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The Inside Track: How Donegal v Kerry will play out

By Declan Bogue

Donegal v Kerry, All-Ireland SFC Final. Gaelic Games correspondent Declan Bogue tackles all the battles on and off the field and takes a look at the potential threats and tactics that will come into play.

The main threats

Donegal will secure possession from their own kickouts with Paul Durcan up there as the best restarter in the game, his 'sliced' kick with the outside of the right boot a favoured tactic, and Neil Gallagher and Michael Murphy are enormous presences in midfield.

On the counter-attack, they have enormous reserves of energy with Paddy McBrearty and Ryan McHugh breaking at speed, while Murphy, Leo McLoone, Frank McGlynn, Rory Kavanagh and Karl Lacey will all join in support, and all very capable of getting at least two points.

If tomorrow's referee Eddie Kinsella decides to punish group tackling, then Kerry might hastily get Bryan Sheehan in the game, his loss in the 2012 Championship meeting of these two sides sank them.

They will look to get James O'Donoghue and Kieran Donaghy into the game early on and they also have a number of versatile operators such as Fionn Fitzgerald and Paul Murphy who can join the attack.

Team tactics

The game must be won without getting too concerned over the aesthetics of getting there.

For all the talk of a Donegal masterplan to beat Dublin, they applied logic to rob Dublin of some of their best ploys, most notably on Michael Darragh Macauley and Rory O'Carroll.

After that, they just punished Dublin's wastefulness and their lack of conservatism. Quite how Donegal were allowed to steam through the centre of the defence with Johnny Cooper completely absent was amazing.

But their game is a counter-attacking one, best performed in turnovers with the opposition committed to attack.

Kerry will definitely not repeat the mistakes of Dublin and will allow one half-back forward at a time, but they have developed their own turnover games under the training regime of Cian O'Neill and displayed their strength in the Mayo marathon.

The way they destroyed Donegal in the 2012 league game could be a pointer as to how they utilise the 88- metre width of the Croke Park pitch, and of course they always have the route one option.

Odhran MacNiallais v David Moran

Two surprise packages who could well yet form the midfield of the All-Star selection, Moran made his way back into the team with Bryan Sheehan's injury against Galway.

Since then, his power and skill have amazed, as well as his agility and shooting ability, so rare in a man of his size.

With Neil Gallagher and Anthony Maher more suited to each other, these two mobile men will look after each other and while MacNiallais has the edge in sheer mobility, he does not have the brute strength of Moran in the tackle.

Both are expected to contribute to the scoreboard and MacNiallais' contributions this year have been decisive in big games, most notably his goal kicked on the swivel against Armagh when Donegal were really struggling.Shining lights: Midfield duo Odhran MacNiallais of Donegal and Kerry’s David Moran (far right) can sparkle at Croke Park tomorrow afternoon

Michael Murphy v Aidan O’Mahony

Michael Murphy and Aidan O'Shea are not that far off each in a physical sense. And in the first game between Kerry and Mayo, O'Mahony rendered O'Shea scoreless throughout the game.

Murphy's role has been in midfield for the most part of the year, with occasional cameos in full-forward. When he has gone in, such as against Derry for the third quarter, and against Dublin when he forced the turnover that led to Ryan McHugh's goal, he has been devastating.

O'Mahony's job will be to follow him wherever — to leave him unmarked is unthinkable — and try to get inside his head. Murphy is capable of occasional petulance, such as his red card in 2012 against Cavan and his punch on Diarmuid Connolly with the semi-final already in the bag.

Eamonn McGee v Kieran Donaghy

Forget what happens between Neil McGee and James |O'Donoghue, this is a much more nuanced battle.

Many are the pundits that say kicking ball down the throat of Kieran Donaghy will be like buns to an elephant with the Donegal defence, but that ignores the previous evidence.

In 2012, Donaghy alternated between wing-forward and full-forward in the league encounter to great effect. Being out around the middle will not create any fears for Eamonn McGee, however, it would leave some space inside for James O'Donoghue.

And when Kerry grew desperate in the 2012 quarter-final defeat to Donegal, they hoisted in a few high balls to Donaghy — he ended up palming a move to the net.

He has also proved to be the big man for the big occasion in the past.

Mark shares his world view:

“When I finish my career I'm going to look back and say, 'Did I make the right call?' and not even that but 'have I any regrets at the end of it?' If I didn't do it my main regret would have been not going away for the summer, enjoying myself and seeing a bit of the world.”

Mark McHugh on dropping out of the Donegal panel to spread his wings.

Galvin offers wise words

“Hearing about this Kerry team perform — I can’t come to watch them just yet — the poignancy of Beckett’s words came to mind. The defiant, bold, irresistibility of youth mixed with the even more defiant, bolder, irresistibility of the middle-aged on this Kerry team is both poignant and potent.”

Paul Galvin waxes lyrical but can't bring himself to watch the Kingdom just yet.

Kingdom keep getting better

The way they have improved reminds me a lot of 1975. You'd have to give credit to Eamonn (Fitzmaurice) for the way he's got them going and to the team for the way they have kept improving.”

Mick O'Dwyer on the progression throughout this season of Kerry.

The match in brief

  • This is the first time since 1979, when Kerry met Dublin, that the same pairing will contest both the senior and the minor All-Ireland finals.
  • All four teams in the All-Ireland semi-finals were the champions of their own province, reflecting a growing trend. Only in 2010 were the four semi-finalists there after losing in their backyard.
  • This is only the second Championship meeting between the sides. The previous one was when Donegal beat Kerry in the 2012 quarter-final, on a scoreline of 1-12 to 1-10.
  • Kerry have the second-highest scorer in the country in James O'Donoghue, who has gathered 4-24 for himself so far in five games. Two of his goals were penalties, four of his points were frees.
  • Michael Murphy is Donegal's highest scorer with 17 points. However, only four of those points have come from play, reflecting his more withdrawn, creative role.
  • So far, Eamonn Fitzmaurice has only lost one game in the Championship as Kerry manager, that coming against Dublin in last year's semi-final. He has been in charge for 10 games.
  • Kerry have lost their tag as unbeatable finalists in the new millennium. They have played in 10 finals, yet have won only five of them. Their one drawn game was against Galway in 2000.
  • Donegal make their first appearance in an All-Ireland minor final. Their coach Declan Bonner was corner-forward on the 1992 senior team and took over as senior manager at just 32.
  • By way of contrast, Kerry also top the leaderboard for minor triumphs, joint with Dublin on 11. They last won in 1994 and they are managed by ex-senior boss Jack O'Connor.

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