The former Laois, Galway and Westmeath boss is exiled in Dublin and believes his adopted county, favourites for back-to-back All-Ireland wins, could be surprised on Sunday by the tactical manoeuvres employed by Kerry.
The options open to Kerry range from switching key players like Paul Murphy and Kieran Donaghy around the field to altering their very style of play.
It’s been suggested Kerry have been privately planning for this game for months with the distinct defensive edge to their game on Munster final day and the clever diagonal high balls played into Paul Geaney last time out against Clare perhaps indicators of how they plan to undermine Dublin.
Ó Flatharta, right-hand man of Páidí Ó Sé when Westmeath made their Leinster title breakthrough in 2004, reckons there is a strong possibility Kerry may also rely on the “last chance saloon” element to draw the best from their elder players.
Of the 26-man panel in action for the All-Ireland quarter-final win over Clare, seven were 30 or over while Anthony Maher will hit that milestone next Monday and Colm Cooper, 33, should return from injury.
Aidan O’Mahony and Marc Ó Sé are both 36 while Kieran Donaghy is 33 and Donnchadh Walsh is 32, all players who may feel they won’t have another chance to empty themselves on the Croke Park pitch if Sunday goes wrong for them.
“Looking at it on form you’d think Dublin should win but don’t be surprised if Kerry bring something special to this game,” said Ó Flatharta. “If you look at another side of it, there’s a number of players on the Kerry panel that this could be their last year playing in Croke Park. The likes of Marc, Donaghy, O’Mahony and maybe Bryan Sheehan as well. Only Donaghy seems to be actually getting his place of those players but there might just be something more in those players, their final shout in Croke Park. They’re good experienced players so while everyone is saying Dublin, I think there could be something in Kerry.”
A twin towers approach has been mooted where Donaghy and Paul Geaney operate in an imposing full-forward line, a la the 2009 arrangement of Donaghy and Tommy Walsh, to take advantage of Dublin’s apparent full-back line weakness following Rory O’Carroll’s exit.
“People have been saying Dublin were in trouble with their full-back line but that doesn’t seem to be an issue in reality at all,” said Ó Flatharta. “I think Jim Gavin has been excellent, any issues that came up with their team, he dealt with. Remember Donegal two years ago, Dublin identified there was a problem with their defence and they sorted that, very easily.
“Even the last day, James McCarthy was missing and Ciarán Kilkenny slotted in nicely and played really well. I think Jim Gavin is really good at correcting issues that happen which is another string to Dublin’s bow.”
Flatharta feels that whatever about catching Dublin unaware with tweaks and changes, Kerry must get the basics right first and improve both their kick-out strategy and their free-taking.
Kerry haven’t beaten Dublin in a Championship game in seven years and have lost three times to the Dubs inside the last 12 months, two of those in national finals.
And Ó Flatharta accepted Dublin weren’t flattered by their big league final win when they capitalised on O’Mahony’s red card to win by 11 points.
“I don’t think the sending-off had any bearing on that to be honest,” he said. “I thought Dublin were way, way ahead of them. But I also think league and championship for Kerry are two different things. You would think looking at that game and the way both teams are playing at the moment that Dublin will win this game but Kerry in the championship against Dublin, they will raise their game for it and if I was a Dub, I wouldn’t be taking it for granted.”