League Campaign - a mixed bag

April 7th, 2015
by Weeshie Fogarty

And so another league campaign ends for Kerry, it was a real mixed bag for Eamon Fitzmaurice's men, we saw the good, the bad and the very bad as division one status was retained, the main objective. However at the end of the day a one point win last Sunday would have gained a semi-final place and a run out in Croke Park where more lessons would be learned and maybe even a league final place achieved which would put a huge smile on the faces of the county board treasurers.

Following their All Ireland win Kerry were playing catch up on all the other counties in relation to fitness, loss of form and injury concerns and now the real work begins as the boys prepare for the main task in hands. And what a massive task retaining the All ireland title is going to be. But all of this is for another day and happing's in Healy Park Tyrone last Sunday were as dramatic as one wished to see and I for one thought is was a cracking game despite all the doom and gloom we have heard and read in relation to "the death of football".

It was in my opinion, an enthralling relegation battle and Tyrone without their exemplary manager Mickey Harte on the side line will play division two football next season and on the way up from that division will be Roscommon and here we take the opportunity to heap praise on their supremo our own John Evans. The Laune Rangers man is doing mighty work in that county and with their under twenty ones doing also so well the genial Killorglin man with six of that twenty one side on his senior squad will have high hopes for the Connaught title. Another Kerryman spreading the football gospel.

So back to last Sunday and as anticipated we had on view the massed swarm defense, Tyrone with fourteen men behind the ball and Kerry as they now do defending with twelve bodies at the back but despite all of this defending we saw some magnificent point kicking from both sides. It was a joy to watch, Johnny Buckley, David Moran and Paul Murphy in the first half splitting the posts as they lofted the high ones from far out over the massed defense spread out before them. Tyrone like wise with Mattie Donnelly, Darren McCurry and Sean Cavanagh all replying in like method for the home side. Tyrone led at the break 0-8 to 0-7.

It was all action in the second half as both teams emptied the proverbial tank, it was hard hitting, with a few flare ups and the Kerry mentors played their cards beautifully as they introduced the old dogs for that long road, Colm Cooper, Mark o Se, Darren o Sullivan, Tommy Walsh. They steadied the ship and the return of Colm Cooper was special after that horrific injury last February twelve months. He looked very sharp, twisted and turned as if he has never been absence and his beautiful diagonal cross for Kieran Donaghy with minutes to go which resulted in a point from the captain just proved if proof was ever needed that class is permanent.

I posed the question here some weeks ago, "would Kerry have won the All Ireland last years without the return of Kieran Donaghy"; of course we will never know the answer to this. However it is becoming more and more evident that the big Stacks man has accepted the mantel of team captain with great relish and his performances in the league has been one of the big successes for Eamon Fitzmaurice. In that absorbing second half last Sunday his contribution to keeping Kerry in division one was huge.

Ten minutes into that half Jonathan Lyne having a great league floated a beautiful diagonal ball to the big man. His marker Justin McMahon was caught back peddling furiously, Donaghy fielded high, passed to Darren, his shot was blocked, and Paul Geaney reacted the fastest of all and finished to the net between the legs of goalkeeper Johnny Curran. Geaney too was outstanding in all facets of play and one point in the second half off his left leg was sheer class.  Shortly after the goal. Darren o Sullivan punted in another lovely diagonal cross, more of the same as Star fielded behind McMahon, passed to Geaney and the umpire was going for the white flag. While the full forward is being supplied with a liberal supply of ball it must be stated that a lot of breaking ball comes form this tactic and especially in the first half Kerry forwards are not reacting fast enough to this and the loose ball is invariably swept up by defenders.

Paul Murphy's two points, one in each half were superb efforts under massive pressure, brave and hard won scores and only for a brilliant leg block by the Tyrone keeper the Rathmore man would have finished with 1-2 to his name. Great to see the younger players beginning to come back to form and I have a theory that all these young men on the team and panel more so even than the older players were mentally and physically tired after last years huge unexpected win. Time is the great healer, a week in the Portugal sun working hard; hopefully James o Donoghue and Donoghue Walsh will also be back to full health and the Kerry sideline men will have a full deck to play with.

There is a lot of work to be done however, which is a good thing. We had the worse defensive record in division one having conceded 9gls-90pts and again last Sunday we  were penalized for conceding some silly, soft frees which resulted in nine Tyrone points. And let's not forget we have also being penalized a lot with black cards. While we had seven players on the scoring sheet Tyrone concede just three points from placed balls. A huge cause for concern here.

Whatever is wrong in defense, the tackling is not up to intercounty standard, of course the players are being coached in this area but I wonder if the fear of yellow and black cards are effecting the mind set of defenders and as a result the tackling and shadowing of players running at our defenders is just not fully committed enough.

However when the sun is high in the sky and the ground is hard and the ice cream venders are setting up their stalls outside the grounds' and a season of championship football is under way it is only then and not till then that Kerry footballers are judged. That has always been the way here in The Kingdom. The league is gone, done and dusted; now the real action is awaited. Finally just one word about the referee last Sunday and one of very debatable decisions he made. Why was David Moran penalized in the last thirty seconds when Kerry were attacking and looking for the winning point. It was one of just a number of baffling basketball style frees he awarded, and this applied to both side.

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