There has been no shortage of opinion down these parts all week about all the storm clouds that are in a holding pattern over Thurles, and that may or may not descend on Semple Stadium around 3:30pm tomorrow. For all the games Kerry have won over the years, we (the sons and daughters of Kerry) seem to have a default setting that always has us finely tuned to what could go wrong at this time of year.
When it comes to Munster Championship, there is never a dearth of former Kerry players or die-hard supporters to tell us, with quivering lip, exactly where they were when Clare ended three quarters of a century of pain in the Gaelic Grounds in 1992.
I played in the minor match before that famous Munster final and I can still recall us collecting our gear from the dressing room afterwards and sensing at close quarters the numbed silence of the senior dressing room next door. Whatever else one says in hindsight about that famous game in 1992, it was some achievement by Clare; not just to beat Kerry in a big match but to do so while coming in under the radar.
Nobody does that anymore in Munster and even if Tipperary were to beat Kerry tomorrow, I doubt anybody would claim they came in under the radar or that it was a totally unexpected ambush.
I expect Kerry will have Tipperary’s game analysed and parsed to the extent that surprises will be kept to a minimum. By dent of their general excellence, we know what Evan Comerford, Ciarán McDonald, George Hannigan, Philip Austin and Conor Sweeney will bring to the contest and this week alone, underage giants Colin O’ Riordan and Steven O’Brien have been garlanded for their showings in the past six weeks at senior and u21 level.
This Tipperary team is brimful of talent and people expecting Kerry not to acknowledge that and not to prepare accordingly don’t know Kerry football and don’t know Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
What makes tomorrow even more intriguing is that Tipperary have a group of players on the pitch now who resent the moral victory as much as their predecessors detested losing heavily. Their language, their behaviour, their preparation and their inner belief all points to a team that won’t lie down and accept the status quo.
This is where Kerry’s own attitude comes into it.
By leaving six of last year’s starting All-Ireland final team, including Player of the Year James O’Donoghue, on the bench, Kerry’s selection could be interpreted as disrespecting the challenge that is coming from Tipperary. Either key players such as Aidan O’ Mahony, Donnchadh Walsh and O’Donoghue are fit and being held in reserve or the needs-must pragmatism of the Kerry management deems them worth more coming in as replacements.
ither way, a team with a chip on the shoulder looking for perceived slights could take a look at the Kerry teamsheet and use it as ammunition before heading out onto the field.
If we accept the Kerry selection at face value a few things stand out.
The obvious one is that Colm Cooper is back and back playing on the 40. Is Peter Acheson, a noted midfielder at underage and erstwhile forward going to curb his natural instinct to do a man-marking job on the most creative forward in the game? Or will he be given license to bomb forward at every opportunity and test Cooper’s lung capacity having been out for so long?
When Cooper was playing his first Munster final as a 40-yards man two years ago in Killarney, Cork detailed James Loughrey to follow him. By the time that Cork had got a grip on things in the middle of the park, allowing Loughrey the freedom to push on, Cooper had a lot of damage done. Tipperary can’t afford to allow that to happen but they will be aware too that their discipline in the tackle will be crucial. Down referee Ciarán Branagan will be keen to play it by the book in a rare foray into Munster football.
Another notable aspect of team selection concerns Kerry’s own discipline in the tackle. Because Tipperary, like Tyrone, are a hard-running team, whose first option would be to run the ball out of defence, Kerry could be faced with a similar situation as confronted them in the second half of their last league game in Omagh. Kerry, by their own admission, struggled with their tackling against the relentless running of Tyrone, so it will be interesting to see if they have their homework done in this regard.
he days of allowing the opposition uncontested kickouts are fast becoming a thing of the past and Kerry will be demanding an awful lot in a defensive sense of their front three, Paul Geaney, Barry John Keane and Kieran Donaghy who will be expected to protect their players from midfield back. Again this comes down to attitude as much as it does to technique. Kerry should have some more fitness work done since early April so their forwards might be more willing to make two, three and four tackles farther up the field than they were in the league.
Much of what both teams will want to do tomorrow is predicated on them winning possession from their own kickouts and protecting their respective full-back lines when they don’t. What often happens in these types of games is that a forward, who wouldn’t ordinarily be doing the scoring (Brian Fox or Mikey Geaney) might be given more freedom to shoot than say Conor Sweeney or Paul Geaney.
Having seen Mikey Geaney kick a goal in each of his last two championship games in recent weeks with Dingle, I know him to be an excellent finisher but tomorrow could be the day to prove that at inter-county level.
A goal would be a huge score tomorrow. I have always been amazed at the weight a goal carries for or against a team striving to make the breakthrough.
Tipperary football folk still talk about the goal that never was from Gerry Murphy in 1999 and of the psychological damage that did. I still have a vivid recollection of Colm Clancy’s and Martin Daly’s second half goals from 1992 that reinforced Clare’s belief that they could win a Munster final.
Goals are gold in a game like tomorrow’s and indeed, the history books tell us that goals were all we had in Gaelic games until June 14th 1885. It was 130 years ago tomorrow that Maurice Davin suggested during a game of hurling that knocking the ball over the crossbar should count as a winner as neither team had scored. By the end of the year, the point or cúilín, had become an integral part of our games.
Either team would be happy to have a few cúilíní to spare tomorrow but I suspect that team will be Kerry.
If the heat being generated on Twitter regarding the Munster Council’s move to curtail the ‘live feed option’ for team analysts is anything to go by, this is a story that is going to run.
The old ‘health and safety’ chestnut has been put forward once again and while those legitimate concerns could easily be addressed, it is hard to believe that such a measure was necessary.
Working with RTÉ, I would be aware of the strict protocols regarding cabling at any outside broadcast event but I’ve no doubt that the analysts would be ultra-careful too given the opportunity.
While many managers’ instinct still trumps technology, most inter-county managers recognise the value of having a live feed option available to his team of analysts on any given Sunday.
Speaking this week to one such analyst involved with a top hurling team, he said that his and other analysts’ demand could easily be met with the infrastructure available. While it is unlikely to be an issue in Fitzgerald Stadium, which had a new fibre broadband overhaul completed this week, it seems strange the Munster Council are willing to allow other provinces streak ahead with their use of technology while they appear to stand still.
It will be stranger still if the facilities required are made available on a permanent basis, based on demand from sports other than GAA, as happened in Breffni Park when the demand came from the Australian football fraternity.
The Munster Council have said that they are available to discuss issues of ‘live feed’ with the six counties in the province. It’s a conversation that needs to happen sooner rather than later.