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Key to the Kingdom: three reasons why Kerry trumped Cork yesterday

Ger McCarthy analyses the areas of dominance which gave Kerry their three-point victory in yesterday’s Munster SFC Final.

Marc O'Se and Darran O'Sullivan celebrate at the end of the game.
Marc O'Se and Darran O'Sullivan celebrate at the end of the game.
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

IF YESTERDAY’S MUNSTER SFC taught us anything, it is that the both the Kingdom and the Rebels remain serious threats in this year’s All-Ireland Football Championship.

A richly deserved Kerry victory was orchestrated by the cute tactics of Jack O’Connor, implemented by a fluid attacking sextet and above all a renewed hunger and desire to get one over their bitter rivals, Cork.

A full house in the picturesque Fitzgerald Stadium witnessed a game of two halves with Kerry dominating the first period and Cork roaring back in the second before eventually falling short by just three points. The energy-sapping heat failed to upset an engaging encounter in which Kerry deservedly booked a place in the quarter finals.

Three reasons the green and gold secured a morale-boosting victory that sets them up nicely heading into the latter stages of the summer are as follows:

Superior tactics

Jack O’Connor’s decision to deploy Kieran Donaghy to midfield at various times during Sunday’s Munster final proved a masterstroke. The Kerry full forward – annoyingly referred to as ‘star’ by Marty Morrissey during RTE’s coverage – released his team mates with some astute passes from the centre of the pitch and tormented Graham Canty when he moved to the edge of the square.

The decision to swap Declan O’Sullivan between the full-forward line and the midfield area also reaped dividends with the Kerry forward kicking some sublime scores and deservedly taking the man of the match award.

Kerry’s tactic of flooding the midfield area by retreating their half-forward line and pushing up their half-backs also worked a treat as it nullified the much vaunted Cork centre-field pairing and forced the Rebels to go short on their kick-outs.

On an afternoon when gaining possession of ‘the dirty ball’ around midfield proved pivotal, Jack O’Connor’s decision to hold back on introducing Paul Galvin was also important as the former footballer of the year will be fully fit and raring to go when Kerry’s last eight encounter swings around in a month’s time.

Better forwards

The movement, fluidity, accurate kick-passing and scoring ability of the six Kerry forwards during a dominant opening half was as fine a display as you are likely to witness in the championship this year.

The Kingdom’s forwards were certainly helped by a lacklustre start from the Cork defence who looked leaden-footed and unsure how to close down the Kerry attack as the home side racked up point after point. The Rebels’ wayward passing out of defence only invited the Kerry forwards onto them and aided the Munster champions in their stunning first-half performance.

Bryan Sheehan, Darran O’Sullivan and Declan O’Sullivan ruled the 40 yard line and dove-tailed to devastating effect in the early exchanges. Declan O’Sullivan kicked four wonderful points while Darran contributed a fantastic goal whilst soloing through a porous Cork defence at full speed.

It says much for Kerry’s victory when talisman and captain Colm Cooper had an unusual ‘off day’ by his own high standards. In the absence of the Gooch’s usual influence, the likes of Donnchadh Walsh as well as newcomers James O’Donoghue and Kieran O’Leary got their names on the score sheet and kept the Cork back division busy with plenty of unselfish off the ball running.

At the apex of Kerry’s attack stood Kieran Donaghy. Moving seamlessly between the full forward line and midfield area, the number 14 demonstrated his array of passing, handling and shooting skills. Such was Donaghy’s influence that many in the crowd and watching at home were left wondering how much longer Graham Canty would be left on the field with his influence on proceedings completely nullified until the Bantry man was moved into centre back.

Hunger and Desire

Much of the talk heading into Sunday’s Munster final was how Kerry would manage to break even in terms of possession around the centre of the park having to face the much heralded midfield duo of Cork’s Aidan Walsh and Alan O’Connor.

By the end of the game it was the Kerry midfield pairing of Anthony Maher and Bryan Sheehan who had stolen the headlines with an all-action display that forced Cork to resort to short kick-outs. You cannot coach hunger and desire into players. Either they have it or they don’t when it comes to the cut and thrust of the championship.

Former Kerry players such as Pat Spillane and Dara O’Sé were quoted recently at saying there was nothing like the sight of a Cork jersey to get the blood boiling and inspire a Kerry footballer to victory. Going on Sunday’s first half performance, the Kingdom are now serious contenders for this year’s title as they blew away the reigning champions early on before managing to hold out for a three-point win despite a tired second half display.

Follow Ger on Twitter for regular GAA updates: @offcentrecircle

Poll: Should Kieran Donaghy have seen red yesterday?

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