kerry have the tactics to tear up book
Kingdom's traditional football won't faze Donegal who'll dictate the terms of this intriging final and clash of styles
Sport is unpredictable and each week you never know what is coming next. It's what keeps us on the edge of the seat. It's the discussion, the debate, the permutations and team selections that contributes to the atmosphere around big sporting events. It's All-Ireland week. It is Donegal versus Kerry. It is structure versus tradition.
Usually there is form guide to review. But not when Donegal are involved.
Kerry have played Clare, Cork, Galway and Mayo. All traditional footballing teams who suited the Kerry style of play. They were able to execute their foot passing game to great effect by moving the ball into space for their forwards racking up high scores. It all goes out the window now. This is Donegal. This is different. This is like Aidan O'Brien having to put putting his derby winner Australia over fences in Cheltenham.
The biggest factor for me this weekend is that Donegal will dictate the terms of this game. They know how they will set up to large a degree. They will add to their game plan by specialising in targeting Kerry's key strengths but also trying to expose their weaknesses.
Kerry have to adapt. Kerry have to find a way to beat Donegal. That is not to say that it is beyond them. Kerry will not be found wanting in Headquarters next Sunday afternoon.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice will have tapped in the great knowledge that is in Kingdom and he will travel to Croke Park with a plan for Donegal. Fitzmaurice has a track record in adapting his team for the opposition. His use of Declan O'Sullivan as a playmaker destroyed Cork. The introduction of Kieran Donaghy to capitailise on a weak Mayo full-back line proved to instrumental is disposing of Mayo. So what rabbit can he pull from the hat to tackle Jimmy McGuinness.
I suspect his number one priority will be ensuring his defensive line is solid and he will have learnt a lot from Dublin's defeat. I would suggest that Kerry, in some way, will replicate an element of the Donegal game plan in the first half and drop bodies back deep in their own half.
Well, firstly, they must protect their full-back line where they are vulnerable.
Donegal used the long ball to great effect in 2012, it caused the Kerry full-back line problems and the personnel for Sunday remains largely unchanged today. There is no doubt that Donegal will ask a few questions by pumping long high ball into Michael Murphy from open play.
Secondly, Kerry must counter act Paul Durcan's (pictured right) kick-out strategy.
Durcan's kick-out strategy is designed to expose the opposition defence. Durcan's variation in kick-out is designed to pull the defence out of position. He will look to go down the wings on every second or third kick-out and hit Rory Kavanagh or Odhrán Mac Niallais.
If Donegal win these kick-outs, it puts their respective defenders or midfielders on the back foot and their natural instinct is to push up. Durcan then goes for the long booming kick out designed to land in their half-forward line. Neil Gallagher and Michael Murphy are the obvious targets in this area. When the ball lands, Donegal have twelve players goal side of where the ball is.
If they lose possession, they are perfectly set up defensively. If they win possession, then three or four players will instinctively come at pace off the shoulder and create a scoring opportunities at will. Kerry must hold their defensive structure, stay disciplined and nullify the role of Gallagher, in particular, in this area.
In holding a tight defence, Kerry will need to take control of midfield. Johnny Buckley, Anthony Maher and David Moran are crucial to Kerry's chances of success. Dominating the midfield area will cut off the oxygen supply for Donegal and ensure Kerry create more scoring chances.
In contrast to Donegal's kick-out strategy, Kerry are predictable in that regard. Brian Kelly lacks confidence over a short kick-out and he does not possess a long kick-out. The large majority of his kicks go down the right side of the field landing in same spot between the midfield and his half-back line.
Kerry dominated their own kick-out for long periods of both games against Mayo, but rest assured, McGuinness will target this area as it will put his team on the front foot if they win breaks in an attacking position.
It's up front where the real challenge lies for Kerry. It has been the strongest element of their games to date but their movement and space will now be closed down by Donegal.
What role can we expect Fitzmaurice to give Kieran Donaghy and James O'Donoghue?
No inside player from Monaghan, Armagh or Dublin got space or time to excel in any shape or form. Conor McManus, Jamie Clarke and Bernard Brogan are probably three of the best inside forwards in the country but they were denied any freedom to influence their team's performance.
Eamon Fitzmaurice was a selector under Jack O'Connor when they first confronted the Donegal system of play in 2012. Colm Cooper was playing in the role of O'Donoghue and Donaghy was at the edge of the square. Whilst Donaghy may have tapped in a late consolation goal, he was smothered by the Donegal defensive line who swept back to cut off any long direct ball. Cooper was limited to 6 or 7 possessions, kicking two points but struggling to make the impact required to compete with Donegal.
So can Fitzmaurice afford to go down the same route again by playing O'Donoghue and Donaghy close to goal? O'Donoghue had 22 possessions against Mayo in the drawn game despite been double marked for a large portion of that game. O'Donoghue does not wait for the game to come to him, he goes to the game. In that regard, I expect O'Donoghue may play a deeper role in around the Kerry half-forward line to look to link the play together with trying to create scoring opportunities from outside the D area.
If Fitzmaurice decides to start with Donaghy, he will need a dual role. Whilst Kerry will still look for a long direct ball at some stage of the game to create a goal, Donaghy could be used around midfield to nullify Gallagher allowing Moran or Buckley to play a more offensive game.
Overall, it all makes for an intriguing final. If Donegal reach the same level of performance as the Dublin game, they will prove hard to stop. It's up to Kerry to break that momentum. The two tough physical encounters against Mayo will stand to Kerry. They will need stay patient and cannot afford to be chasing down a lead at half time.
In weighing up the positives and negatives for each team, they is more consistency balancing out in Donegal's favour. Kerry look a little bit more vulnerable and history indicates that they have struggled in the past to deal with this style of defensive play.
"Talent may win games but teamwork and intelligence win championships". A simple quote from the great Michael Jordan. Could it be the legacy of Jimmy McGuinness?