MANY teams get labeled with a type of play.
Conor Counihan’s Cork team which I played on is remembered for a physical running game while most Kerry sides are renowned for their kicking. In contrast Jimmy McGuiness’s Donegal are remembered for the combination of blanket defence and aggressive counter attack. Similar to the present Tyrone team.
Really though it's the variety of plays that makes a team unpredictable and more difficult to beat.
Having experienced good and bad days versus Donegal, I can vouch it was very much the variety in their play that made them champions.
Yes, they could kill you on the counter attack with strong running from the likes of Frank McGlynn, Mark McHugh and Karl Lacey and those plays are what stick in the memory. In contrast depending on a particular opponent or the dynamic of the game, they were well able to launch the ball long into their twin towers of Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden. This made them harder to pin down.
Look at Waterford last Sunday in the hurling, strong direct running from Moran, Gleeson and Barron which challenged Cork one way. Also then they had the longer plays to the Brick Walsh in the first half and Maurice Shanahan in the second half.
It was tough to see Cork hurlers lose out after the great summer they’ve had but it was interesting to see how Waterford set up. You might overcome weaker opposition being one dimensional but need more options against the top teams.
This makes sense with the progression of the blanket defence plus the amount of analysis that is done these days. This is related to all aspects of play from kick-outs to forward plays.
Look how Mayo and Tyrone did their homework on Roscommon and Armagh’s kick-outs respectively and reaped the awards.
The remaining four teams in the All-Ireland have this variety in their play. Each team might set up slightly differently but they are similar also in the sense they can work the ball through the hand for scores or go long with an early kick pass.
In Kerry’s case, they have an extra weapon with the high ball into full-forward. I’m not sure Mayo have someone to deal with Kieran Donaghy in his present form.
Mayo might locate a midfielder back to edge of the square but we saw how that didn’t go too well for Galway against Kerry. Irrespective of size, playing in the full-back line is a specialist position.
Some might argue that Dublin’s Johnny Cooper and Philly McMahon have some undesirable characteristics but you must acknowledge they are excellent corner-backs.
To take advantage of Donaghy, Kerry will need to use the ball better. Multiple sloppy turnovers lead to Kerry looking very vulnerable defensively in both the Cork and Galway games.
I think Mayo will follow a similar approach to Roscommon game and start to press Kerry high up the field. This was an area Mayo were particularly good at under James Horan.
The referee could have a big influence here. The 2014 semi-final is remembered for the physicality in the Gaelic Grounds. There is going to be a serious edge in Croke Park this time.
What you would hope is that if there is any blatant pulling or dragging off the ball that a player is punished for it. Looking back last year we remember the off-the-ball battle between Lee Keegan and Diarmuid Connolly in the All-Ireland final.
One or two yellow cards early on and all that nonsense would have stopped. Particularly with the assistance of linesman, those kinds of incidents should be easily dealt with.
Mayo will look to prevent Kerry time to deliver accurate high ball into Donaghy or Paul Geaney.
Easier said than done but it can be done with the right coaching and work-rate of the players come game day.
Dublin proved this in the All-Ireland semi-final replay of 2015. Dublin reduced the threat of Aidan O’Shea through hard work and good decision-making.
Kerry will look to disrupt Mayo by targeting their kick-outs. Over the last few years, Kerry have shown to be the best team at rattling Stephen Cluxton. They began this trend as far back as 2011 when Kerry won 55% of Dublin’s kick-outs.
Mayo were excellent against Roscommon but they were allowed to get into their flow very easily. Any doubts or frustrations of the previous few weeks were forgotten.
Mayo pressurised Roscommon’s kick-out which paid rich dividends but also Roscommon’s use of the ball was very poor. Another key ingredient is pace.
Lee Keegan and Keith Higgins have used their pace in recent weeks to score goals while Stephen O’Brien is a devastating impact sub. These players could be in direct combat and you wonder will Eamonn Fitzmaurice been tempted to start O’Brien to put Keegan or Higgins on the back foot.
The result though will come down to Mayo’s ability to stifle Kerry’s attack. If Kerry are allowed to play they have too much firepower for Mayo. On the other hand, if Mayo can increase Kerry’s error count, this could create some great goalscoring opportunities.