Stephen Stack: Bench ‘gamechangers’ will decide it

Former Kerry defender Stephen Stack believes that Kingdom manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice will “pick two teams” for the All-Ireland final.

The Munster club title-winning Austin Stacks boss reckons Kerry, and indeed opponents Dublin, have strong enough panels to essentially hold up to six key players in reserve for the concluding stages of the game.

The depth of Dublin’s bench was questioned during this year’s championship, though manager Jim Gavin was able to bring on Michael Darragh Macauley and Alan Brogan, two former Footballer of the Year recipients, against Mayo last weekend as well as Kevin McManamon who sniped a crucial 1-1. As for Kerry, their subs contributed 3-4 in the quarter-final win over Kildare while Fitzmaurice introduced two former All-Ireland-winning captains against Tyrone, Fionn Fitzgerald and Darran O’Sullivan, along with Paul Geaney, Bryan Sheehan, Aidan O’Mahony and Barry John Keane.

History indicates it’s likely to go down to the wire again between Kerry and Dublin with their 2011 and 2013 final and semi-final ties both decided in dramatic circumstances late on.

“You nearly have to pick two teams — the team you feel will give you the best advantage in the first-half and the team you want on the pitch at the end of the game,” said Stack.

“I think both sets of teams are in a position to know they have really good benches. When you consider Dublin were able to bring Macauley, Brogan and McManamon on and they were gamechangers for them (against Mayo)... but equally we have a very strong factor as well in terms of which bench might perform the best when the game is there to be won. I think really nowadays you’re picking two teams, one to start and one to finish with.”

Speaking to Radio Kerry, Stack suggested Dublin’s mere two-week break between the semi-final replay against Mayo and the September 20 final could be disruptive. But he claimed the three-in-a-row Allianz League winners will still ask probing questions of Kerry, many from Stephen Cluxton’s restarts.

“You’re not going to crack every one of them (kick-outs) because Cluxton is that good but I think you’re certainly going to have to push up on them on a select number of occasions, when you think the time is right.

“I think Kerry will do that, I think they will push up and they will fall back. I think they’ll mix it up. When they played in the 2011 final, there were a couple of times Kerry did push up and they got plenty of change out of it, because it forced Cluxton to kick long. But what it will take is huge concentration from the forwards and midfielders, an awful lot of communication and an awful lot of trust.

“The second thing, and we have the players and the skill to do it, we’re going to have to be very accurate when we’re in possession and make sure we make good decisions. I think it’s also important we don’t concede goals, which is easier said than done against Dublin.”

Stack also pointed to the importance of getting the match-ups right and playing with patience before concluding that it could come down to a winning point from a placed ball, like the 2011 decider.

“I don’t think anybody thinks either team is going to bulldoze the other so having a reliable free-taker on the pitch late in the game is going to be very important.”

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