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Sunday 11 December 2016

Kingdom zone in on Dublin skipper Stephen Cluxton's influence

29 June 2015; Kerry goalkeeping coach and selector Diarmuid Murphy poses for a portrait before squad training. Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, Co. Kerry. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
29 June 2015; Kerry goalkeeping coach and selector Diarmuid Murphy poses for a portrait before squad training. Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, Co. Kerry. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

If we learned anything from the Dublin v Mayo semi matches, it's that the most proactive form of attack is a high, man-to-man push.

Mayo's late squeeze on Dublin in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final started with an aggressive press on the Stephen Cluxton kick-out.

FORCED

Dublin's screw turning in the replay was inspired/instigated by three clean interceptions off Robbie Hennelly's forced long restarts. Why not do it all the time, then?

How come, particularly in the early feeling-out stages of these games, are teams more inclined to allow opposition goalkeepers flick a ball to a nearby corner-back, just so long as their defensive formation is sturdily constructed?

The full court press is, it seems, the pursuit of the aggressor.

To do so from the start is, apparently, to leave oneself open to the sort of surgical dissection Cluxton performed on Mayo in the 2013 final.

"A lot can depend on how teams are set up defensively," surmises Diarmuid Murphy, the former Kerry goalkeeper and current selector and thus, most likely to have digested more recorded Cluxton restarts in the past few days than he's had requests for tickets.

"If you are playing with extra men back, by the time you decide you are going to push up on a kickout, if a kickout is taken within six or seven seconds of the ball going dead, the guys you have down the far side of the field aren't really going to be in play when it comes to pushing up at the other end.

"It could be a case that some teams could have seven backs against five forwards, it isn't that hard to get the ball out the field then.

"I think, though, if you look at the Dublin team and look at fellas like Denis Bastick and Brian Fenton in particular, who is having an outstanding year, and Michael Darragh - they are all well able to catch balls over their heads as well if the occasion arose."

Doubtless, when Kerry have done well against Dublin in the past 15 years, they have done so through successful targeting of Cluxton's kick-outs.

No team has made the Dublin captain more exasperated than Kerry.

Blustery

And whilst it has been lost in the more recent drama of this season, Éamonn Fitzmaurice, Murphy and the rest of the Kerry think-tank put together an effective screen on the Dublin kick-out in the League game between the two back in March.

The key difference there being that Seán Currie, who is no longer on the panel, stood in goals that day and against a blustery Killarney wind on a dank day, hadn't the option of bombing long restarts past Kerry's two banks of four players perched high up the pitch.

"Mayo did well when they were chasing it in the drawn game," Fitzmaurice points out.

"They did give that 'checkout' if they wanted it.

"Dublin seem to be taking it if you give it to them to build from the back.

"With the players they have like Philly McMahon coming up from corner-back and keeping going the whole way up the field, not just against Mayo but a lot of games, they're quite comfortable bringing it up the field.

"Their attitude seems to be that if you want to give us the checkout, we'll take it and guarantee ourselves possession.

"He (Cluxton) seems to be going shorter this year but that's the beauty of what he can do, from their point of view.

"He can surprise you, he can go long, he can go really long or place it into those pockets as he has for years. It's something we have to be ready for."

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