If episode one of this year’s Munster Final could be sourced as the motion against Kerry’s hopes of All-Ireland glory in 2015, Saturday evening’s renewal might just have been the counterargument. With the exception of Kieran Donaghy and Johnny Buckley, none of the Kingdom’s starting fifteen would have been disappointed with their own individual performance. If the Kerry defence was pliable last time out, that certainly wasn’t the case on Saturday. Cork are not lacking in firepower, but they failed to score once the 45th minute had elapsed. The talented Brian Hurley didn’t actually score at all, in either game. Shane Enright’s next of kin can be rightly proud.
‘This isn’t a great Kerry team’ was the confident declaration made by Joe Brolly in the aftermath of the teams’ original skirmish. It’s not the most controversial articulation that the Derryman has ever made. The fact that no response has been forthcoming from Kerry’s normally easily offended population gives a certain backing to his claim. But such a complacent performance will not be seen from the Kingdom again this summer, even against Fermanagh or Westmeath next time out. Brolly might not be wrong in saying that Kerry don’t have a great team at their disposal right now, but he stopped short of saying they weren’t All-Ireland contenders. That might yet prove a wise move on Brolly’s part.
The decision to confer the game’s ‘Man of the Match’ award on James O’Donoghue has caused notable disquiet, and rightly so. Enright, Moran, Lyne, Sheehan, Walsh and Geaney could all be argued to have supplied superior contributions. You could argue that Cooper was also more influential upon his introduction, as the Kingdom moved seamlessly from the long ball tactic that had been in operation during Donaghy’s stint. That’s not to say that O’Donoghue had a poor outing, he didn’t, but it is indicative of an obvious improvement from the Kingdom’s service men throughout the acreage of Fitzgerald Stadium.
This might not be the most gifted panel in Kerry’s history, but what they do have is an intelligent, adaptable group of footballers that can ably realise the ploys of Eamonn Fitzmaurice. They also have bottle. This is a much maligned cluster, but they’re All-Ireland champions. Judging by what’s been produced by the opposition over the last two weekends, they might still be by the time winter sets in.
Last year’s All-Ireland Championship was declared a foregone conclusion long before last year’s semi-finals took place. Sam was to remain in the capital for years to come. Yet, when Dublin came up against the Donegal blanket, they were left to choke on wool, for all their undoubted attacking ability. Worse still, Donegal had enough ability in the final third to burgle the ghost estate that was the Dublin defence. A week ago, Dublin had their first opportunity to prove that they had learned something from that humbling day out.
Westmeath do not have anything like the staff available to Donegal, but they limited Dublin to fifteen scores, eleven less than the 26 the Dubs had averaged in the two games prior to that, against a similar level of opposition. The Lakesiders overturned possession with regularity, and Dublin’s attack flailed for much of the encounter. But Westmeath are not All-Ireland contenders, and, understandably, had nothing by way of an attacking plan. That they only managed to score seven points had nothing to do with excellent defending from the Dubs. The ghost estate was still unoccupied, but Westmeath did not have the know-how or the human resources to break and enter. Donegal have already proven that they can meet those requirements. The Kerry team of 2015 could yet do the same.
If Kerry needn’t fear Dublin, then the weekend that has just passed suggests they needn’t fear the men from Tír Chonaill either. Michael Murphy might well be the best footballer in the country, but he has now failed to score a point from play in the last three Ulster finals. He was similarly ineffective against Kerry in last year’s national showpiece. That’s not a poor reflection on Murphy, it simply owes to good planning. Donegal haven’t been terminated, but they’re staggering along a dark alley clasping a stab wound after their altercation with Monaghan on Sunday. Though they have paired their blanket with a piquant counter attack ably for some five years, when that same weaponry is in the hands of the opposition they have never responded convincingly. They didn’t last Sunday, and they certainly didn’t against Kerry last year.
Mayo could yet be the team to pose Kerry with the most beguiling questions, but that’s not to say Kerry should be stiflingly wary. The Westerners should probably have advanced to last year’s final at Kerry’s expense, but they only really managed to outclass the Kingdom in the second half of their first meeting. In the 35 minutes that predated that pummelling, Kerry had the upper hand. Cormac Reilly might well have been the replay’s decisive factor, but Kerry performed very well and never looked obviously inferior to Mayo.
The weekend just gone could hardly have been kinder to the Kerry cause, which applies to events that were in their hands, and those happening many miles away. Not a great Kerry team? Arguably true. Not All-Ireland contenders? Inarguably false.