In the moments after Kerry’s win, the talk already turned back to how they have ‘only’ had to beat Clare and Tipperary to reach the last four — but after the Tipp performance in the second game, that comment lost even more substance than it may have been given in the first place.
Kerry can’t control who they play, they can’t control championship structures so as with all good teams, they don’t waste time worrying about things outside their remit. After the 11-point victory, Kerry manager Eamon Fitzmaurice spoke about how they have plenty of areas to work on before they face Dublin or Donegal. So what are some of these areas?
For me, the main questions about this Kerry team remain between the no 1-9 jerseys.
Starting with No.1 — over the last few years, Kerry have alternated between Brian Kelly and Brendan Kealy, with the former back Kelly as the first choice. The keepers are extremely close in ability for the management to continue to struggle to identify who the better option is.
With kick-outs arguably edging shot stopping or dealing with high balls as their primary role, Kelly has been entrusted with the role.
Yesterday, the Legion man had a mixed day. He varied his kick-outs, looked to avoid Gary Brennan throughout but a worry will be that after Darran O’Sullivan’s goal Clare had three scoring chances in a row with two coming from very poor restarts.
Linked with the goalkeeper and kick-outs is his midfield, and while Kerry have four legitimate options in Kieran Donaghy, David Moran, Anthony Maher, and Bryan Sheehan it’s still not clear if they know their best pairing.
In all likelihood, all four will see game time for Kerry so the question may turn into which two are the best option for the last 15 minutes.
What may be a factor in this decision will be to determine the best use of Sheehan and whether having him on the pitch in the last quarter for his free taking talents, is worth keeping him in reserve.
Defensively, Kerry will consider yesterday a positive, in the Munster semi-final they conceded 0-17 to Clare with that reduced to 0-11 yesterday. With Donaghy nullifying Gary Brennan, Kerry also put a focus on David Turbidy.
The Clare marksman struggled with the close marking and drifted out from the full-forward line before being replaced midway through the second half.
All teams will attempt to shut down the opposition’s best players and Fitzmaurice and his management will be pleased with that aspect of the outing. His defenders were expected to mark man-on-man and while Peter Crowley looked to offer some extra cover at times, the Kerry rearguard showed their defensive skills. With many teams using a mass defence we have become accustomed to seeing forwards getting swallowed up by three and four tacklers but yesterday Kerry had at least five blocks where defenders committed to diving on the Clare forwards’ boot. Shane Enright, Brian O’Beaglaoich and Crowley all stopped efforts on goal in this manner — a block can give a team such a lift as well as being demoralising for the forward, it helps create doubt the next time he lines up to shoot.
The questions about the back six will be asked against better forward units. The introduction of O’Beaglaoich and Tadhg Morley offer youth and mobility but the personnel for the semi-final may depend on if its Dublin or Donegal facing them.
If it’s Donegal, then you may look to insert the physicality of an Aidan O’Mahony but against the pace and directness of Dublin, they may stick with the youngsters.
Paul Murphy may also factor into this area, I know he has lined up at no.11 all year but yesterday’s game passed him by at times. One of his roles may be to pick up attacking defenders but he still seems to be playing a more traditional centre-forward role, which may be better suited to Colm Cooper. All these and more will be considered when Kerry go back to work for the next four weeks. They’ve known their season will be defined by what happens from here, now they fine tune for the challenge.
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