Declan Bogue: Murphy’s taming of Keane won the prize
Published 26/09/2012 | 12:57
With the benefit of hindsight, matches are parsed and analysed to discover the cadences and nuances, in the hope that the secret to victory can be identified.
Often, there is a tremendous amount of waffle generated about styles of play and systems.
Most close games are decided on a tiny variable; a handling error, or the wrong option taken by a midfielder as they look up the field.
And sometimes, teams just get it wrong when they line out their players.
You can get away with it, but if the opposition are equipped to exploit it, then you are in big trouble.
So it was with Mayo, when Kevin Keane lined up alongside Michael Murphy at the start of the All-Ireland final.
After two minutes, Karl Lacey was carrying the ball through the middle. He looked up and seen Murphy close to goal. Keane was giving away only two inches, but Murphy's physical presence is awesome.
The ball was delivered, Murphy collected it like a man reaching for an apple on a low-hanging tree, and thrashed it past Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke.
Ten minutes later, Murphy fielded a similar pass from Lacey and fed it to the onrushing Colm McFadden, who had already got a goal profiteering from a handling error from Keane. This time, Clarke got down well and smothered the shot.
Just after the seventeen minutes mark, Murphy again caught the ball over Keane's head. He found some space and went to fist over the bar, but it fell into Clarke's arms.
Why was Keane even still on Murphy by this stage?
“We went for a big start,” said assistant manager Rory Gallagher as he emerged from the dressing rooms after the game.
“We played Mayo in two challenge games and in the league this year and we didn't start well in any of them.
“We said this time we would go for a big start and see what happened... it was something we worked on.
“Michael, to be fair to him, I don't think he's had a real good quality ball in the Championship until that ball and he stuck it in the net. He's a fantastic player.”
There is a tendency in some GAA coaches to leave a player on a marker, even if he is being dominated, for fear of ruining his confidence.
Some proof of all this is that Keane went on to have a fine second half when moved off Murphy, catching balls over his head and bringing it forward confidently.
But Mayo were on the back foot from the first score of the game, and never drew level.
It shows that for all the chin-stroking and considered deliberations over tactics, one of the fundamentals of management is still picking the right team, with the right men in the right positions and roles.
It's unfortunate that Mayo have form in this regard. Back in the 2004 season, Kerry's Johnny Crowley had lost his starting place for the Munster final, but yet was picked to start the final in place of no less than Mike Frank Russell.
Kerry rained down ball on top of him and David Heaney. Crowley did not score, but created havoc alongside Colm Cooper, who scored 1-4 and won Man of the Match.
By half-time, Kerry were eight points up. They finished with 1-20, the highest tally in a final since 1978.
“We had a game plan going in,” said Crowley afterwards, “and fortunately the game plan worked. We put across some superb high ball and things happened us from there.”
The best managers get match-ups right.
Like when Karl Lacey was placed on Paddy Bradley for Donegal's first round game in Ulster this year. Or even bringing Eamonn McGee into the starting line up to pick up Kieran Donaghy in the quarter-final.
Kilkenny regularly position Henry Shefflin on what they consider to be an area of weakness in the opposition.
He has handed out unmerciful lessons in big games to some raw opponents, most recently Tipperary's John O'Keefe.
Other positional ideas are often generated in the imagination; when Mickey Harte considered the possibility of Kerry's ‘Twin Towers’ attack in the All-Ireland final of 2008, he sent Joe McMahon back to join his brother Justin in the full-back to combat the mammoth Kieran Donaghy and Tommy Walsh
Donaghy was kept scoreless, and Walsh scored one point. It was the cornerstone of the Tyrone win.
Just like the final on Sunday showed, it's not just about having the talent, but the way you use it, that is the key to victory when margins are so tight.