Sunday 20 January 2019

Cute Kingdom can come good again

A week that supporters enjoy immensely - especially the ones who have secured their ticket to the final - while most players struggle to fill the hours and it is how they manage the time that can determine how they perform on the day.

It is now almost two decades since I played in a final so the memories of the build-up are going dim but I do remember how important it is for the players to stay in the company of people they can trust and who understand the importance of the occasion.

The people they trust the most are of course the other players and management group and even though all the work on the training field is complete at this stage the group meetings are important to get into the right frame of mind.

It is the biggest day in a player's career but the game itself can pass most by and turn into a blur if the head isn't dialled in. It is an occasion when you absolutely want to have those game day nerves because you know then that you are ready.

It is how you manage those nerves that make all the difference. Some players are totally overwhelmed while others are energised and are able to lap it all up and go out and play in the normal way.

There is no explaining the feeling you have running out for your very first All-Ireland final and for me at least it was about getting that first precious touch and doing something simple which was usually a good short hand-pass to a colleague.

A mistake early in the game can have a serious effect on your morale and confidence, so its always best to keep the ball moving quickly and simply. Thirty-five minutes seems like a long time but that opening period in an All-Ireland can be over for players before they realise it.

Next Sunday's final between Kerry and Donegal will be their first meeting at this stage of the championship and a lot of the players have experienced this occasion already in their careers.

Funnily enough, it is Donegal who probably have more players on their team who have played in a final before so from that point of view they have a slight advantage.

It is been billed as a clash of styles but I don't buy that argument. For me, both teams play a similar game based on getting numbers behind the ball and breaking quickly into the wide-open spaces.

Both teams also have the target-man option with Michael Murphy and Kieran Donaghy the best in the business of winning primary ball when required. It is going to be a fascinating contest and will certainly be a tactical battle from the throw-in.


It is safe to say that both managers will more than likely change their tactics to try and gain an advantage and both will more than likely have something up their sleeve early in the game.

It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds and who blinks first but I expect both defences to be packed out when not in possession. Kerry have built a defensive system based on the northern model but they still retain their traditional attacking values that have brought them so many titles.

In James O'Donoghue they have an outstanding player capable of winning games in a heartbeat but this Sunday he will need a few of his colleagues in the forward line to step up and chip in with the important scores.

You can be certain that Jim McGuinness will have a play to curb O'Donoghue's influence on the game and considering how Bernard Brogan, Eoghan O'Gara and Cormac Costello were marked in the semi-final it looks like Donegal have the players in defence to mark anyone.

Kerry wont be as easily penetrated as the dubs were and are comfortable with how they are set up to defend. I can't see Donegal getting in for three goals but I don't see Kerry getting too many three-pointers either.

There is another fascinating aspect to this final that's worth mentioning. Kerry, as we know, don't lose too many finals when they get there but over the years they have always struggled most against northern opposition.

Cavan, Down and Tyrone have stopped Kerry winning a lot more All-Irelands and on Sunday it will be Donegal - who beat them in the quarter-final a couple of seasons ago - who stand in the way.

Maybe all this is just a coincidence, but Kerry supporters can't contemplate losing this final. It has been five years since their last success and although they have been quite happy to have played down their chances all year, they will be very confident they can win this one.


Donegal, however, are a seasoned team and have more players with All-Ireland medals in their team than the present Kerry team so if it boiled down to big-day experience the advantage is with them.

They have big-game players who won't be fazed by the occasion and certainly wont be overawed by the green-and-gold jersey. In a one-off game McGuinness is a master tactician but Eamonn Fitzmaurice has proved that he too can adapt and change his game plan depending on who they play.

Kerry also look fresher and hungrier this year and although it is a tough one to call, I think Kerry will win what most people thought at the start of the year was an unlikely All-Ireland. They have reeled us all in again.

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