herald

Friday 20 September 2019

Kerry may need to be brave and delay tactical trump card

Stephen Cluxton
Stephen Cluxton

Apart from being an All-Ireland winning manager, éamonn Fitzmaurice is something of a fortune-teller.

Ahead of Mayo's semi-final duel with the Dubs, the former Kerry boss wrote in his Irish Examiner column: "If James Horan is going to spring a surprise, if I was him I would keep it until the second half. The reason I say this is (Jim) Gavin and Dublin are outstanding (the best I have seen) at adapting at half-time and making the right alterations to affect the second half."

Remind us what happened next? Oh yes, Mayo ticked almost every required first-half box to lead by 0-8 to 0-6.

Then Dublin regrouped, readjusted, turned up the pressure gauge and hit Mayo for an unanswered 2-6 in the first 12 minutes of the second half. Game over; roll onto the final lap of the Drive for Five.

Which brings us to Fitzmaurice's own county.

If Kerry are to prevent the long-predicted coronation of Gaelic football's first five-in-a-row champions, there is a belief that it won't happen in 'normal' circumstances.

Kerry may have the firepower but can they outscore Dublin in a shoot-out? They couldn't do so in 2013 or 2016, so why now - with such an unproven defence?

Cunning

In this scenario, the onus is on Peter Keane & Co to conjure up a cunning plan that will take Dublin out of their Croke Park comfort zone.

And even such relatively straightforward potential gambits - recall Jack Barry with the job spec of sticking to Brian Fenton like Bostik; utilise 'wing-back' Gavin White as a nominal wing-forward detailed to match Jack McCaffrey, lightning stride for stride - are unlikely to confound Jim Gavin.

You need to perfect a kick-out press that will put Stephen Cluxton (above) on the back foot. You need to unearth an Achilles heel in a Dublin defence that has conceded just two goals - and only one from play - in seven championship outings.

But what happens if your initial plan works - quite brilliantly - for 35 minutes? Even that may not be enough.

In the aforementioned column, Fitzmaurice referenced the semi-finals of 2013 and 2016 as proof of Dublin's ability to think their way out of half-time trouble.

In 2013, with Colm Cooper conducting the orchestra and James O'Donoghue on fire, Kerry led by 3-5 to 1-9 in the ultimate shoot-out.

Half-time was Dublin's salvation. Cian O'Sullivan reverted from midfield to man-mark Cooper and 'the Gooch', while still a factor, was not the defining influence he had been. Thus, that classic contest was all-square before a late 2-1 salvo sealed victory for the Sky Blues.

In 2016, Dublin's half-time predicament appeared even more acute. They had been seemingly in control, five up, before Kerry hit them for 2-4 on the spin to leave them literally spinning.

An ambitious full-court press on Cluxton's kick-start had been central to it all ... and now Dublin trailed by five at the break. But again they fought - and thought - their way out of a crisis.

With 20-20 hindsight, you could argue that Kerry's fatal mistake - both days - was to go for the jugular/unveil their chief tactical weapon in the first half, not the second.

Top-secret

Yet it's a devilishly difficult conundrum: if you hold something in reserve, is there not the real danger that Dublin will be out the gap before you have time to unveil your top-secret Plan B?

This is the scenario facing Keane right now. After his hugely influential cameo against Tyrone, there has been much speculation that Tommy Walsh may be unleashed to terrorise the Dublin full-back line.

But would Kerry be better advised waiting for the last 20 minutes? And what about the almost forgotten X-factor, a fit-again O'Donoghue?

Who'd be a manager?

Promoted articles

Entertainment News