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Tactics, Big Calls & Drama As Kerry Take Second Shot At Dubs

It was an absolute pleasure to be in attendance at last weeks All Ireland Football Final. Even though I had no real skin in the game – although I would love to see our old coach Donie Buckley finally lifting Sam – the tension was incredible.

GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final, Croke Park, Dublin 1/9/2019 Dublin vs Kerry Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly shoots at goal while Kerry’s Paul Geaney attempts to block Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

Supporters all around us could barely watch as the clock ticked to the 70th minute mark and beyond. Enda McGinley had a great line on OTB last week, delighting in the fact that

“the showcase football game of the year had absolutely showcased all that was good about the game”.

Enda McGinley

With the replay almost upon us, the question on everyone’s lips is have Kerry missed their chance? Perspective is an amazing thing and the glass half empty observer will say they have.

GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final, Croke Park, Dublin 1/9/2019 Dublin vs Kerry Dublin’s goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton saves a penalty Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

A missed penalty. Two other goal opportunities saved. Having an extra man for more than half the game. Leading by a point as the game was in injury time. Getting nearly every match up spot on (a real calling card of Donie’s).

GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final, Croke Park, Dublin 1/9/2019 Dublin vs Kerry Dublin’s Jonny Cooper is shown a red card Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

While the glass half full people will say they are still in with a great chance. Down 5 points on two separate occasions and playing their way back into the game. The 3 headed monster of Clifford, O’Brien and Geaney not being as clinical as they normally would be. Looking comfortable going man-to-man on Mannion, O’Callaghan et al. Getting a certain amount of joy from the full court press on the Dublin kickout.

The 2 week break should certainly allow the bodies to recover fully from the fierce battles that took place all over the field. And it should also allow the players to reset mentally. The immediate feeling as we headed down the staircases of the Hogan Stand was that Kerry had missed their opportunity. But as the days have passed I’m not so sure. As I said, perspective.

GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final, Croke Park, Dublin 1/9/2019 Dublin vs Kerry Kerry fans cheer on their team Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

The perspective from our seats in the Upper Hogan during the game was ideal. The tag line “Nothing Beats Being There” really comes into its own when you have the tactical game of chess that was going on prior to every kickout. W.B. Yeats said “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper”.

To see Kerry leaving the likes of Paul Mannion and Con O’Callaghan free in their own half while they tried to crack the Cluxton kickout was intriguing. And this was mirrored in the closing minutes when Dublin put their own full court press on, resulting in Cluxton himself doing a man marking job on Tommy Walsh! Magic.

How the teams have addressed the tactical battle on kickouts in the 2 weeks will be key. As much as Kerry got some joy pushing up – “only” allowing Dublin to win 19/25 restarts – the Dublin goal came directly from this approach, so some tinkering might be needed. Dublin obviously will be looking to recreate those sort of scenarios should Kerry be so bold again.

The match ups will have been poured over also. I can’t imagine Kerry will make too many changes here, with the exception being who picks up Jack McCaffrey! I did worry going in that Gavin White would be under pressure here if given the job and so it turned out. Jim Gavin on the other hand has some big calls to make.

Jonny Cooper was in bother with David Clifford from the off. Mick Fitzsimons seemed to fare better once switched over so I would expect him to continue in that role. Who partners Brian Fenton at midfield also needs addressing. Could there be a bolt from the blue?

GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final, Croke Park, Dublin 1/9/2019 Dublin vs Kerry Dublin’s Jonny Cooper fouls David Clifford of Kerry leading to his second yellow card and being sent off Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The possibility that Dublin’s under 20 star Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne could make a “Walter Walsh” like introduction to the Senior Intercounty landscape? It would be very un-Jim Gavin-like. But then again the welcoming back of Diarmuid Connolly went against his normal modus operandi.

Who makes the sub bench will also be interesting, with the Kerry bench making a much more telling impact the last day. In the 2016 replay against Mayo, Gavin made 3 changes to the starting team from the drawn game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar number of changes this Saturday either.

Most of those Dublin players have dealt with this experience before. And they say you often don’t get a second chance to knock champs off their pedestal. The element of surprise could be gone for Kerry, but it might be replaced with that vital ingredient – genuine belief. Whether that’s enough remains to be seen. But it’s a lot more than most teams have when lining up against the Blue Machine.

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