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Lack of confidence led to Kerry's Croker downfall

By Peter Canavan

Prior to last Sunday's All-Ireland final, I said that Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice would have big calls to make on the day. That proved to be the case and for the first time in his managerial career, I think he got it wrong.

I also suggested Dublin would be predictable, and they were. Jim Gavin's men worked on a system and didn't deviate from it.

That same level of assurance was not so evident with Kerry.

There appeared to be some discord along the Kingdom sideline during the second-half. From the throw-in, some of their players appeared nervous and indecisive.

Whether it was Dublin's defensive strategy, their tenacity or simply the awful weather that had Kerry at odds, we don't know, but the composure we expected to see as the game progressed never materialised.

As a result it slipped further and further away from them and then frustration set in.

You can trace the origins of Dublin's victory back to their semi-final defeat to Donegal last year. They were labelled chokers, bottlers and cowards.

They were hurt and carried it through. Gavin used that.

Fitzmaurice's apparent indecision is being used as a stick to beat him with. It's amazing how managers can differ.

I can recall playing in several Tyrone games under Mickey Harte when things weren't going well. Sometimes he didn't make any changes, he just demanded more effort.

There are times when you just have to be patient and expect the players to step it up.

From Gavin's point of view, he was clear-cut in the way he wanted to play.

Look at the Dubs' kickouts. After 10 minutes, with Kerry pushing up, life was difficult for Stephen Cluxton. But he didn't deviate from the gameplan. He still used the ball from the restarts.

It was puzzling when Fitzmaurice took off James O'Donoghue. In the closing stages, they needed a goal. But one of the best finishers in the game was sitting on the bench.

O'Donoghue has played his best football alongside Kieran Donaghy. If those two had more time on the pitch together, they would have gained a better dividend.

Ultimately, the lack of competitive games caught them out. The Kildare match was a hiding, the Tyrone clash was competitive, but they only had one close game in 10 weeks. It's not ideal.

They should have retained their defensive approach from last year's final. Pushing up on the Dublin kickout was a good tactic, but as soon as the Dubs won it, Kerry should have sat back.

In the inclement weather conditions, how many points were scored outside the 45-metre line? Any?

By dropping players back into pockets of space in front of Bernard Brogan and Paddy Andrews, it would have made things harder for Dublin.

However, from a Kerry point of view, they will be delighted that Fitzmaurice is staying on for another three years, though there may be a change in the backroom.

He will learn from what is only one poor game on the sideline in three years.

The Kingdom still have the players and in Fitzmaurice have a man they all respect.

Can Dublin dominate?

They have the players and panel to do it. They would need to get a bit more out of the upcoming players.

There is a chasing pack. Teams will emerge with a new system, new styles of play and there will be a lot to learn from the National League. But retaining Sam comes with a health warning.

Moving forward, I have two requests for those within the corridors of power.

One is to set up a taskforce to look into the restructuring of our Championship. This year has seen more ideas and proposals on this topic than any other subject, so there is plenty to debate.

Arising from this will be a new fixtures masterplan with the often forgotten club player now fully included.

My second request should be somewhat easier to solve. In Croke Park we have a stadium the envy of many.

The stadium tours and premium level facilities are excellent.

That leaves just one area to rectify - the playing surface. There is no way the rain last Sunday should have caused the slipping and sliding that it did.

As those fortunate enough to have graced the old sod in Croker will testify, it was a dream to play on and much more forgiving. There's no way the same amount of slipping takes place in soccer and rugby in wet conditions.

It is frustrating to see players lose their footing but imagine what it is like for a player on the biggest day of the year to feel as if he's dancing on ice.

It's not in a player's nature to criticise Croke Park but it's in their interests that this matter is addressed. A case-study for the GPA perhaps.

In the aftermath of last Sunday's game, Joe Kernan suggested the idea of installing a retractable roof but if this isn't a viable option, the sooner the authorities decide to investigate the playing surface the better.

Was it really as bad a year for football as some are saying?

The truth is, like every year, there were high and low points. A good final can often paper over the cracks of a poor year but as we didn't get that, it's easy to be negative.

It's clear, though, that the Championship structure does need to be looked at. It could do with being condensed, with more competitive games.

We still have a great product. There were high-scoring games and tense affairs. There is an array of different tactical approaches and there are so many tactical angles. It's far more interesting than in decades gone by.

Attendances are up and continue to grow.

Too many naysayers receive publicity, and it's clearly an attention-seeking issue.

All the same, PR needs to be looked at. There is still room to improve the profile of our players. Maybe the crowd need more entertainment by increasing the razzmatazz. It's not to everyone's taste, but it's a day out.

You go into Dublin the night after a big game and buildings have full-size pictures of O'Donoghue and Aidan O'Shea. It can feel spectacular.

Tourists should be enticed to Croke Park, especially to fill out the stadium for the quarter-finals.

This is our culture, Irish culture. Is it a better cultural experience to see an incredible sporting spectacle, or to sit in a pub with a turf fire, drinking pints?

Belfast Telegraph


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