As usual, this attempt at an article will not be in a “media type” style. It will simply break a game down into unusual short stanza’s that entertain my thought process, written off the cuff.
I was never one for the blanket defence. In ways, one of the reasons I am enamoured with the early stages of a championship is because the football is free flowing and filled with scores. As well as the anticipation for another season, we get to see a new star forward, a gritty corner back or a midfield colossus grace the field for the first time. Not only did Kerry bring a bunch of new (often unassuming) stars to this year’s championship, but they did it using several different sets of tactics.
After five minutes of the final, one could notice an anomaly – Donegal were facing something they haven’t faced before – their own renowned and infamous tactics. No one has succeeded using such a precarious plan against the past masters of the system and “the chosen one” Jim McGuinness.
One must presume that McGuinness had faith in what got him there, just why there was no change of emphasis or plan from Donegal over the seventy minutes, with the exception of the introduction of Christy Toye to act as a ball winner before the half hour mark. While it has been said that Kerry “out Donegal-ed” Donegal, McGuinness must have been licking his chops at the thought of his team facing the kind of defence which they meet in training 4 days a week for the past four years. Jimmy obviously was not prepared for such a change of Kerry’s mentality as O’Connor’s inclusion was based on Kerry playing their traditional game.
One must remember that the Donaghy goal turned the game completely upon its head. It came from nowhere (well, poor Paul Durcan) and forced Donegal to chase the game again having worked for forty minutes to claw back from Geeney’s early suckerpunch. This is where the difference was in the teams today. When Kerry smelt blood they could adapt and change up their gameplan, which was in part enabled by the goals and their timing. Easily observed was how Kerry sporadically pushed up and attacked Donegal in different areas of the field, especially on kick outs, where Donegal reigned supreme against Dublin yet were beaten out by top quality zonal play by Kerry in the middle third. Donegal were allowed to win short kick outs, but the break afterwards was slow and ponderous, allowing the Kerry half backs become sweepers while the Donegal half forwards funnelled back to move the ball. This less severe version of the blanket confused Donegal as they carried ball into double contact praying for frees. Then, almost to give certain players a break, Fitzmaurice moved more men back and allowed a more direct route one form of football to be played to Donaghy at the edge of the square. The flexibility of Donaghy allows Kerry to fluctuate between and amalgamate three separate game plans which have been morphed over the past two years.
One must acknowledge how brave a decision it was by Eamon Fitzmaurice to use such tactics against the masters of the blanket. It was gutsy to believe that having played straight up man to man football for most of the year (bar the first half against Mayo in Croke Park), the players from 5-12 would have the engines to play against a team who live in such a system. Switching between direct traditional football and the modern day mania is not something that has been successfully done before, thus why Kerry did it for the first time today – it is not sustainable.
The only way to beat a top quality blanket defence is to beat it at its own game, that is exactly what Eamon Fitzmaurice and Kerry did today. Jim McGuinness and co treat their system as a Bible as opposed to a template and we witnessed what happens when they abandon the system (while behind) against Mayo last year. They stick to it no matter what and this inability to change tack and push up on Kerry proved detrimental to their cause. While it is precarious to face fire with fire against the Donegal system, it’s also hazardous for Donegal to go into every game knowing their system must beat ever changing and ever evolving gameplans.
Donegal have lived and died by the sword, now we know the result.
While Donegal were tactically beaten, confined to a system which dictates whether they live or die – they lost by one score having:
- Hit the post in the final moments
- Dealt with a first minute suckerpunch goal
- Having not scored a point from play for nearly half an hour
- Having been flat by their high standards.
Several other things went against Donegal today, how and why, no one will know. Fifty fifty calls and balls did not fall their way. It all started early on when Karl Lacey deflected a shot at goal, forcing it short and landing in the arms of Paul Geaney who finished beautifully past Durcan, executioner style. Anthony Thompson was clean through on goal but for the sun catching his eyes and the ball catching his heel. O’Connor’s shot at goal nutmeged Kelly (off his ankle), missing the post by inches and was incorrectly brandished as a wide despite twice hitting Kerry men on its way out. One could argue Donnacha Walsh should have seen a black card early on and we all know how Donaghy’s goal came about.
Donegal’s cruel luck is summed up by their final attack. Murphy pulled five bodies towards him before laying off the ball and Paddy McBrearty’s shot was deflected. Were the ball at the other end of the field, it would have spun away from the already moving keeper towards Brick Molloy and an empty net. Instead, Colm McFadden threw one last gasp fist forwards the ball, which hit the butt of the post, again bouncing away from the target. Kerry still had to beat them, but sometimes it just is not your day.
This was probably the poorest final I can remember in my fifteen years of remembering them and was saved by the fact it was a close game. Kerry’s unfrequented gameplan left them with a lack of options in the final third compared to what we associate with them, even sacrificing the obvious player of the year James O’Donoghue to be a facilitator and grafter.
In my eyes, no one stood out for Kerry today whatsoever as I find it difficult to reward a man who’s Christmases came at once (Donaghy). Their backline was a unit that worked as exactly that and Murphy (in getting his Man Of The Match Award) was rewarded for being the most notably solid cog in the unit.
This section was saved for one man who deserves no criticism, the finest footballer in the country: Michael Murphy.
Murphy’s brilliance comes from the fact that he can play in any system and is simply a quality footballer. Even more so than this, he sacrifices himself for his squad. Scoring a modest (for him) 0-4 (3F) in All-Ireland final does not stand out, however his overall contribution was magnificent in what was a putrid game.
Aidan O’Mahony did what he has done for years, hit his marker as hard as he can. Murphy as a robust strong man is given no protection as he roams the field under McGuinness system, occasionally taking breaks at his best position, full forward. While in the modern game, star men like Bernard Brogan and James O’Donoghue are afforded protection, loitering near the watching umpires, Murphy was exposed in the air jumping for kick outs with the promise of having a lump taken out of him as he returned to ground. Murphy has played nearly every minute for McGuinness over the past four years (up to two All Ireland Finals, one semi final and one quarter final), yet still had the hunger and power to create a final chance for Donegal to salvage a draw. He did not panic as the overly high hand pass came toward him, bypassing one wall of defence before bouncing off two Kerry men, unselfishly passing the ball off.
The chance was not converted, but despite all their warnings, Kerry still could not prevent Murphy from creating it, doing a Captain’s part and playing to the final whistle. What is not realised is that without Murphy, Donegal may not have even got through Ulster. It is a tragedy that Murphy cannot play in a man on man, traditional football team where he could do havoc, but even so, he does enough of it now.
See, we were all idiots. Why? We wrote Kerry off early in the year.
Amidst a backdrop of retirements, injuries, poor league form and low expectations, Éamonn Fitzmaurice pointed his Kerry team towards the championship at the start of this summer. We ignored them, even when they demolished Cork in James O’Donoghue’s masterpiece. We ignored them when they schooled Galway for the opening twenty minutes on the undercard of Mayo v Cork. What Fitzmaurice has achieved since then has been remarkable and is a marvellous feat of management.
He saw his Kerry team defeat two of the last four All-Ireland champions as well as prevailing in a two-game saga against a team that lost the last two deciders. His gameplan was heroic today in toppling Donegal and he shaped a team with few superstars which had nine players starting their first All-Ireland senior final into becoming champions. Much like Donegal and McGuinness, Kerry believe and act on everything Fitzmaurice says and their belief in their history, tradition and one another tells them that everything will work out. It’s not a cocky bravado, it’s just simple confidence.
Never write the bastards off.
Even without Gooch.