Keeping Tyrone to a single point in the first half of their league opener — and that a dead ball converted by goalkeeper Niall Morgan — is testament to the early development of new Kerry manager Peter Keane’s defensive strategy, says Ronan McNamee.
The Tyrone veteran was speaking at an Allianz League launch for Sunday’s clash against Mayo in Healy Park, still smarting from the long coach journey back up from Killarney with no league points in the bag.
“It’s normally the Ulster teams that supposedly go at it that way,” says McNamee of Kerry’s approach.
“To be fair, they did pack it out pretty well, it was very, very hard to break down.
“We tried to get the ball across a few times and, with a wayward kick-pass here or there, you were intercepted and on the back foot straight way.
“They played the game well, so that they sucked us in, dispossessed us, and then caught us on the counter-attack. They did that numerous times in the first half. It probably was a surprise to see them playing like that, because you know how it’s painted a different picture, football down there compared to up here. We just had to adapt to it and it took us a wee while longer than we wanted.”
After the first week of the new ‘offensive mark’ rule in the Allianz League, McNamee felt the balance of power has tilted too much in favour of attackers, and has complained about the confusion arising from numerous examples.
Monaghan made excellent use of the new rule in defeating All-Ireland champions Dublin in Clones, second-half ‘marks’ from Conor McManus and debutant Stephen O’Hanlon helping them on their way.
However, Tyrone struggled to get the same return out of affairs in Killarney as they went down 0-11 to 0-7 to Kerry.
“Petey (Harte) went a few times to go and get a mark and it spilled,” explained McNamee.
“Another time he would be 25 metres out and he would make a mark, get up and kick it over the bar. Whereas on another day they might all stick.
“It definitely is going to help the inside forwards. With the likes of Kyle (Coney) picking passes — there are plenty of good kick passers to find them.”
However, all of the various rule changes has resulted in confusion arising amongst players according, to McNamee.
“It’s happened three times with us now. Jamie Clarke in the McKenna Cup final, the first game against Derry and yesterday, Decky McClure caught a mark in the middle of the field and got up and fisted it away and was blown up,” he said.
“I don’t know what set time you are given or where you draw a line if you are taking too long, but Jamie Clarke stopped dead in the McKenna Cup final and put up his hand to take a mark.
“(He) Looked around, the ref was like, ‘what do you want to do?’ and everybody stands still and he just ran on and kicked it over the bar.
“There’s definitely grey areas. Everyone needs to be singing off the same hymn sheet. It will take time but if it is like anything else it will stay as it is because some referee is going to blow something different anyway. Nobody plays off the same rules, which is confusing as it is, without bringing in new rules to confuse it even more.”
McNamee also believes that the type of tackles that are let go in the middle of the park are seen through a different prism when they occur between defender and attacker.
He explains: “For instance, when referees are doing a game, out around the middle it could be a hammering match and you wouldn’t get a free. And inside, you could put a hand on somebody’s knee and it would be a free. There’s an imbalance anyway, and at times it is hard to play the inside line because you cannot be as physical as out the field. It’s making it harder, but you have to get used to it.
“Come next year they are probably going to bring in 15 new rules anyway. You mightn’t be allowed any contact at all!”
Tyrone will be without the second-highest scorer in the All-Ireland Championship last year for most of the league as Connor McAliskey recovers from a leg injury sustained in club action, while Mark Bradley is studying in England.
“Don’t get me wrong, losing those men is going to affect us, but we have the best forwards in Tyrone in our panel and if you can’t chop and change, have boys in and out who are equally as good as each other, willing to play and wanting to play, you shouldn’t have issues,” added McNamee.