involved.

But these days happen. I’ve been there.

I was there in Croke Park in 2010 against Down, a pretty similar, grey, dreary day that turned very dark for us. Stadium half empty, no atmosphere. I was worried in the warm-up, knew we were off-colour. Lads were off it, spilling the ball, trotting around.

You know when fellas are at it — they are flying past you, taking handpasses, kicking the ball over the bar.

Now Down were very good, don’t deny them, but maybe we were a touch complacent too, thought we’d just breeze through. Going in as Munster champions, we were out on our ears before we knew it.

The best teams, best players, even if things don’t feel right, can usually find a spark. And if the spark doesn’t come, they can at least battle and fight.

There wasn’t enough battle or fight from Kerry last Sunday. There was almost an acceptance it was Galway’s day.

Why? Maybe it was part tactical.

Arsene Wenger, after Arsenal lost big games, often told us how they played a little bit with the handbrake on. That’s how Kerry looked.

Maybe it had something to do with the eye-opener Galway gave them in the league in Tralee. That day, Kerry left a lot of gaps and Galway exploited them. And perhaps Éamonn Fitzmaurice was conscious that he couldn’t let that happen again. But that was more than four months ago and Kerry are sharper and fitter now. They needed to trust themselves.

Instead, they let Galway dictate how the game was played. They let Galway get comfortable in the game.

Kerry never got on the front foot. Paul Murphy and Gavin White weren’t getting forward. They’re intelligent players and that’s their strength, but their play was confused by caution.

Everything was slow, ponderous, and sideways. There were no incisive, 30-yard passes forward. They couldn’t find Paul Geaney, who was getting frustrated and eventually came out looking for the ball, when a forward that deadly should always be close to goal.

That safety-first style, with spare men back, suits some teams. But it looked alien to too many Kerry players. Against albeit weaker opposition in Munster they were going after everything, pressing up on the opposition kickouts, galloping up the field.

All of that injects energy into the team. But we didn’t see any of it against Galway.

And it meant Kerry leaned too heavily on David Clifford. It’s been said many times that this exciting talent needs to be eased into the top level. In an ideal scenario, he tips away in the shadows of players like Geaney and James O’Donoghue and feels his way gradually.

But Clifford had to come to the fore last Sunday and really showed his stuff in his first senior championship game in Croke Park. It’s disappointing from the more senior players that he had to carry the fight, but it’s a mark of Clifford’s character that he could respond and a great sign for the rest of his career.

We all know what Geaney and O’Donoghue are capable of, but we need to see it now.

I’m confident we’ll get a Kerry response this afternoon. There’s a lot of panic publicly, but the people who need to keep their cool are the players and the management.

I haven’t seen the team at time of writing but any more than four changes would be a surprise. Any more would be pretty surgical and unsettling. And it’s not Éamonn’s style. Even in these difficult moments, you have to trust players too, let them know you back them.

I expect that reaction, but the problem is they are facing into one of the toughest places they can possibly go.

If Monaghan go four or five clear, they are so seasoned, so experienced, it’s going to be very difficult for Kerry to turn that around.

They were impressive against Kildare, in a controlled, tactical way. A lean engineered win. I expected them to come out the right side of a tight match and that’s how it turned out.

Like Galway, they break well from deep, with Karl O’Connell outstanding the last day. Niall Kearns has been a real find at midfield.

They’ll do what Monaghan do. They’ll pack the defence and be hard to break down. So Kerry can’t let them get as comfortable as they allowed Galway. This Kerry team know how to put on a squeeze. They have to set the agenda today, dictate how this is played. Attack the Monaghan kickout. Tag a man and win your own battle. Break forward fast and often. Get the ball into Geaney close to goal.

Carve out an early lead and prise Monaghan out of their shell, then drive into the gaps.

In 2010, when we didn’t show, when we sleepwalked into disaster, there was no second chance. No rerun. That’s the silver lining these players must cherish. Break it down — beat Monaghan then Kildare at home to reach a semi-final — and it’s achievable.

If there’s pride in themselves and the jersey, we’ll see it this afternoon. And if they can turn this around, the Galway game will look far away in the rearview mirror.

They might even glance back later in the year and realise it was the kick in the ass they needed at the right time. But let’s not get two steps ahead again.

 

Don’t blame Dubs for keeping the ball

We are great to grouse about Gaelic football. And the rumbles of discontent are building again.

The touchstone for a lot of the grumbling this week was Dublin’s long spell of keep-ball at the end of their win over Donegal.

It’s definitely boring. It’s the sort of thing that has supporters leaning sideways for a chat rather than jumping up with a roar.

But leave Dublin out of the firing line. What else would they do? Winning easily, any team would close it out, keep it sensible, bank the points, and make sure everyone is right for next week.

Crokes did it at the finish of the club final. Of course we did, we were waiting 20 years, what were we going to do, kick the ball to Slaughtneil and see how they got on?

The good teams are so fit and so comfortable on the ball now that it’s very difficult to get the ball back. I’ve been on the other side of it too and there is no more horrible feeling in the game, chasing a ball you can’t get near. Sometimes all you can do is foul someone, just to break up the play and let your players push up and get ready for a big press.

I think you’re going to see a lot more of it. We laud soccer players when they keep the ball for so long, but maybe because it is still a relatively new phenomenon in GAA, it’s getting very negative comment.

I wouldn’t make any rash changes to the rules just yet, unless it becomes an epidemic. The real worry is when you have a team not willing to chase the ball down. Then, it becomes ridiculous.

I was disappointed with Donegal last Saturday evening, Dublin were off-colour but Donegal almost looked satisfied with a four- or five-point defeat and stayed in damage control mode. Dublin can’t be blamed for that.

Not so super for Croker eight

For all the fuss about Croke Park lately, it might just be time to take it out of the mix altogether for these Super 8 games — take them round the country instead and fill out the regional stadiums for a bit of atmosphere.

Maybe the appeal of playing in a half-empty Croke Park isn’t what it was 10 years ago. Most players have had a run out in HQ and I sense many of them would value more a game in their own stadium before a packed house, whether that’s 10, 15, 20 thousand.

Hopefully, this weekend brings the fireworks that never materialised last week, as things edge closer to do or die.

Tyrone will make it very busy for Dublin in Omagh. The Dubs are labouring. Will we ever see Rock, Mannion, O’Callaghan, and Kilkenny as poor at the same time again?

And I can’t see Tyrone settling for respectability and nursing the points difference at home. After last year’s hiding in Croke Park, they’ll be convinced there’s a debt to be paid. Dublin should still get over the line, but I won’t be betting on this one.

Donegal will win. They need more from Michael Murphy but instead they’re getting less and less. He needs to be back in full-forward.

However, Kevin McStay admitted last weekend Roscommon were planets away from Tyrone’s conditioning — Donegal should be well out of their orbit too.

The defeat by Monaghan was an old Lilywhite story. Competitive but full of missed chances and costly turnovers at vital stages. With the confidence Galway will bring, and the stability of their defensive structure, I can’t see Kildare getting enough scores, even in Newbridge.

Miller match a wonderful opportunity missed

It’s bitterly disappointing that such a worthy occasion as the Liam Miller benefit match is dominating the headlines for reasons baffling to many people.

Liam, as a youngster, was very much like most Irish people, wrapped up in all sports, with no thought for ancient divisions.

There has been a genuine outpouring of goodwill towards his family since he was taken so tragically young. And this event should be a momentous occasion for Cork as well as a proud one for the Millers.

So whatever the letter of the GAA law says, it’s sad that some workaround can’t be found to hold the game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

And a wonderful opportunity lost for a show of solidarity and compassion.


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