Gerard O'Kane

Gerard O’Kane – This is what Kerry must do

THE replay? Sure Kerry have missed the boat haven’t they? Yeah, sure favourites always win a replay.

At an educated guess, that would be roughly the gist of most conversations regarding this Saturday’s match.

It is probably based around the fact that Kerry had their chances in the drawn game, missed in the region of two goals and five points, which they would normally nail, and Dublin were down to 14 men. Is there anything else that Kerry could have really asked for?

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Also people have been drawing comparisons with the Kilkenny All-Ireland wins in 2012 and 2014 where they came back in the replay to win by 11 points and three points respectively.

Ask me now who will be triumphant on Saturday and I would say Dublin, probably for most of the same reasons.

They always say that whoever learns the most from the drawn game will win the replay and while Dublin certainly may have more to learn, Kerry have maybe, learned the single most important thing – that they are able to live with Dublin. They are able to put it up to Dublin and most of all they are certainly not inferior to them in any way.

Sitting in the front row of the top deck of Croke Park two weeks’ ago, I had the perfect view to watch a game that had basically everything you would want in a match. Although I recently criticised the GAA’s policy on a 90-euro admission as a whole around the ground, I would doubt that anyone left feeling short changed. As I get older I watch the game from a different angle, the match-ups, tactics and set plays involved. I was able to see a lot of the things a camera doesn’t pick up and it was truly fascinating.

I saw Dublin try to keep the pitch as wide as possible with Niall Sully running outside the flags on three occasions in a bid to stretch the game and to keep his Kerry marker, Brian O’Beaglaoich, as honest as possible and leave him having to make the decision to either track him or cover in towards the ‘D’.

I saw the Kerry ’keeper to struggle to find a free man on kick-outs even though they had a spare man out the field, or did they? I watched as Stephen Cluxton moved into a man-marking position in full-back on the closest Kerry man to goals, allowing the Dublin players to all shuffle up one and make it 14 v 14 out the field on the Kerry kick-outs.

Maybe the most extreme of all was watching Kerry going on a maximum press on the Dublin kick-out to cut out the pockets of space for Cluxton. This involved everyone pushing up 20 or 30 yards and leaving both Mannion and O’Callaghan completely free with even the Kerry ’keeper playing in front of them.

That’s not to say this always worked as it’s well documented that this is how the goal Dublin came about and Con O’Callaghan’s point towards the end of the first half was also the same.

To watch players in this environment, under that intense pressure in front of 82,300 and still to be able to retain the presence of mind to execute these sorts of things, it was exhausting just to watch. Were a club team to try these sorts of things I can just imagine the switch off and mistakes that would lead to a breakdown in communications with scores plundered everywhere. It would definitely make for a more exciting affair!

On the referee, I think he got all the big calls right. There will always be debate and consternation as shown in The Sunday Game studio at half-time but in essence, since the dust has settled and folk have had time to gather their thoughts and put all bias aside, making those calls in a split-second and getting them correct is something which David Gough should be roundly commended for.

Approaching the game on Saturday, some of the bigger decisions probably lie in the Dublin camp. The big one for Kerry is whether to start Tommy Walsh. I think they probably should as it may force a reshuffle in the Dublin defence and force their hand to accommodate Kerry, something which Dublin usually don’t do.

For Dublin, Jim Gavin may give the starting team a chance to fully redeem themselves as a few of them were unusually below par in the drawn game.

The Dublin manager was unusually slow to make changes in his team. People question the role Cian O’Sullivan could have played. While not being privy to his physical condition I think it was more tactical.

Given Dublin were a man down, the role Cian traditionally plays is a sweeping or a sitting off role. With Kerry already having a numerical advantage out the field, for O’Sullivan to play that role it would have effectively left Dublin with 12 outfield players matching up to 14 outfield Kerry players with O’Sullivan sweeping.

The sending off forced Gavin’s hand in this regard and I can understand why O’Sullivan was not used. Of course Jim Gavin does not feel the need to come out and answer to the supporters as to what decisions he makes and why but that’s what I believe was the reason.

All we can do is look forward to hopefully another cracking encounter and hope that two teams leave it all out on the field.

The final aside, the other big decision in the last few weeks in GAA circles has been the appointment of Rory Gallagher to the position of Derry manager. Seen by some as controversial and others as just what Derry need, I’ll let you all know my thoughts on it in a few weeks time.

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