In a parallel universe, Kerry, having drawn with Tyrone after 70 minutes at Croke Park last weekend, would have analysed the mistakes and the turning points in the game with a determination to put them right for a replay.
In the 2015 All Ireland semi final, the Dublin team I was a part of led Mayo by six points with seven minutes of normal time remaining. It was a time for cool decision making, for players to assess the situation and to take no risks when going for scores. So naturally when Philly McMahon played a pass to me out wide under the Cusack Stand I didn’t hesitate before trying to lash a point over from a difficult angle. My shot went wide and from the kick out, Mayo went up and narrowed the gap to five points. A couple of minutes later, it was four, then one and then, with 30 seconds remaining, Andy Moran knocked the ball over Stephen Cluxton’s bar to level the game.
Unlike Kerry, Dublin in 2015 would get a replay and in our preparation for that game, my decision to go for an adventurous point was one of the situations highlighted in our video analysis as a moment when what the game required and how the individual behaved collided. To win, Jim Gavin would stress time and again, the individual player had to understand what the game requires and, above all else, put the team first.
So when people talk about Kerry lacking hunger or Tyrone wanting it more, I feel that is nonsense. It is also counter-productive. If anyone in Kerry believes that stuff, they will move further from correcting the few areas that, in my view, are the difference between winning and losing in those decisive moments.
Brian Dooher was a central part of the great Tyrone-Kerry matches in the noughties and his impact and the values of his great team were evident in this new look Tyrone outfit. Intensity. Selflessness. Ruthlessness. And above all, clarity on their game plan that was designed to counterattack this emerging Kerry team. Tyrone got the better of the dual of the noughties, and if Kerry don’t learn from this game, they will suffer the same outcome as their predecessors.
There were two moments of Saturday’s game that stand out to me as critical indicators as to why Kerry lost this game, and they should be central to Kerry’s post-match analysis if they want to transition from a good team to a great team.
While many commentators will refer to the goal chances Kerry squandered, one of which injured the wizard himself, David Clifford. For me, two other important moments come to mind: The last play of normal time and the last play of extra time.
While these plays were clutch moments and directly impacted the outcome of the game, they also epitomised why this Kerry team could not break down this organised Tyrone defensive unit throughout the game.
Deep into injury time, Kerry are on the attack with the game level. They transition the ball down the Hogan Stand side and recycle it to Gavin Crowley on the 65. Crowley attempts to execute a 70-metre diagonal ball to Tommy Walsh, behind his man on the D. The ball is turned over and the game ends level.
Fast forward 20 minutes and Kerry are one point down in injury time of extra time. Kerry transition from their defence at pace moving the ball through the hands. The ball ends up with Tommy Walsh in the Hogan / Hill corner of the field, he shifts a challenge and poorly executes a shot under pressure.
Both of these moments presented opportunities to execute a controlled attack with an objective to create a high percentage shot and manage the game more effectively. I can picture many situations in the past six years where Dublin would find themselves in these situations and they controlled the ball as long as required to create a shot within our 80 per cent zone.
Dublin beat Mayo in the replayed game in 2015 and two weeks after that, we won our first of six All-Irelands in a row. Those moments in matches and how we evolved were critical to our success and they were all part of a greater framework.
I might have felt the point was on when I took that shot but it neither reflected the situation in the game – six points up is a time for patience – or the reality that there were plenty of other players who, when the ball reached them, could take the point as well.
Moments like mine were identified and analysed, resulting in the genesis of our transition from being a ‘total football’ team to a balanced team that knew when to transition at pace and when to play controlled football.
It is admirable to see Kerry’s desire to want to play the game the ‘right way’ and attack with pace, skill and flair; however, it is critical they learn when it is on, to transition at pace and, when it is required, to play controlled football, keep possession of the ball, spread the play and stretch the set defence. Kerry have the talent to execute this balanced game plan and transition from these contrasting styles of play, but moments like these where they failed to play with control were evident throughout Saturday’s game.
This resulted in Tyrone executing an effective counter-attacking game plan and scoring 2-09 directly from Kerry turnovers. We were always of the belief that good offensive play always led to good defensive structure. If Kerry created good shooting scenarios and put the ball dead, they would have been able to set up our defensive structure from the opposition kick-out. Too many times on Saturday, Kerry were scrambling in defence and were unable to deal with the hard-running from deep of Myler, McGeary et al. Kerry’s ability to transition from attack to their defence was an area of their game I felt they would struggle with and it proved to be the case.
But it doesn’t have to be fatal. They need to learn and this is why they are unfortunate to be playing in a covid-related time. Their next championship game is eight months away. Those moments need to be identified in video analysis and used as part of an evolution – that is if there is a clarity that they should be evolving towards something.
Whether they have the know-how within their management set-up to take them to the next level is unknown, but there are plenty of wise Kerry folk who will be sure to have their voice heard on this topic.
In my view, relying on talent alone to win you matches is doomed to failure and it also puts impossible and unsustainable pressure on the talent. The root to sustainable performances is a blend of the right talent that understands and can execute their role in a clearly articulated and appropriate gameplan.
Kerry played a good game on Saturday, and they are an emerging team but no different to any young team. They need to learn from these lessons and layer them onto their arsenal for 2022. They executed elements of their game plan very well. They dominated all kick-outs, in particular Morgan’s long kick-outs. Tyrone allowed Kerry to go short and focused on their defensive structure instead. However, they need to translate this positive play and possession into high percentage scoring opportunities through a structured and well-coached offensive game plan.
Tyrone’s well-documented build-up to this game created plenty of headlines, and as expected, Tyrone channelled this energy and used it to fuel their ambush. Tyrone are no stranger to playing the role of the villain, but in my opinion, this sideshow was not the foundation of their exceptional performance.
This performance has been coming for quite some time. They have built a well-conditioned team that have clarity on their game plan. Of course, they have areas to tidy up for their encounter with Mayo, but I have no doubt their shrewd management team will have them well set up for a very different proposition.
Kerry, meanwhile, will have to wait but it is important that they learn from this. That is what experience is, otherwise it will be another bruising defeat wasted.
Paul Flynn won six All-Irelands with Dublin and four consecutive All-Stars. He is a former CEO of the Gaelic Players Association