Thursday 27 October 2016

All eyes on Kerry game-plan as clash of the titans becomes August reality

Michael Murphy of Donegal in action against Philly McMahon (left) and Dean Rock of Dublin Picture: Sportsfile
Michael Murphy of Donegal in action against Philly McMahon (left) and Dean Rock of Dublin Picture: Sportsfile

And now for Kerry. An All-Ireland semi-final that has been flagged since long before this slow-burning championship kicked off will come to pass in just under three weeks' time.

Advantage who? On most counts, it still must be Dublin.

Their reasons to be cheerful include (a) the confidence that comes from knowing you have a rival's number; (b) their current form graph, which remains above the standard set by Kerry; (c) the fact that they are (albeit only marginally) more road-tested in fraught conditions; and (d) the sense that, for all the talk of Dublin's defensive Achilles heel, Kerry's rearguard looks the shakier.

Yet this observer remains convinced Kerry, being Kerry, and a hurting one at that, will pose a more varied and complex challenge than Donegal.

Éamonn Fitzmaurice had the Midas reputation ahead of last year's All-Ireland final. What unfolded that day, and also in this year's league final, called into question his tactical genius and left many one-time believers wondering if Kerry are past it.

So the onus is on Fitzmaurice to devise a game-plan to unlock Dublin's defence and the match-ups to somehow nullify the pace and scoring prowess of their attack.

Jim Gavin will plot in his own meticulous way but, on face value, there isn't too much tinkering required.

David Byrne and John Small have more than cemented their starting status in the ongoing absence of Rory O'Carroll and Jack McCaffrey, while there will be less talk of Dublin's vulnerability to aerial assault after Philly McMahon's curtailment of Michael Murphy (albeit aided by overcooked deliveries).

The big question involves James McCarthy. Given his involvement in Saturday's warm-up, the presumption is that he will be fit for Kerry.

Match sharpness might be a lingering concern, but the likelihood is that McCarthy will start which would probably see Ciarán Kilkenny relocated to his old, more orthodox, half-forward role.

For all his influence against Donegal, this probably makes sense because Kilkenny could still roam deep and look to be the link-man without having to worry about man-marking ... that was rarely required against Donegal but Kerry are a more potent beast.

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