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Saturday 18 August 2018

Winter hangs over Kingdom

Farney fling: Kerry’s Seán O’Shea is tracked by Monaghan’s Drew Wylie during their Allianz Football League Division 1 match at Páirc Grattan in Inniskeen, Monaghan last February. Photo: Sportsfile
Farney fling: Kerry’s Seán O’Shea is tracked by Monaghan’s Drew Wylie during their Allianz Football League Division 1 match at Páirc Grattan in Inniskeen, Monaghan last February. Photo: Sportsfile

How has it come to this?

A couple of weeks ago, Kerry were being pencilled in as All-Ireland favourites by people who know things about what makes All-Ireland winning teams.

It wasn't that they hammered Cork, either. It was how they did it.

For the first time since 2013, it seemed, Éamonn Fitzmaurice was coming with a team to take Dublin on, man-on-man, backing his six forwards to do more damage on Dublin's six backs than the other way around.

Perhaps Fitzmaurice's greatest sin last Sunday then, was rolling out a 'Plan B' that wasn't nearly so well rehearsed.

Perhaps still mindful of the destruction job Cillian O'Connor and Andy Moran did on his unprotected full-back line in Kerry's last Championship visit to Croke Park, Fitzmaurice elected to play with a sweeper last Sunday but Galway's running game negated its influence.

And their defensive effort meant Kerry regularly looked like they lacked numbers up front - hardly an issue in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Lots of talk this week has been about Kerry's lack of leaders but if anything, they were guilty collective of simply playing the game on Galway's terms.

And nobody plays it as well as Galway, although Monaghan come close.

Monaghan's enthusiasm and technical ability in the tackle make this a nightmare scenario for Kerry to salvage their season.

For all their inability to crack through their personal glass ceiling, Monaghan have been in Division 1 long enough not to have any inhibitions about facing Kerry.

They beat them in Inniskeen this year and in Clones in 2015.

Malachy O'Rourke has always conjured imaginative and effective ways of shutting down the opposition's most in-from player but other than David Clifford - who scored 1-5 last week - it's hard to see who that is just now for Kerry.

Certainly Kerry will have to sacrifice one of their attacking half-forwards to track Karl O'Connell, or perhaps employ Paul Murphy to follow him whenever he gallops over the half-way line.

Kerry's new-look defence meanwhile, is filled with pace but there won't be quite such a currency on speed tomorrow.

O'Connell, Fintan Kelly, Darren Hughes and Vinny Corey will all pose a scoring threat but mostly, coming from behind the ball - the sort of movement Galway broke Kerry with late on last Sunday.

It could be that last Sunday proves to be the jolt Kerry needed, the defeat that puts them in the fight for their lives that knits them as a team and cajoles them back into the realms of an All-Ireland winning team.

And with Kildare in Killarney to come next week, this one is essentially and straight knock-out game.

Kerry have all the scoring talent in the world and can also change the point of attack through the curiously-unused Kieran Donaghy and Darran O'Sullivan.

But it's the rest of the outfit that have question marks dangling over their heads.

Ordinarily, you'd expect Kerry to pass this sort of gut check but Monaghan have a well-organised, solid side who don't lack experience of these sort of occasions.

And based on most recent form - given the venue for this match - Monaghan just have the edge, even if Kerry have that intangible hand of history guiding them to Clones tomorrow.

We're still in the height of the hottest summer anyone cares to remember but for Kerry, tomorrow evening could start the longest winter they've known in a long time.

Odds: Monaghan 2/1, Draw 8/1, Kerry 8/15

Verdict: Kerry

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