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Friday 9 December 2016

Coman Goggins: Tipp primed to test the mettle of Kingdom in Munster

James O'Donoghue, Kerry, in action against Karl Lacey, Donegal.
James O'Donoghue, Kerry, in action against Karl Lacey, Donegal.

JUST under 12 months ago following a rather lacklustre four-point victory over Clare in their Munster SFC semi-final, few would have predicted that Eamonn Fitmaurice's Kerry team, minus their talismanic forward Colm Cooper, would be crowned All-Ireland champions.

Almost nine months on from collecting their 37th All-Ireland title however, and the mood down South, both on and off the field, is laced with optimism ahead of their Championship opener against Tipperary this weekend.

Cooper is biding to return to Championship action for the first time since the All-Ireland semi-final of 2013, having damaged his cruciate playing with his club Dr Crokes in their All-Ireland club-semi final in February last year.

Paul Galvin has dusted the boots down off the rusty retirement nail, while the return from Australia of Tommy Walsh adds further firepower to an attack that already boasts the 2014 Player of Year, James O'Donoghue.

But while things are looking rosy from an offensive perspective the suffocating defensive system that so effectively restricted Donegal's starting forwards to only point from play in last year's All-Ireland final arguably goes into the game with a couple of cracks, reflected in the fact that they conceded more than any other team in Division 1 of the League.

SHARPENED

A week's training camp in sunnier climes will no doubt have sharpened the footballing skills, but unlike last Summer's surge to glory, a significant element of this year's campaign will come down to mental preparation and just how adept Kerry deal with the heightened expectations throughout 2015.

Operating under the radar last year, the challenge facing the Kerry boss this year, a little bit like that suffered by Jim Gavin and the Dubs last summer, is that the more people talk you up the greater the prospect of a heavy fall.

In years past that fall seldom came in a Munster Championship game that didn't involve Cork, but this Sunday in Semple Stadium anything less than a clear focus on Tipperary and the wheels could easily come undone.

On the back of their appearance in the U21 All-Ireland final earlier this year, Peter Creedon's young Tipp side will be eying a major scalp and a first appearance in a provincial decider since 2002.

Second top-scorers in Division 3, which housed Armagh among others, was backed up with an impressive 1-24 v 0-5 victory over Waterford in their Munster semi-final a few weeks ago, and points to a group who have been building towards Kerry and June 14 since the Championship draw was made last October.

While Tipp will struggle to match the power of Kerry's front six, the Kingdoms's defensive line has on the other hand shown frailties when attacked at pace. With All-Ireland man of the match winner Paul Murphy absent through the injury, and expectation raised well above its starting point of last summer, maybe just maybe a shock is on the cards that would have supporters of the provincial system asking just what all the fuss is about.

 

Time to list to the grassroots

IT’S a couple of weeks now since Jim Gavin’s (inset) league champions outclassed Longford by 27 points, but while the Dubs direct their focus on a Leinster semi-final the debate rumbles on around them on the need to reform both the provincial and All-Ireland series.

The prospects of a fifth consecutive provincial title, or ninth in the last ten years, has elevated Dublin to a status where their results draw opinion far and wide, ranging from the most recent suggestion from the Leinster Council to offer Dublin a bye to the semi-finals, to the more radical proposal of splitting the county in two with the river Liffey acting as the great divide.

While there is a broad acceptance that change is needed, and my fellow columnist with this paper Ciarán Whelan offered a very well thought out proposal last Friday, the reality is that to focus on Dublin would be a somewhat short-term fix to a much broader problem that exists across nearly all the provincial structures, and pre-dates Dublin’s current dominance in Leinster.

Take the Munster championship as an example, when in the Mick O’Dwyer days Kerry were a tour de force - between 1975 and 1986 they lost only one provincial decider (1983), but in a time when

 tradition was sacrosanct, change simply wasn’t an option.

However, over the last 30 years despite Clare and Tipperary making some progress, the status quo has remained.

En route to the 2013 Munster title Kerry swept past Tipp by a margin of 16 points before dismantling Waterford by a 27-point margin.

Yet as they go in search of a fifth Munster title in six years, Kerry’s dominance in the province has resulted in far less headlines on championship reform.

While there is no question that Dublin football is in a good place right now, to hang the woes of the current championship structure on them when history shows that the format has rarely served as a fair means for counties to compete, merely clouds the bigger picture.

In truth change is clearly needed at a national level, the question is how long it will take for the GAA hierarchy to pay attention to the opinion and proposals of some of the people on the ground.

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