If Galway set up to defend, they will find it hard to hold Paul Geaney (below) and James O’Donoghue, writes Colm Cooper.
Talking to people around Killarney this week, I’ve picked up a little bit of edginess.
It’s down to two factors: Concern at what’s gone before this season and a fear of looking too far ahead.
The concern is not so much with Kerry’s form, rather the lack of a serious examination since the league final. Particularly for the defence.
Clare put it up to them for 40 minutes and it was hard with 14 men. But was it an acid test?
Had Cork packed what they brought to Limerick last Saturday when they visited Killarney, we might be telling a different story. But the Munster final was a damp squib. We sat waiting for fireworks that never lit.
The draw has thrown up its own distraction. Already there’s a bit of talk around the town of a Kerry-Mayo semi-final and all the old grievances and ghosts that would stir.
Dangerous talk ahead of a quarter-final. Not the stuff you want seeping into players’ heads.
Mayo themselves are probably the best warning light Éamonn Fitzmaurice can flash at his players.
They could have lost last week. Probably should have. They were on the ropes waiting for Cork to land the knockout punch. But Cork lacked the ounce of composure needed to finish them off. Mayo wriggled out but it should stand as a lesson to all the contenders.
I don’t think Kerry can afford to be complacent, to have one eye on Mayo. Or Dublin. To keep something back. However good you think you are, this could quickly blow up in smoke unless attitude and performance are spot on.
There’s a third factor informing the nervous tension that’s around. The four weeks without a game. And Kerry’s traditional quarter-final struggles.
Out of the 10 times I played in All-Ireland finals, I would say we didn’t play well in seven or eight of the quarter-finals.
Often it was a training issue. Invariably, Kerry tried to peak for a Munster final with Cork, then had to come down the graph to build things up again.
We might even fit another running block into that four-week gap to a quarter-final. Because it’s your last chance to get anything in the tank.
Munster final on Sunday, back training Wednesday night. Maybe four sessions of heavy running. And that can linger in the legs. You rely on quality to pull you through a quarter-final then ramp things up a level for semi and final.
We usually got away with it, though there were tight scrapes, notably against Monaghan in 2007.
And we capsized against Down in 2010. That was a very bad and sour defeat. Even looking back now, it stings.
It was a dark, dreary, greasy Saturday. Croke Park wasn’t half full. And we weren’t at the races at all. We’d had two big games with Cork in Munster and had run out of petrol.
And there might have been a bit of complacency. Maybe the talk around that we’d pulled the best possible draw filtered through to the players.
I don’t expect this Kerry regime to take chances with the training load. Things have changed in the last few years. The qualifiers are too unpredictable to take liberties.
They’ll hope to be as sharp and purposeful as they looked from the off against Cork. But they can’t know for sure. That’s what’s nagging Killarney.
Despite the sharpness, there is plenty of scope to improve on the Cork performance. For where Kerry want to get to, it wasn’t perfect. They hadn’t nailed down kick-outs, things like that. And when Cork got at them they coughed up three goal chances. Fitzy’s toothcomb won’t have missed those.
David Moran looked like he needed the match, having missed lot of football.
Kerry should be at least 10% better around the middle tomorrow.
A lot depends too on which Galway shows. Having played last week, and began the redemption for the collapse against Roscommon with that hammering of Donegal, they should know better than Kerry where they stand.
Except we never know what Galway to expect from one day to the next. So do they know themselves? The pattern is one good day, one bad.
From midfield up, they are very strong. Arguably this is the best set of forwards Kerry have faced so far in the championship. And one nourished by the confidence boost of a goal glut.
Galway are a streaky team. Imagine they bang in another goal or two in first half. How will Kerry react? We don’t know. We haven’t seen them in that scenario yet. What happens if Galway are two up with 10 to go?
Kevin Walsh will probably set up quite defensively, at least early on. Play on the break. Use his young fast legs and the Croke Park spaces to counter-attack, to drive at Kerry.
But there’s a question mark over the Galway defence and their ability to hold Kerry playing that way.
If you invite Kerry on, if you’re letting them have the ball, it’s a long 70 minutes. You might keep it tight but they’ll punch holes at some stage. Can Galway hold James O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney if the supply is constant? Kerry should be too long in the tooth, as well, for sucker punches.
They don’t push on stupidly, leaving themselves open. Like the Dubs, they will be patient and rotate and recycle. And like the Dubs do with the likes of McCaffrey, and Mayo can with Keegan and Durcan, Kerry can inject pace when they want. A dart that takes out two or three players and creates overlaps everywhere.
When you have five or six scoring forwards, that ability makes Kerry four or five points the better team tomorrow. On paper, at least.
But no season progresses serenely. There’s always a bump. Éamonn Fitzmaurice must have Kerry roadworthy.
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