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5 key tactical decisions facing the Kerry and Tyrone managers

Peter Keane and Brian Dooher/Feargal Logan have plenty to consider heading into tomorrow’s semi-final.

1. How do Tyrone shut down this Kerry attack?

TAKING OUT THEIR draw with Dublin, Kerry have prevailed in the league and championship games by an average winning margin of 15 points. They shot 21 goals across their seven games so far and, most impressively, hit 4-22 against Cork on a day where David Clifford failed to score from play. 

pjimage (9) Kerry manager Peter Keane and joint Tyonre bosses Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan. Source: Inpho

Clifford has had five weeks to stew on that performance and will be fired up coming into Saturday’s game, while the rest of Peter Keane’s attack have been playing with finesse and confidence. 

The dilemma for Tyrone is how do they provide enough cover in defence without completing sacrificing their attacking game?

They played with a sweeper against Donegal and may use Kieran McGeary in a similar role on Saturday. Tyrone will certainly look to slow the game down when Kerry have possession and they’ll be focused on shutting down Clifford and Sean O’Shea.

Ronan McNamee will probably pick up Clifford again with Padraig Hampsey following O’Shea, who’ll spent time at 14 and 11. Michael McKernan’s athleticism makes him the most likely candidate to track Paudie Clifford, with Tiernan McCann or Peter Harte stationed on Stephen O’Brien.

A major concern for Tyrone is the versatility of the Kerry forward line. Paul Geaney, O’Shea, Paudie Clifford and O’Brien are equally comfortable on the half and full forward lines, so Kerry will rotate their front six and look for mis-matches in the Red Hand defence.

It will be fascinating to see how Tyrone set-up defensively. Can they swarm Kerry’s attack and force them into taking pot-shots from outside the scoring zone? Simply put, they’ll need to stop Kerry getting into their rhythm and bring the game into chaos, like Mayo did in the second-half against Dublin.

2. Kerry’s press on Morgan restarts

niall-morgan Niall Morgan's kick-outs will be key for Tyrone. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Kerry’s full-court press involves packing four bodies into both the full-forward and half-forward lines to prevent any short kick-outs, forcing the opposing goalkeeper to go long.

Niall Morgan had a minor meltdown when he shipped six goals against Kerry in the league, recently describing it as the “most embarrassed I have ever been” after an individual performance.

Kerry will be looking to rattle Morgan early doors, but he’s an experienced stopper and playing the best football of his career.

The issue for Kerry in pressing Morgan’s kick-outs is he has a booming kick that could quite easily hit a target in the attacking half of the field. A simple flick on to a runner like Donegal often use with Michael Murphy and Ryan McHugh, could create goalscoring chances for Tyrone. Conor McKenna could be key in this regard.

Securing enough possession on their own restarts is one of the primary challenges for Tyrone coming into this game. Morgan is good at picking out late runs to the flanks from his kicks off the tee. His kick-outs are a weapon if the movement is good outfield. Therein lies the key for Tyrone. 

3. Is there a rabbit out of a hat to be pulled?

killian-spillane Spillane has looked dangerous off the bench for Kerry. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It’s four weeks since we last saw Tyrone in action and five since Kerry played. That makes it difficult to predict how these sides will line-out, although the Kingdom have been more consistent in their team selection thus far.

Tyrone were down four players for the Ulster final – Frank Burns, Tiernan McCann, Richie Donnelly and Rory Brennan – and their return will seriously bolster Logan and Dooher’s hand.

Cathal McShane and Darragh Canavan only appeared off the bench against Monaghan after working their way back to full fitness following injury lay-offs. Both would have benefited hugely from the lengthy gap between games. 2019 All-Star McShane looked rusty on his last outing in Croke Park, but he may well have turned his form around in the meantime. 

McShane, in particular, could come into the reckoning to start, which would give Kerry a major issue given their lack of size in the full-back line. 

It’s possible that Tyrone held back some stuff tactically in Ulster, with one eye on the All-Ireland series. 

Kerry have had five weeks to scheme for Tyrone, so they’ll have plans in place for most eventualities. The energy and honest running of Micheál Burns might be required on the half-forward line.

Killian Spillane and Tommy Walsh will most likely be held back for their impact sub roles, but throwing either one in from the start could mess up Tyrone’s defensive match-ups.

Will Keane start three midfielders (David Moran, Diarmuid O’Connor and Jack Barry) as he did against Cork?

Plenty to ponder for both management teams heading into this one. 

4. Tyrone’s plan for goals

cathal-mcshane-with-killian-lavelle McShane's form has been patchy so far this summer. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Raising green flags has been an issue for Tyrone this season. They’ve scored just four goals across seven games and lack the sort of poachers that their opponents possess. Darren McCurry will kick points all day but unlike an inside attacker like Con O’Callaghan, his first instinct isn’t to go for goal first.

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It’s not a huge part of Mattie Donnelly’s game either, which isn’t surprising as he’s a converted full-forward. That’s why starting McShane, who has three championship goals to his name, might be tempting for Logan and Dooher. 

To win an All-Ireland, you need a goal threat and it’s probably something Tyrone have focused on in recent weeks. Their best goal threat comes on the counter attack. If they can pack their defence and force a turnover, Tyrone have the transition players like Niall Sludden, Harte and McCann to break at speed. 

Kerry’s forwards are excellent footballers, but Tyrone can ask them questions going the other way. There are question marks hanging over the Kingdom full-back line, so creating one-on-ones with overlapping runners from deep will be Tyrone’s best chance of rattling the back of Shane Ryan’s net.

5. Kerry’s defensive match-ups

brian-o-beaglaoich-blocks-a-shot-on-goal-by-brian-hurley Ó Beaglaoich blocks a shot on goal by Brian Hurley in the Munster final. Source: Brian Reilly-Troy/INPHO

The perception around this Kerry team is they have the forwards to win an All-Ireland, but their defence is the Achilles heel.

Does Keane stick with his full-back line of Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Foley and Tom O’Sullivan? Foley had a good league but was given a torrid time by Brian Hurley, before  Ó Beaglaoich moved across and shut down the Cork forward. 

Tadhg Morley could come into the reckoning to beef up their defence, which may be required if Tyrone start raining high ball into their full-forward line. 

Tyrone’s arsenal of dangerous forwards have put up tallies of 1-18, 0-23 and 0-16 in the championship so far. They’re a step above the calibre of attackers Kerry have faced so far this summer.

Tyrone’s transition game and the movement of the likes of Mark Bradley and Conor McKenna will open up gaps for others to exploit. 

Gavin White and O’Sullivan have been excellent at bombing forward in Munster, but this game will give a real test of their defensive credentials. 

“Everybody in Kerry acknowledges that defensively, that’s where our flaws are,” Colm Cooper admitted earlier this year. 

No better time than an All-Ireland semi-final for the Kerry backs to quell all the talk of their defensive weakness. 

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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