What an enjoyable afternoon of football. Perhaps we have become so programmed to the drudge and so used to all the sideways, lateral passing that you’re just so happy when games come along like this, even if it wasn’t 10 out of 10.
I felt like I had stepped into a DeLorean and gone back in time the game was so open.
Conor McManus must have thought he was Marty McFly at one stage - 50 yards of space and left one-on-one inside with Mark Griffin, and he certainly made hay.
I don’t want to be too sore on Kerry though. They got a lot of stick for how they played last week and they were naïve again yesterday, but I don’t want to be too critical because they went to Clones to fight for their lives and they gave it everything.
I do feel Kerry are a long way off being All-Ireland champions, and a long way off being contenders. They are not controlled in the way they play and they find it difficult to out-think teams. They made six changes yesterday and that’s a sign they are still finding out about themselves. They changed the system as well and they are still finding out what their best team is.
People say ‘isn’t it great for them playing fewer games and having a handy time in Munster’ but they are paying the price for that now.
It’s precisely because they haven’t had many games that they don’t know what their best team is. They had only played three championship games to Monaghan’s six and Monaghan knew exactly what they were doing. Kerry are not nearly as far down the road in terms of their evolution or development as a team, but they are getting there and days like this will help them get there.
One thing Kerry supporters wanted to see yesterday is fight, and they got that in abundance, and as a result, they have just about breathed a little bit of life back into their season.
Had they lost this game and failed to reach the All-Ireland semi-finals, it would have been a dreadful year from their point of view.
Dermot Malone and Ryan McAnespie are two players who don’t get you a lot of scores but they would fit seamlessly into the Kerry team and allow the likes of James O’Donoghue, Sean O’Shea, Paul Geaney and David Clifford to prosper.
Monaghan could get players on the ball, and get the likes of Niall Kearns and Darren Hughes on the ball from deep and make space for them, because all the donkey work being done by Malone and McAnespie who cover all the ground.
You have to give credit to Malachy O’Rourke. Malone is player who saw little action this year but he was exceptional when he came on against Kildare and got his reward yesterday with a start. He hardly ever gets a full game but it shows how well he played yesterday that he played the full 70 minutes.
Monaghan controlled the tempo of the game for the majority of it, and will wonder how on earth they came unstuck.
It wasn’t clear from watching Kerry whether they had a defined plan or had just decided to go out and go toe-to-toe with Monaghan.
Everyone called for Kerry to change things and they did, they changed dramatically. Peter Crowley and Paul Murphy at times filled in as sweeper in the first half, and at other times there was no sweeper.
One thing they absolutely had to do was go out and play, and they did that.
They are limited in how much they can offer and defensively they can easily can be got at. They haven’t got the legs in midfield and the forwards have to do a hell of a lot to get on the ball, but they all put their bodies on the line.
A lot of Monaghan boys got stuck in and they stood up to the physical test and for this young team, that is a credit to them, but Kerry were naïve to leave McManus inside one-on-one with Griffin.
Éamonn Fitzmaurice would say ‘I can’t win, if I play a sweeper I’m criticised as well’, but you’ve got to be more reactive on the line.
The change at half-time was dramatic. Griffin at centre-back and Ronan Shanahan on McManus worked far better and Griffin was making some driving runs through the middle. He was a strong force in the third quarter and could have done more damage if he hadn’t got injured.
Sean O’Shea shouldn’t have been taken off, he was taking the frees under extreme pressure, and David Clifford was majestic.
He didn’t shy away from the task or shirk it, like some inexperienced players would. It was him who dragged them kicking and screaming back into the game.
Kerry had real zip about their game in the second half.
With Dessie Mone coming on, you got the feeling Monaghan were going to manage this game and see it out but Kerry kept going and going.
Donaghy and Vinny Corey had nullified each other by that stage, but Donaghy still got stuck in and made himself a nuisance for Clifford to stick away that late goal.
Clifford kicked a flag and punched a sign after the final whistle, he was mad because David Moran had the opportunity to pass to him for maybe a winning point, but it shows they had real fire in their belly coming off.
If they can harness that in two weeks’ time and can give Kildare a bit of a trimming, then an All-Ireland semi-final place could be theirs.
It’s unfortunate for them that the last round of Super 8s is two weeks away because they have momentum now, while it’s fortunate for Monaghan to have the two-week break. That one will take a bit of getting over.
Everyone wanted to avoid Dublin in the semi-finals but Kerry would bite your hand off for it now.
Yesterday awakened something in those players and that management team, It was all going away from them so you have to give them huge credit. This might just turn their season around.
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