Kingdom to crack Armagh system

THE way tomorrow's Bank of Ireland championship decider in Croke Park is being portrayed in some quarters, favourites Kerry have the footballers and Armagh possess the players who can stop them from winning.

That may be regarded as simplistic, inferring that the Ulster champions don't have any class, but it does reflect the conventional wisdom that Páidí Ó Sé's team will triumph if they are allowed play their normal game.

Kerry were extremely lucky to survive the first semi-final with Armagh in 2000 day, when a wayward kick into Declan O'Keeffe's hands set up the attack which led to Maurice Fitzgerald negating a dramatic lead point scored by Kieran McGeeney.

Fitzgerald was also a key player in the replay, along with Mike Frank Russell and several others, including the goalkeeper.

Considering Fitzgerald's major contribution to each of Kerry's last two wins, it's noteworthy that his name has hardly been mentioned since the early speculation about a return to the panel. One reason why the team has survived without his genius is that teenage sensation Colm Cooper has been doing so well. However, it would also be accepted that the attack as a unit has been more impressive.

The Kerry team which made an undistinguished start to the campaigh against Limerick didn't include John Sheehan, Donal Daly, Liam Hassett or Seán O'Sullivan, while Dara Ó Cinnéide was a last-minute replacement after Darragh Ó Sé failed a fitness test. All five firmly established themselves over the course of the qualifier series and the net effect has been to substantially raise the overall standard. Based on the way they performed against Limerick, it wasn't surprising they failed to Cork. But it was a very different team which disposed of the challenges of Wicklow and Fermanagh with such clinical efficiency, easily overcame the challenge of Kildare and proved much too strong for a Galway side showing signs of vulnerability.

Armagh's only real bad display all year was in the Division Two League semi-final, when they lost to Laois on the same day that Kerry beat Meath. Joe Kernan says it served a useful purpose in giving the players "a kick in the pants," from which they recovered quickly to beat League champions Tyrone in replay. It marked the defining stage of their season and after that, the only real blip was an unconvincing finish against Sligo in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Against Dublin they were much more consistent and, crucially, won the midfield battle. In the end they were lucky to hold on to Oisín McConville's winning point, after Ray Cosgrove missed the chance to level the game, but they were due a change of fortune in Croke Park. Two years ago it was denied them. Nobody can be quite sure how Kerry would have fared against Cork in their semi-final if Darragh Ó Sé had not been cleared of his red-card offence. His influence has been immense, specifically in the way he directs the forwards play through clever distribution. Equally, the importance of his brother Tomás availability would have to be acknowledged, because with a different timeframe, his suspension could have ruled him out. Against Kildare and Galway, he performed a valuable role when moved into the centre and, in the Cork game, he severely limited Brendan Jer O'Sullivan.

Kerry have been my fancy to win the championship from some way back and I haven't seen enough in Armagh's performances to change that view. However, their prospects of success are obviously dependant on them being able to play their normal game, or something close to it.

I expect Armagh to be reasonably effective in crowding out midfield, just as they did two years ago, but it would be hard to envisage a situation where the Kerry captain could be stymied for any lengthy period. I believe that overall, Kerry have the stronger combination and, barring a few minor catastrophes, I expect them to win.

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