Posted by Ewan MacKenna
Thursday 14 June 2012
Both results surprised people. But neither should have because expectations were built on a name crafted in the past but struggling, relatively, in the present.
When Galway and Kerry dropped out of their provincial championships at the weekend it raised eyebrows but if the Connacht side were merely being kept down, the Munster men were being put down and that, after one of their most glorious eras even by their own dizzying standards, rightly got everyone talking.
Even so, some people are slow to write Kerry off. In a way, they are correct because they made that mistake in 2009 when back they came with heart and thunder and skill and passion to win an All Ireland. Once bitten, twice shy but for all the similarities on the surface, the situations are very different and even Kerry’s tactics suggest that a manager as talented Jack O’Connor knows it.
A year ago when they beat Cork in Killarney, I proclaimed it one of his greatest hours because he’d gotten the better of a superior team and maximised his resources. But a year on and their value has dropped and getting the most out of those resources is negating what were once Kerry’s biggest strengths. That is football’s loss.
If you just go through their forward lines, you can see why people still think they are contenders. On paper, a front six of Paul Galvin, Darran O’Sullivan, Declan O’Sullivan, Colm Cooper, Kieran Donaghy and Kieran O’Leary could carry them to an All-Ireland, even if so many of those names are lacking form and composure right now. But on grass, they don’t and can’t line up like that.
It’s sad to see, but from one to seven, there are so many problems that the first three names on that list are having to drop into unorthodox positions closer to their own goals and with so many miles on the clock, they simply don’t have the legs to counter and break like Dublin and Cork.
On top of that, Donaghy is being forced to play several roles in all parts of the field, robbing Kerry of their greatest asset which is he and Cooper tormenting teams close to goal. It’s obvious why Jack O’Connor has had to do this. His logic is there is no point in having a deadly inside-forward line if you can’t get them the ball, and with a spine of defence featuring Seamus Scanlon, Eoin Brosnan and Aidan O’Mahony, a lack of pace is being compensated for by a litany of bodies.
But it’s the chicken and egg scenario. In a way, there’s not much use having the ball when you don’t have forwards in positions they can do damage either and the basic and steady framework that made Kerry so remarkable and so enjoyable to watch has been removed. They are now just papering over the cracks.
Three years ago, they came back but three years ago they had the presence of Tom O’Sullivan, Darragh, Tadhg Kennelly and Tommy Walsh not to mention the form of and obvious roles for Donaghy and Declan O’Sullivan as playmaker. Now, they have some decent youngsters but they are untested and it’s unfair, even of Kerry youth, to suggest they can just slot in and pick up where some of the greatest names the sport has ever seen left off.
It’s all relative and Kerry are still in the best three teams in the country but they just aren’t good enough to beat Cork and win it all and while that would be accepted in most counties, it signals a demise in Kerry.
Indeed, suddenly their thoughts should be on avoiding being beaten by the likes of Kildare or Mayo later in the year, because counties at that level no longer fear and would love a go at this Kerry team.
In many ways, Sunday was like a Sunday in 1987 when Cork beat Kerry and signaled a red tide that took over the rivalry for years to come. That’s what will now happen again because, while Kerry enter a period of obvious and much-needed transition where youngsters are not simply used in the league and dropped for big summer days out of loyalty, Cork are the strongest they’ve been since that 1987 team began their run.
That’s not a shot at Kerry, but even they have to go from being great to merely good for a few seasons here and there, and while they’ll be competitive and still lingering about come the tail end of the championship, they will not be the last-man standing this season or for a couple of years to come. To think anything else is blind faith.
Granted, that’s still a long way ahead of where Galway find themselves and if Kerry being forced to adapt has seen them stutter, Galway’s inability to adapt has seen them crumble.
We warned after the Roscommon victory that they needed a Plan B because what made them so good in that win was obvious, would be targeted and could bring them down against Sligo. That’s exactly what happened.
Declan Maxwell showed a couple of seasons ago that Finian Hanley isn’t good on a physical full-forward and Adrian Marren proved it again; Gareth Bradshaw was forced to defend more than attack; we’ve said again and again Joe Bergin isn’t an alpha midfielder and Sligo dominated in his neighborhood; and having a defender stand in front of as well as behind Paul Conroy not only negated the talented full-forward but stopped the supply to the five men around him because Galway had no other obvious route to goal.
Alan Mulholland is shrewd enough to address that, just as Jack O’Connor is good enough to reinvent his team. But while we haven’t seen the last of either side for 2012 they aren’t good enough to win anything in 2012 either. Both defeats at the weekend surprised people, but don’t be surprised that both counties are now medium-term projects rather than short-term contenders.
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