versatility key to kerry's win
Fitzmaurice's tactics spot-on and deserved victory will re-instill confidence in tradition
I mentioned in my article last Friday that yesterday's All-Ireland Final would certainly be intriguing but may not be the greatest spectacle from an entertainment point of view.
The events in Croke Park confirmed that thought and although the game remained delicately poised for the large part, it would be wrong to suggest that the struggle between the two teams was anything other than dour.
That Kerry managed to prevail at the end was because of the greater versatility that their players and management possess, and the defensive template that they adopted against Donegal reflected their ability to change tactics based on the qualities and styles of their respective opponents.
Full credit must go to éamonn Fitzmaurice for having his players so well versed with that defensive alignment and in fairness Donegal were almost out-Donegaled by the lack of space afforded to them as they looked to create scoring chances. Fitzmaurice's defensive personnel were able to carry out his instructions to the letter of the law and that highlights the work being done tactically by the Kerry management.
Eyebrows were possibly raised by the return to the starting line-up of Aidan O'Mahony earlier this year but Fitzmaurice was vindicated by his selection as the veteran gave a superb display in the most important match of the year.
Paul Murphy was another to shine in the Kerry defence, kicking a sublime point in the second-half while managing his defensive duties superbly, and Killian Young and Marc Ó Sé offered the necessary experience to help ensure that Donegal were kept out as they searched in vain for a goal.
That they almost managed it through Colm McFadden in injury time highlighted the fine margins that are present in the modern game and on another day, we might be preparing ourselves for another All-Ireland final replay.
Kerry's opening goal, while not entirely fortuitous, owed a lot to Karl Lacey's half-block that allowed Paul Geaney to gain possession and finish to the net, handing Kerry a dream start.
That goal must have dealt a significant blow to Donegal's confidence but despite not scoring from play for the opening 20 minutes, they still remained competitive due to Michael Murphy's excellent free-taking.
Indeed, Donegal and Jim McGuinness would have been pleased with the situation after 50 minutes or so as I'm assuming their game-plan was to stay in the hunt for as long as possible before kicking for home in the final 20 with the introduction of fresh legs.
One of those substitutes, Paddy McBrearty, looked particularly sharp when introduced, kicking two excellent points upon his arrival and maybe the team would have been better served if he had started the game.
The same scenario could be applied to Christy Toye, albeit he arrived on the scene far earlier and I think the fact that both key players started the game on the bench could well be viewed as a questionable call by McGuinness.
The composure that was especially evident in Donegal's win over Dublin was also marked absent with the error by Paul Durcan symptomatic of Donegal not quite hitting the heights of three weeks ago.
I don't believe they were mentally and physically fatigued after the Dublin game, but rather they struggled to impose their own tactics yesterday against a Kerry team that were in no mood to be as accommodating as Dublin were.
Whether this is the end of the road for McGuinness is hard to know but certainly a number of his key personnel, like Lacey, Neil Gallagher, McFadden and Toye, have a lot of football under their belts and this defeat could influence their decision one way or the other.
In contrast, the mood in Kerry will be rightly full of optimism as they have regained their self-professed rightful spot at the top table.
The most important thing that yesterday's win will provide is the belief that has been absent in recent times.
The confidence has been re-instilled now and Kerry will look to progress further under a very talented and shrewd manager who made more right calls than wrong this year.
Kerry winning the minor title earlier in the day will only add to that self-belief and, from a Dublin perspective, it is important that they learn from what they witnessed yesterday and take on board the disparity between their approach and that of Kerry.
Admittedly, while it wasn't the greatest final in living memory, I think there were many positives to take from the football championship with both Kerry v Mayo games and the Dublin against Donegal clash showing the game in its best light.
The defensive template is certainly effective but the game is evolving at such an alarming and progressive rate, something which makes the championship such a fascinating and thought-provoking issue.