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Kerry’s Anthony Maher is out to pose massive problems

By John Campbell

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness needs no reminding that his side face a giant-sized task in Sunday's All-Ireland final against Kerry.

If by any chance he does, then he has only to throw a cursory glance at the Kingdom midfield partnership.

Anthony Maher, a top-class basketball player, will tower over virtually every other player on the Croke Park pitch since he stands at 6' 6" while David Moran is only fractionally less imposing at 6' 4".

And their fusion of power, athleticism and frenetic work-rate could potentially undermine the Ulster champions' strategy.

Like his manager, long-serving Rory Kavanagh, who first wore the Donegal jersey as a bustling wing-forward before morphing into a cultured presence in midfield, is very much aware that gaining ascendency in the middle third of the park could be fraught with difficulties.

"We watched Kerry playing Mayo in their replay on television in the hotel on the night before our own semi-final and Moran had a horse of a game in the middle of the field alongside Maher," observes schoolteacher Kavanagh.

"The outcome of the midfield battle, from my own personal point of view, is going to have a big bearing on Sunday's game."

Kavanagh has helped to bolster Donegal in the central area with Neil Gallagher playing a holding role and the exciting Odhran MacNiallais bringing a new dimension in terms of pace and energy.

"It's definitely more competitive in midfield now and that's what you want – guys pushing each other very hard in training," states Kavanagh.

"That's what we have and it's good going forward. It has been said that we had maybe 17 or 18 players who were key to the panel but this is more like 20 now and obviously midfield is the one area in which you most require cover."

Moran has slowly but surely regained top form following two cruciate ligament injuries while Maher has had to wait patiently before becoming a first-team regular.

"These players will be keen to prove themselves further. Besides, Kerry have a very strong tradition of playing in All-Ireland finals.

"It's definitely going to be a big test for us to try and overturn them," maintains 30-year-old Kavanagh.

Should Kerry get the upper hand at midfield, it's odds-on that forwards such as James O'Donoghue, Kieran Donaghy and Paul Geaney in particular will prosper up front – a possibility that clearly worries Donegal.

"Obviously, O'Donoghue and Donaghy have given Kerry a new lease of life on the edge of the square. But really there are threats everywhere and a lot of their players have won All-Irelands as well. It's hard to put your finger on any one aspect of the game that could turn the tide in either team's favour," stresses Kavanagh.

It will, of course, be the task of the respective managers to probe for weaknesses in their opponents' tactical plan and while Kavanagh has huge admiration for what McGuinness has achieved with Donegal, he is no less enthusiastic about the contribution that Eamon Fitzmaurice has made since taking over as Kerry boss.

"He's a shrewd operator. Tactically, he can mix it up too if he wants to. I'm sure he will have a few surprises in store for us and we'll have to be prepared to adapt on the day," points out Kavanagh.

"We'll just have to wait and see how it pans out. He's a very good manager, very good tactically.

"You saw with the decision to drop Marc Ó Sé. He's not afraid to make big calls either and it worked out a treat. Marc went on and played very well when he was brought back into the team."

Pressure, intensity, physicality, controversy – these elements will be pronounced and nowhere more so than in the midfield sector. But, like his Donegal colleagues, Kavanagh is counting down the hours until the start of the action.

"Playing Kerry on All-Ireland final day – it doesn't get much better than that. They lead the way in terms of All-Ireland titles so it's definitely a dream one for us to be involved in," insists Kavanagh.

Belfast Telegraph

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