The answer is somewhere in the middle according to former All-Ireland winning defender Liam O’Flaherty who believes that much of the blame for Kerry’s flat performance in Killarney rests with Jack O’Connor and his management team.
The 1997 All-Ireland winner said: “Cork’s turn is coming slowly but surely. We were very lucky to get a draw in Killarney given the way the team was selected. I expect Kerry to give a much better account of themselves tomorrow but I think the momentum is with Cork down in Pairc Uí Chaoimh.”
Last week’s team selection created a head-scratching pandemic in Kerry. Though corrections have been made for the replay, O’Flaherty is still amazed by the tactical own goals which almost sent the side spiralling into the qualifiers.
“Even before the ball was kicked Kerry were in trouble given how the team was selected. People who were qualified to play in positions weren’t used in those places – Aidan O’Mahony, a tried and tested centre back, was put out on the wing; Tommy Griffin who had never started a championship game at centre back was put there, Declan O’Sullivan, an out and out centre forward, began in the corner.”
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the Ballydonoghue man.
“I can’t understand why they didn’t start Darragh O Sé at midfield and to start a game without a recognised freetaker defies belief. Even the smallest club team wouldn’t do that.”
O’Flaherty welcomes the formation for Saturday given that many of the aforementioned returned to their normal playing habitats.
“I am delighted to see Darragh back at midfield and having Tommy Griffin alongside him makes perfect sense, given how much football they have played together over the years. I think that Tomás O Sé’s game suffered as a result of Darragh not starting. He struggled in the first half to do things that would be normally bread and butter to him but after Darragh came on the focus returned and he came great in the last 20 minutes.”
However he has cautioned a defence which were caught napping by Cork’s speedy half forward line last week.
“The backs, and the half backs in particular, did too much attacking. A back’s job is to defend, not to attack. That is their main priority. Cork exploited the empty spaces on occasions and hopefully a few lessons will be learnt. But with Aidan back in the centre and with Killian Young back from injury, I expect Kerry to be much tighter. Aidan and the lads will look back and see how often Pearse O’Neill in particular was allowed to come through the centre unchecked like a runaway train. They will want to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”
O’Flaherty predicts one change from the side announced on Wednesday night, with another Tralee man heading to fill the troublesome full forward slot.
“Unless there is some miracle cure that I haven’t heard about there is no way that Tommy Walsh can start. Even if he does start he cannot be 100 percent fit after hobbling around on crutches six days earlier. I’d like to give David Moran a go at full forward. He has the height and the strength. Guys like him need to be blooded and this is the perfect opportunity.”
Kerry fans may be concentrating on their team’s failings last week but O’Flaherty insists that Cork deserve plenty of credit. “Definitely. I was very impressed with them especially the way the new lads like Paul Kerrigan and Colm O’Neill slotted in – the way O’Neill came on and kicked that 45 was no mean feat. Cork are excellent in many positions but weak in others but I think that their weaknesses are declining. I think they will win the replay but the one warning is that Kerry are at their best when they are the underdogs.”