Cian O’Sullivan identified as a central target in Kerry’s game plan
Tomás Ó Flatharta says Éamonn Fitzmaurice will be pragmatic in All-Ireland semi-final
Kerry’s Tommy Walsh with Michael Fitzsimons and Cian O’Sullivan of Dublin. Stopping O’Sullivan will be key to Kerry’s chances of victory. Photograph: Inpho
Beating Dublin, how can it be done? Neutrals are sniggering at the old Kerry trick in the face of the most daunting adversity they have perhaps ever faced.
“We don’t know what’s the starting 15,” said Pat Spillane, entering full theatrical mode last Sunday as Colm O’Rourke sat smiling beside him.
“Who will be the midfield pairing? Will Paul Murphy play in the forwards? Will he go back to the backs? Will they bring back Aidan O’Mahony or Marc Ó Sé? I have never in my life seen so many question marks over a Kerry team, who have been undefeated in the championship, going into next Sunday’s game.”
Straight-faced Spillane went on: “It’s last chance saloon for Éamonn Fitzmaurice and his management team. It’s a last chance saloon for some of the older. . .” Joe Brolly drowns him out with a burst of laughter.
This stuff doesn’t work anymore. Kerry’s young men, Fitzmaurice and the ancient ones on the precipice of extinction must find a way to stop Dublin from beating them four straight times in championship by mixing modern methods with piseogs.
Tomás Ó Flatharta understands both worlds better than most. He being a Dublin banker who hitched his wagon to Kilmacud Crokes on arrival from Kerry many moons ago.
The greater GAA world got wind of Ó Flatharta when Páidí Ó Sé compelled him to train Westmeath in 2004. A first ever Leinster title was dramatically, almost magically captured. Ó Flatharta remained marooned in the midlands until 2009. The Galway and then the Laois bainisteoir bibs were worn thereafter.
So, Dublin he knows, Kerry he is.
The central figure in Ó Flatharta’s interview about how Kerry can halt this juggernaut is fellow Crokes man Cian O’Sullivan. The unflappable libero. If O’Sullivan cannot be flapped he must be removed.
“I don’t think Éamonn Fitzmaurice cares about the pure football or Kerry tradition,” he noted at Volkswagen’s All-Ireland Sevens launch.
“He will have to set his team up so that they can perform properly and win the game.
“If it does mean crowding out his defence to stop these wonderful Dublin forwards I think he will do that.”
Is that what he would do if over Kerry?
“Well, I wouldn’t like to see Colm Cooper back in defence like he was in the All-Ireland final last year. I wouldn’t like to see James O’Donoghue back there either.
“Other half forwards, like Donnchadh Walsh, will have to drop back there but you certainly wouldn’t like to see Darran O’Sullivan and the other boys I mentioned back there.”
Can Kerry afford to have Cooper, O’Donoghue, O’Sullivan and Paul Geaney up the field at the same time or is it essential that they do this?
“I think you can.”
That brings the conversation to O’Sullivan and turning a Dublin strength into weakness.
“One of the things that Kerry have to look at is Cian O’Sullivan. I think they need to keep Cian O’Sullivan busy. Teams are playing into Dublin’s hands by the guy that’s supposed to be marked by Cian O’Sullivan dropping back into defence which leaves O’Sullivan to cover his full back line all the time.
“I think one way to deal with that is to put Darran O’Sullivan on Cian, where he is going to keep him busy by running around him all the time. He may drag him away from the full back line.”
Surprised no one has done that yet? “I am yeah.”
Besides that something special must come out of the Kingdom. The ageing warriors must make one last stand to overturn Dublin dominance.
“There might be something more in those players – their final shout in Croke Park. ”
But what needs fixing seems clear.
“Kerry have a few things to work on. They need to look at their kickouts. There was trouble with a few of them.
“Another thing they need to look at is their free-taking. David Moran missed a few the last day and even Bryan Sheehan was off form. That’s two major things they need to work on because if their kicking out is the same I think they are going to be in trouble.”
If you like being sold pups, believe the rumour that Sheehan can solve both problems by taking the frees while wearing number one on his back.
“No I haven’t [trained in goal],” said Sheehan the other day. “But, look, if Éamonn turns around and says to me in the morning . . .”
More sniggering, but Kerry will try something, knowing full well gimmickry will not suffice on this occasion.
“While everyone is saying Dublin,” Ó Flatharta added, “I think there could be something in Kerry.”