Long-range scores holds the key to unlocking Donegal

July 31st, 2012
by Weeshie Fogarty

LET'S get the negatives out of the way first. Yes, Clare were very disappointing and were never at the races last Saturday evening. To put their display into context in relation to previous meetings between the counties – and also the display of this Kerry side – let's take a look at some past games.

Doing so is one way of paying tribute to the superb Tomás Ó Sé as he set that new appearance record of eighty two championship appearances. He is, in my opinion, the best right half back I have ever seen and I base this on his brilliant consistency and record as the highest scoring wing-back in the history of the game.

Last week was Tomás' fifth championship appearance against the Banner men. His first in the Munster semi-final of 1999 resulted in a 3-17 to 0-12 victory. The following year 2000 saw him at left halfback as Kerry strolled to a 3-15 to 0-8 Munster final win. In 2004 it was a Munster quarter-final victory 210 to 0-9. Four years later, 2008 Clare gave their best display and yet Kerry widened the gap in a 1-14 to 0-5 win in the Munster semi-final.

Last Saturday's 2-22 to 16 victory was always on the cards, but was this just another run of the mill, meaningless victory for Jack O'Connor's men ahead of Sunday's All-Ireland quarter-final with Donegal?

I always believe in giving credit where credit is due and, despite the facile scoreline, there was a huge amount to savour and enjoy in Kerry's display. They produced some scintillating passages of play; throwing off the shackles of the defensive set up and slow build up we have seen in the recent past. The ball was moved at great speed from end to end and we saw some trademark traditional Kerry point kicking from distance as Colm Cooper wrote himself into history's pages with that new scoring record.

James O'donoghue's second half goal summed up all that is great and good with this particular superb panel of Kerry players. It was a wonderful few seconds of sheer pace, skill, vision, support play and deadly finishing. And it all happened in the blink of an eye. No matter what happens for the remainder of the Championship last week's display against poor opposition gave the players the opportunity to open up, play with style, panache and freedom.

It was great stuff from one to fifteen as every player, including the subs when introduced, showed all that is great in Gaelic football when played with abandon and absence of fear.

Paul Galvin's rash tackle and sending off was the only black mark on the evening's performance and the Finuge man will not need anyone to remind him of this. However, let's not forget his superb recent disciplined displays. So he got two yellow cards; no big deal here for me. There has been a huge amount of debate in relation to the sending off and lots of mutterings that the sideline men should have brought him ashore earlier.

It's so easy to be wise after the event and I for one did not see any flashing red lights in regards Paul's behaviour, which warned of the tackle that was to come. Move on forget about it and remember the adage, which was never truer in this respect, "give a dog a bad name".

Drawing Donegal in next week's quarter-final is the hardest task of all. If Kerry win this they will be raging favourites to win the All-ireland. Jim Mcguiness's men have won for them, a record two Ulster titles on-the-trot, they are on a mission for the last two years and their performances and scoring rates continues to improve with every match. Last year they shipped some savage criticism for their horrible defensive displays.

That has changed this year and they have amassed 5-59 in their four Ulster championship games to date and have conceded a miserly 1-42. Stories coming out of the North as regards their savage training schedule might be bourne out as in their recent Ulster final win over Down they raced away from their opponents in the last quarter raising eight white flags.

Kerry will be meeting a system of play they have never experienced before in a championship match in Croke Park. However, more than any other county they are proven masters down the decades of unlocking the best defenses facing them. (Shades of 1955 and the so-called unbeatable Dublin machine). While Donegal have not used that fourteen man defensive wall to the same extent this year nevertheless it will take a massive performance from Kerry to advance.

Jack O'Connor and his sideline generals will burn the midnight oil this week as they study DVDs of Donegal, plot their strategy and instill in the players the exact game plan necessary to win. It's going to make another fascinating clash of styles and traditions.

Kerry's three qualifying games have brought them on a ton. They have a settled team which is a massive bonus. Kieran Donaghy is nearly back to his best. The forwards, the best six in the country, will be the key and are raising white flags from great distance, which will I believe be the secret of unlocking the cast-iron Donegal defence.

The hunger, will to win and utter determination and most importantly the amazing freshness, which this exemplary squad of players are displaying is a joy to behold.

The same fifteen as in the last two games will start, the men on the bench will not be found wanting, which is crucial. It will be so, so close, but I am staying with Kerry to win.

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