Is the semifinal against Dublin a bridge too far for Kerry

August 27th, 2013
by Weeshie Fogarty

It's doubtful if ever Kerry has gone into a major championship fixture in Croke park as such underdogs in the eyes of so many people with the exception of course of the die hard Kerry supporters. Well that is the position next Sunday and their opponents Dublin have been serving up some superb football all year in their championship games to date and not alone that but we must not forget that they are also won the National league in very impressive style. They lost just one game in their march to that title, topped the scoring ratio and concede less that any other county, impressive stuff in any mans language.  On the other hand Kerry's league campaign was the complete opposite. It promises to be a fascinating game next Sunday as all clashes between these counties tend to be. I saw my first Kerry/Dublin classic in 1955 and the best two city v country games I have been privileged to witness were the 1962 All Ireland semi-final when goals from Garry McMahon (RIP) and Tom Long silenced the Hill, 2-12 to 0-10 Then who will ever forget the 2009 quarter final when Kerry produced that scintillating display to crush the Dubs, 1-24 to 1-7.

I have been greatly impressed by the Dublin displays so far this year and really they are a breath of fresh air in comparison to the stunted swarming, hand passing games we have been forced to watch over the last few years from many teams. Speed, endurance, strength and ability are the main features of their game. They play mostly with an orthodox forward unit. Three half forwards, three full forwards. Diarmuid Connelly and Paul Flynn attack at pace, often from deep in their own half and often on the overlap or coming at the defenders from their blind side. The Dublin game is all about pace, taking on the defender and either getting in for a pop at a score or drawing the foul. Bernard Brogan, Paul Mannion and in particular the brilliant Ciaran Kilkenny receive fast, direct early ball and when McAuley and especially the speedy Jack McCaffrey join in the attacking moves then danger is coming at the opposition from all angles.

So where does all of this leave Kerry. Well on their display against Cavan they have no hope of victory. That day the boys looked lifeless, tired, jaded, no spring in their collective steps and were outscored in the second half by a very poor Cavan side. The Kerry management needs no one to remind them that they will have to come up with a game plan which will test the opposition to the very limit and I believe the most important element of this must be nullifying completely the Dublin kick outs. Here lies the key to victory in my opinion. Dublin's goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton is probably the most vital clog in the Dublin machine. Kerry will have to be on the very top of their game when he places the ball for a kick out, some times on the kick out tee and at times he will not use it.  Every Dublin player will have to be covered and if Cluxton, the best exponent of finding his man is forced to kick long for ALL the game then the Dublin movements which starts generally in defense can be fully curtailed.

And here their downfall might lie. Those uncertainties surrounding the Kerry myth which will undoubtedly be at the back of the Dublin players minds will begin to niggle and make no mistake about it all the sports psychologists and motivational speakers cant eradicate  those fears Dublin may have in relation to being hot favorites and yet facing their greatest nemesis.  The longer Kerry stays close to their opponents their chances of victory will increase greatly.  

Just as Meath displayed when they pushed Dublin to the very limit flaws and cracks appeared. In that Leinsters final Meath were just two points down with ten minutes to go. They had completely stymied the quick Dublin kick out and when Cluxton was forced to drive long and high the Meath mid field men won the aerial battle. Anthony Maher and Johnny Buckley who I expect to start are quite capable of doing like wise. Allow Dublin to dictate the kick out strategy and they will dictate the flow of the game, this is it in a nutshell. Dublin will be hungrier than Kerry many of whose players are on the road for a long time, this is human nature. It's going to be a massive task for Eamon Fitzmaurice's men and defeats by Donegal, Dublin and Down over the last three years in their big championships visits to Croke Park does not argue well. And the loss of the speedy Killian Young is a big blow.

However this game is going to be a different kettle fish. Kerry and I have repeatedly stated this here time and again has the most skillful, natural and crucially, the most experienced players in the country, bar no one. Each and every player is quite composed and settled while on the ball. Dublin may have a tremendously pacey team of youngsters but Meath showed that if you frustrate them and stay with them they are vulnerable. The selectors have some massive choices to make. I could be speculating here till the cows come home as to who will start the game and who will mark who. I leave that to others. But the biggest and most vital decision of all I believe for the Kerry sideline men is, will they start the younger players and keep the older legs in reserve until the pace of the game begins to slow down, or the other way around.  I am a firm believer it's not the team that begins the game that will decide the issue, it's the substitutes and the time of their introduction to the battle that will be crucial. Against Cork in that second half when the fat was in the fire the selectors were slow to move and then against Cavan it was baffling to see Donnacha Walsh called ashore. It goes without saying this is going to take an almighty effort from an aging Kerry side. A win would register as another historic milestone in the county's storied history. An experienced betting man will put his money on Dublin. Hoping against hope I will be proved wrong it might be just a bridge too far for Kerry.

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