‘Patience game’ pays dividends for the Kerry

Kerry’s tactical masterplan to counter a mass defence was again in evidence in Croke Park on Sunday. 

The new, more pragmatic Kerry footballer has been moulded by a management team that has a significant record of just one defeat in 16 championship games.

With 51 minutes and 15 seconds on the clock in Sunday’s semi-final, Fionn Fitzgerald won a turnover possession just in front of his keeper. The subsequent passage of play symbolised everything this Kerry team represents. One minute and 45 seconds of possession football followed. There were 34 passes in total by 12 different players before Ronan McNamee fouled Colm Cooper close to goal and received a black card.

This ‘patience game’ was the perfect panacea to the massed defence. It frustrated Tyrone players who committed some out of character fouls close to goal particularly in the second-half We highlighted here a couple of weeks ago that Monaghan did not register one shot from inside Tyrone’s 20m line in their All-Ireland quarter-final defeat. Kerry, however, found it much easier to penetrate Tyrone’s rearguard and eight of their scores came from inside the 20m line.

The Kerry management will, by and large, be happy with the statistical breakdown of Sunday’s game. Kerry made 78 tackles to Tyrone’s 57 illustrating the huge work rate of Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s men. The Kingdom also forced 19 turnovers to Tyrone’s 17. Changed times.

Tyrone like to cluster tackle but their overall one-on-one tackle rate is not as high as other teams. That is best illustrated by the fact Kerry had 31 shots on goal over the 70 minutes.

Kerry also had the game’s two top tacklers in Johnny Buckley and Anthony Maher who had a massive 24 tackles between them including eight turnovers.

The pair’s phenomenal fitness was in evidence when they combined as late as the 66th minute to dispossess Sean Cavanagh in front of goal. A special word must also go to Peter Crowley, who’s man marking role on Cavanagh restricted the former All-Star to just one shot on target.

Kerry also came out on top in their kick-out strategy. They may have only won 10 of Niall Morgan’s 26 restarts but their pressure game allowed Kerry to yield six scores directly from those successes. Tyrone only managed to score two points directly from Kerry kick-outs.

Kerry also owned the ball in the second-half and their overall possession stat of 58% will also have pleased management.

Donnchadh Walsh finished the game with a phenomenal 32 possessions, the most on the day by any player, but it is also worth noting James O’Donoghue had 29 possessions, including four assists. Kerry’s ploy of playing the Legion man further from goal and keeping him in the game proved crucial. He along with Colm Cooper (19 possessions), provided the ammunition for the likes of Stephen O’Brien, Johnny Buckley and Paul Geaney to fire Kerry into an 11th All Ireland final appearance in 15 years.

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