DARA O'CINNEIDE: Savour the skelping in the Páirc

Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here!

This is the War Room! [Peter Sellers, Dr Strangelove, 1964]

PERHAPS it’s because we’re having our annual FilmFestival in West Kerry these days but I was reminded of Peter Sellers when reading Tomás Ó Sé’s comments ahead of tomorrow’s match in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on these pages during the week. Tomás is, by some distance, the elder statesman of the currentKerry team and pouring cold water on any suggestions of a grudge match between Cork and Kerry was of course the sensible thing to do inmid-March.

Irrespective of the time of year, however, anybody travelling to the park tomorrow knows that it’s Kerry and Cork, that it’s going to be instructive, that it’s well set up and that there’s no harm in a few skelps in a local derby.

While not wishing to see a return to the dispiriting gamesmanship that characterised clashes between the two counties in, say, 2008, supporters from both sides will be surprised and disappointed if either Cork or Kerry don’t engage in some form of battle tomorrow. The over-riding prerogative from here until the end of the league, however, is going to be about maintaining good habits and not allowing bad ones germinate. We first make our habits and then our habits make us...and all that.

It’s difficult to pigeonhole Cork based on their habits in the four games so far. They salvaged a point in a game they could have lost after shying away from winning against Armagh the first day out. Then they blew Down off the field with a first half blitz that yielded three goals. Two weeks ago in Ballybofey they went over a half an hour without scoring when posting a measly six points and the response to such form was another first half splurge against Laois last weekend that yielded 2-11. The 0-3 Cork scored during a dull second half points to a team with a schizophrenic soul but apart from that, further analysis of the Laois game is pointless.

What does arouse curiosity, however, is the Cork team selection. I doubt I am alone in my surprise at Eoin Cadogan’s exclusion from the starting line up. I would have thought that exposing the dual player to as much football as he can possibly get when it is planned and prescribed for him, would be beneficial. Conor Counihan and his management team obviously know their own hand better than anybody but Cadogan and Michael Shields would add so much stability to what can hardly be described as a solid full back line.

Perhaps statistics don’t lie and Cork’s average concession of ten points a game (1-37 in four games) is the best in the top three divisions but maybe too, that there is no great swank to that when playing against forward lines like Armagh’s, Down’s, Donegal’s and Laois’- all four averaging 11/12 points per game so far. The single goal Cork have conceded against Donegal tells us much of what might happen were all teams to rain high ball down upon their full back line. Marc Ó Sé found out last week that Michael Murphy is better than your average full forward in the air but Eoin O’Mahony looked decidedly shaky when getting caught in no man’s land against Murphy after twelve seconds a fortnight ago in Ballybofey.

Kerry for their part are unlikely to go all primitive and put Kieran Donaghy (whose participation is uncertain after suffering a family bereavement) in at the edge of the square to bombard O’Mahony from the outset.

They will probably opt to allow Donaghy drift out towards the wings, something which the big fella did to great effect against Donegal. If this happens, I could envisage a scenario whereGraham Canty picks him up, especially under Brendan Kealy’s kickouts.

In Killarney last Sunday, I was struck by how refined Kealy’s kickout has become and even if Donaghy remains a tad too static under his goalkeeper’s measured kicks to the wing, he still represents more than nuisance value for any opposition in the middle third of the field.

The other notable aspect of Donaghy’s play last Sunday was his tendency every so often to isolate himself with ghosting runs back into the edge of the square and but for the congestion between the kicker and the target, he could and would have been picked out that bit more often for a one v one mis-match.

Much has been made inside Kerry this past week of the performances of the emerging players and in particular, the two wing backs, Peter Crowley and Brian Maguire. There’s no doubt both looked to the manor born last weekend in Killarney but tracking Paul Kerrigan and Patrick Kelly represents their first genuine test at this level. Kelly’s craft and guile will test their patience and while neither novice has Paul Kerrigan’s pace, they have had over a year training and adjusting in Darran O’Sullivan’s slipstream so they should have some devices and designs to live with the Nemo man’s searing bursts. Eoin Brosnan will offer guidance and experience alongside them but his hands will be tied to a large degree if, as I suspect, he’ll have to pick up the in-form Fintan Goold tomorrow.

Whatever giddiness Kerry fans have been feeling this past fortnight is largely due to the sense that Jack O’Connor has reconstituted the team since the start of the league using players like Crowley, Maguire, Keane, Curtin and O’Donoghue. While many have been focusing on the venerability of a few key cogs in the wheel, Kerry have been making themselves a young team again. They have managed this regeneration against the backdrop of injuries (Moran and Bohan), absences (Cooper, Ó Sé, Walsh, O’Sullivan and O’Leary) and all manner of scrutiny about their ability to play the game as they experience it rather than how they wished to experience it. The whinging has stopped, the work-rate is up, confidence is high and the bold experimentation is yielding valuable lessons.

If the league were to end tomorrow, it would have to be classified as a successful one from Kerry’s viewpoint but they could still do with another kick up the ass like Armagh gave them a month ago. They might just get it tomorrow.


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