Galway and Kerry face off this Sunday to see who is crowned 2022 All-Ireland senior football champions.
At the start of the year not many would have predicted this pairing but both are in the final on merit.
Both have gone through somewhat of a rebuild over the last number of years with the new management teams taking charge and a host of new players coming on board.
Kerry will always be in the conversation as possible contenders, but given their defensive frailties over the last number of seasons they were always second or third choice in the pecking order. Jack O’Connor identified this and with the addition of Paddy Tally to his backroom team it’s clear this was an area that he went after.
Kerry is different from any other county in that they would never accept a full-blown defensive type of structure down there so O’Connor and Tally had to be very careful about it was sold to the Kerry public.
If we cast our minds back to the league games and comments made by pundits looking in, they all said that there was no real evidence of any defensive structure from Kerry early on. If Kerry had gone all out defensively in the League, then no matter what type of results they were getting, I personally feel Kerry folk would become restless and that sort of defensive football wouldn’t have been tolerated. So great credit must go to Jack and Paddy for tweaking the system, offering more cover defensively while keeping the open expansive brand of football Kerry pride themselves on.
If you look at them closely, it’s more about how they defend as individuals and collectively as opposed to simply dropping men back. Tadhg Morley is the only player who is really given the license to drop off his man and cover the space.
What Kerry do so well is that they hunt you down in packs, setting a trap allowing the opposition player to go into a certain area before four or five of their players converge. More often than not this results in the opposition coughing up possession.
If you flip that on its head, imagine how these Kerry players have been training on this night after night. It’s only natural that their forwards are more comfortable with a claustrophobic environment, so when it comes to game day I personally think that the Kerry players are now better equipped to deal with this sort of pressure where they may have wilted against it in the past.
Galway are similar to Kerry in that their own defensive frailties proved to be their Achilles heel in years gone by and Pádraic Joyce has been open enough to admit it as an area he went after this season. Galway have always produced fantastic naturally gifted footballers, but they struggled with the whole defensive side of football that has crept in over the last number of years.
But, looking on this season, it seems that they now have that department nailed down. In the semi-final with Derry, I think the Galway tactics took us all by surprise. We didn’t fully expect them to mirror what Derry were going to bring to the table, but credit to Joyce and his team with how they met the challenge head on. Their defensive structure was immense and they simply suffocated Derry into submission.
When you look at the two teams, the sort of individuals and the traditional brand of football they love to play, we would hope for an open, expansive game of football on Sunday. It’s a game that I am really looking forward to because when you look at both teams, they have some of the best talent playing the game at the minute.
For the neutrals this should be an absolute cracker. A lot will of course come down to how Galway can handle Sean O’Shea and David Clifford and how Kerry can get to grips with Shane Walsh and Damien Comer, so there are lots of interesting one-to-one battles to look out for also.
I genuinely believe that the way this Galway team play football, they can open up that Kerry defence. If they can convert one or two of the opportunities that present themselves, they have every chance of winning Sam.
I was working at Kerry’s League final win back a few months ago. I met the lads in a well-known Dublin establishment and we shared a few beers into the early hours of the morning. In between a few head locks and arm wrestles, I remember telling them that the only missing piece of the jigsaw was getting David Moran back fully fit at midfield. He wasn’t in the picture back then and if they did so, they would win Sam.
Now that this has happened I’m going to have to stick with my prediction.
Kerry by four.