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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Kerry's attacking jewel primed for toughest afternoon of a sparkling summer against Donegal

Kerry player James O'Donoghue
Kerry player James O'Donoghue

HERE'S one. How much have Bernard Brogan, Jamie Clarke, Conor McManus and Mark Lynch - four forwards confirmed amongst the top bracket of that particular craft - scored from play against Donegal this year?

Answer: four measly points.

Or an average of one apiece, with Brogan (0-2) the only man to manage more than one, Clarke contriving not to score at all and McManus and Lynch registering just a solitary point each.

Over to you then, James O'Donoghue.

Because if the trend of football's premier attackers' frustrations against the most successful defensive system ever conceived holds tomorrow, we might see very little of Kerry's newly polished gem.

"He's still learning, he's still young," said Éamonn Fitzmaurice of the man who, more than anyone else this summer, has brought Kerry back to the cusp of success.

developing

"He played a bit of football in 2012 but I mean this is his second full season really and he's still developing. He's not the full package yet but he's a smart guy. And he's learning every time he goes out.

"Keith Higgins was a great test for him. The two Mayo games, I was very pleased with him how he kept looking for more even though it has hard on him because Keith Higgins probably did about as well on him as you can do.

"He's developing all the time. He can definitely improve on his decision-making. Hopefully he'll keep improving."

The question, as it happens, was whether O'Donoghue's goal lust in both the drawn and victorious Mayo games had been addressed in the interim, when his fetish for green flags resulted in the butchering of a couple of prime possessions close to the opposition's goal.

Which, for the sake of relevance, pre-supposes that O'Donoghue will actually get to touch the ball close to Donegal's goal.

According to the excellent football analysis website dontfoul.com, Brogan touched the ball inside Donegal's 20-metre line just three times in the semi-final, Clarke twice in the quarter and McManus, on four occasions in the Ulster final, fuelling the suspicion that for O'Donoghue to be relevant tomorrow, he may need to position himself such that he comes on to the ball from deep, aided and abetted by the more physical, possession-snaffling charms of Kieran Donaghy and Michael Geaney.

Battalion

Writing in his newspaper column this week, Tyrone's Ryan McMenamin argued with plenty of clear logic that Kerry should play without a full-forward line in order to draw Donegal's battalion of markers out of position and into areas in which they are unaccustomed.

"They take away those little pockets of space from you so you have to be really patient on the ball," says Kieran O'Leary, Kerry's saviour in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final with Mayo.

"It could be the 65th or 70th minute when you break a team like that down but you have to stick with what you believe in you stick with your own game-plan."

Asked bluntly back in July whether he needed a Celtic Cross to validate his career, O'Donoghue's answer was equally direct: "Yeah. I'd say that, yeah.

"It's the only prize. It's not like soccer, you have the Premiership, the Champions League, whatever. It's just the All-Ireland for Kerry, basically."

The weight of a Kingdom rests easily, it seems, on his relaxed shoulders.

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