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3 tactical questions for Kerry and Galway that will shape the All-Ireland final

There’s plenty for Jack O’Connor and Padraic Joyce to ponder.

1. What must Galway do to win the game?

FIRST AND FOREMOST, Galway must handle the David Clifford problem. The way to reduce his impact is not alone to tag him with a good man marker, but also have a good defensive structure around him. 

david-clifford-celebrates-scoring-his-second-goal Kerry's David Clifford celebrates during the 2021 league game against Galway. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

All six of Kerry forwards need watching. Galway must get pressure on Kerry’s kickpassers – David Moran, Paudie Clifford and Sean O’Shea – to stop a steady supply of ball going into the full-forward line. 

They’ll get 12 or 13 bodies back behind the ball, trying to frustrate Kerry and force them into bad shots. It’s a system the Kingdom have struggled with in the past, most notably against Tyrone last year.

Johnny Heaney and Patrick Kelly dropping back from half-forward will allow Galway’s wing-backs tuck in to protect their full-back line. Once they turn the ball over, the Tribesmen must counter-attack at lightning pace. It’s their best route to winning the game. 

If they can keep Damien Comer and Robert Finnerty close to goal, with Shane Walsh as a link man, and transition the ball quickly, that trio can hurt Kerry. With Paul Conroy and Matthew Tierney capable of moving it by foot, and Heaney and Cillian McDaid both strong ball carriers, the early ball inside can do damage. 

kieran-molloy-and-paul-cassidy Can the Galway defence come up trumps? Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

2. How will Kerry handle Galway’s system?

Gavin White has been in a race to prove his fitness for the last fortnight, and if he starts as per Kerry’s named starting XV, it would be a huge boost for Jack O’Connor given how his pace would be crucial in a game like the where both teams will look to transition quickly. 

If White misses out, Paul Murphy looks like a ready made replacement at wing-back. Gavin Crowley is another option, but hasn’t featured much this season. 

Then O’Connor must decide whether he starts his three midfielders David Moran, Jack Barry and Diarmuid O’Connor again. O’Connor played at wing-forward and was quiet against Dublin. Adrian Spillane or Micheál Burns could come into the reckoning here.

Barry and Moran look nailed on to continue their partnership in the middle. Moran’s ability by foot will be a crucial part of the Kerry gameplan. He will look to spray cross field passes inside to target Connor Gleeson’s discomfort under a high ball that Armagh exposed in the quarter-final. 

Kerry must be extremely patient against Galway’s set defence. They’ll have plenty of possession early on and need to keep their width as they look to break down the extra bodies at the back. Outside of Cork, they haven’t faced a system like this. 

It can catch forwards out if they are sloppy with passes and don’t move the ball quickly. They’ll have spent a good deal of the past two weeks working on moving the ball at pace and switching the point of attack.

When they’re probing up front, Kerry must not leave themselves exposed with a two v two, where Finnerty and Comer have only one man to beat. Ideally they’ll have Tadhg Morley and another spare defender sitting back to protect themselves against a counter-attack. 

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paudie-clifford Paudie Clifford is a major threat for Kerry. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

3. Who’ll come out on top in the key match-ups?

Let’s start with Kerry’s defensive match-ups, which appear more straightforward. Jason Foley will pick up Comer and rely on Morley sweeping in front to cut off the kickpasses inside and double up on the Galway attacker.

It’s the biggest challenge Foley has chanced in his career. Comer arrives in full of confidence after posting 2-2 against Derry. However, the Kerry defence have tightened up significantly since the addition of coach Paddy Tally, who has them defending as a unit.

Elsewhere, Tom O’Sullivan looks likely to mark Shane Walsh with Graham O’Sullivan on Robert Finnerty. However, given they put Brian Ó Beaglaoich on Ciaran Kilkenny in the semi-final, Kerry may decide to employ the Ghaeltacht defender on Walsh.

The midfield battle will be interesting, with Paul Conroy v David Moran and Jack Barry v Cillian McDaid the obvious pairings. 

In the Galway rearguard, Sean Kelly is the man they’ll assign to David Clifford. Will Liam Silke or Kieran Molloy be tasked with following Paudie Clifford’s marauding runs? That leaves Jack Glynn to tag Paul Geaney. The match-up between Sean O’Shea and John Daly is another huge tussle that could swing the outcome.

– Updated 10.24: This piece was updated to reflect Gavin White’s inclusion in the Kerry starting XV, and Dara Moynihan’s absence from the matchday panel, as per Kerry’s team announcement on Friday evening.

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Kevin O'Brien

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