National League

Another National League Title for Kerry

April 25th, 2006
by Weeshie Fogarty

Well done to all involved in Kerry's eighteenth National League title win over Galway last Sunday week. The panel of players, manager Jack o Connor and all his backroom team did the county proud. The ridiculous notion continues to float around from different sources that the league dose not mean much or that counties or not interested in winning only taking part. Nevertheless to win a national title irrespective at what is a great achievement in any man's language and to see the joy on the faces of the die hard Kerry supporters who crowded on to the Gaelic Grounds as Declan o Sullivan was receiving the cup said it all. And let's not forget that these very same supporters followed their team all around the country during the long winter days, the tiresome journeys to Scotstown and Omagh and also to Pairk Ui Rinn, so winning the league was a fitting end to their winter wanderings.

However the people who sat down and fixed this game for 5.30 pm last Sunday week were certainly not thinking of these very same supporters. It was in my opinion a ridiculous decision and at the end of the day the paltry attendance copper fashioned this. The official figure states an attendance of around seven thousand; however let's not forget that there was a very attractive All Ireland under 21 semi-final on before the league final. Indeed this game was a cracker, it finished in a draw and in extra time the sides failed to be separated, so they met again. Now judging by what I saw and heard from the highly excited Cork and Laois supporters there must have been in the region of two thousand from these two competing counties present. Subtract this from your seven thousand and you get the lowest ever attendance at a national final ever.

Worse still when you realize that over 8.000 attended the Meath-Offaly O'Byrne Cup final in Navan in the depts. of winter, a cold January day, then you begin to fully understand the utter folly of staging that match in Limerick last Sunday week. And to add insult to injury, 20,000 attended the McKenna Cup final between Armagh and Tyrone on the last Sunday in January. Two competitions which mean absolutely nothing.

So what difference did this make you may well say? Well there is big money in the national league and the two teams contesting the final usually come out with a tidy sum at the end of the year. And what about the league sponsors Alliance, who pours money into the competition. They must be absolutely fuming that the GAA took this decision, leaving them with the very minimum of exposure. So in this instance Kerry and Galway are the real losers. Of course the big Heineken Cup game between Leinster and Munster was the big sporting event of the week-end and the fixtures committee was in a dilemma as to how GAA fixtures should be approached. So in their wisdom they decided to accommodate the supporters and put back the starting time to that 5.30 pm throw-in, this would allow people to see the big rugby match on the box and then head for the Gaelic grounds. The supporters voted on this pathetic decision with their feet and stayed away.

Who was going to be hanging around Limerick in pubs all day waiting for this late late show and what about the supporters who traveled to the match, they were the big losers, because they missed out watching the game on TV and then had to endure the long tailbacks coming out of Limerick notorious for Gaelic grounds traffic jams. So in my opinion the winners were the people who stayed at home, read the Sunday papers, had a relaxed Sunday dinner, put up their feet and watched the three games on the TV and later on rambled down to their local and discussed all three games they had seen.  The people who had no notion of attending the game were the very ones who were accommodated so well. Not the die hard Galway and Kerry supporter, they were badly wronged. So in my opinion TV is the guiding hand now and the supporter's rights are being sacrificed to accommodate the televising of games.

Both counties should have taken a stand on the issue. They too have a responsibility here and should have given more thought to their loyal supporters and not the people who wanted to be accommodated by staying at home and viewing the games on television. Refuse to play on that day, insist that the game be played last Sunday, and play it with the hurling league final and play it in Croke Park or alternatively Semple Stadium. And while we are on Croke Park it appears to me now that this magnificent stadium can not be used until the people running it are assured of a near full house. We are told all about the costs involved in opening the gates for a match, was this what the stadium was built for, if so there is big trouble ahead. This whole episode was certainly a major blunder by the people responsible for fixing the games and it was bourn out when GAA President Nicky Brennan apologized publicity for what had happened.

This has been a very good league campaign for Kerry capped by that fine win over a Galway side that for me anyway completely abandoned the traditional Galway style football which has marked their appearance in all major finals. They have adopted that terrible swarming all behind the ball style of play which originated in the North a few years ago and completely nullifies all the great open free flowing game which makes Gaelic football such a magnificent spectacle when played by our top teams. Of course one can be accused of being old fashioned and not with it in relation to the changing game we have to day, nevertheless what I saw from Galway in the recent league final was nothing short of  a statement, "stop the opposition from playing football at all costs".

 And in the first half of the final Galway certainly succeeded in doing this. Their swarming crowding tactics completely confused Kerry. Their centre back Diarmuid Blake was assigned the task of double marking Colm Cooper and ignoring his own man Eamon Fitzmaurice who was then taken up by the nearest player to him. The Galway half forward line kept dropping back into their own half and in to day's modern parlance, "closed down the open spaces". In basketball terms it was known as the zone defense. What a shame to see such an outstanding player  as Michael Donnellan spending most of the game dropping back to continuously mark Kerrymen and abandoning to a great extent his superb natural game of taking on the opposition and setting of on those scintillating defense splitting runs. However as on expert remarked to me during the week, that is the modern game.

Well done to the Kerry management, they made some vital changes at half time and completely cracked the Galway defensive swarming tactics in the second half. They were never so glad as to hear that half time whistle because in that first half despise frantic activity on the bench and numerous switches on the field of play the ball was coming out as fast as it was going in. The game was won in the dressing room at half time when style of play was discussed and changed for the closing thirty five minutes. While most observes remarked that Galway should have been well ahead at the short whistle I would not full agree. Kerry had as much play if not more than Galway in the opening half and the Kerry defense were outstanding and when Rathmore Tom O Sullivan put the shackles on Michael Meehan Galway's brilliant corner forward the Galway goose was cooked. Meehan had scored 6-18 in Galway's march to the final and had notched four goals in one game alone so Tom's feat of holding him to one point from play was outstanding. The Kerry defensive marking overall was another key factor in the win.

Darren o Sullivan brings a completely new style to the Kerry attack when he comes on. He is the type of player that causes a great buzz, and with his all action, all go, running at them style of play he upsets defenses. The Glenbeigh lad is a joy to watch, whether he will be effective as the championship goes on remains to be seen. The second substitute who also helped the course of the result Eoin Brosnan also proved that to overcome the swarming tactics you must run at defenses and Eoin is at his best here. His understanding and position at the time with the wonderful Colm Cooper as they linked up for that goal could only have resulted from those two club mates knowing each others play since childhood.

I have often observed down the years that some players are far better when not started in a match for a few games and then come on, A change even in football, as the old adage says is as good as a rest.  Paul Galvin's enforced rest did him the world of good, he is vital to Kerry and what can one say about the peerless Seamus Moynihan, we have run out of superlatives for the Glenflesk man. Kieran Donaghy continues to improve dramatically, now the questions is, "just how good can he be". Watching Kerry footballers develop is a fascinating in itself, its part of Kerry tradition. Darragh o Shea is playing his best ever football, he was my man of the match.

So now the championship begins, we will go to Croke Park one way or another, there the true test waits. The boys are looking very fresh and hungry; this continued aspect will determine their championship fate. No better man than Pat Flanagan our exemplary trainer to have them in top physical condition. Things are looking very good. Kerry will be there with the best of them in August and September when push comes to shove.

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