Dr Crokes have the range of quality attackers to seal title
Preview: All-Ireland club football final – Dr Crokes (Kerry) v Slaughtneil (Derry), 5.0, Croke Park
Dr Crokes’ Colm Cooper: plays very deep, assisting in defence but always with a view to reading the game. Photograph: Inpho
Mickey Moran, the veteran coach who has brought three successive county titles to Slaughtneil, addressed the annual GAA coaching conference at the end of 2006. It was a couple of months after he had brought Mayo to a famous semi-final win over Dublin but followed by a trimming from Kerry in the final.
He rounded off a terrific address on “Reflections on coaching and management” by drawing laughter and cheers: “May your God go with you,” he said, “and if not, hope that he’s not taking the day off and supporting the opposition – especially if they’re green and gold.”
St Patrick’s Day brings another Kerry denouement for Moran.
Slaughtneil come to Croke Park a better team than the one that lost the 2015 final to Corofin. They aren’t carrying the injuries that helped to undermine them then: the experienced Patsy Bradley was hampered by a back problem and leading attacker Christopher Bradley was unable to play a full part.
Obviously more experienced they also bring some new personnel, recruited from the exceptional St Pat’s Maghera teams of recent years, who had a couple of unsuccessful tussles in Hogan Cup finals with Kerry schools.
Crokes are also driven. There is a strong sense that the rising talent in their own ranks will not come to full maturity by the time the more experienced players – primarily Colm Cooper – move on; in other words after the frustration of four county titles that didn’t even lead to St Patrick’s Day this is the current generation’s outstanding chance.
Both teams had eye catching semi-final wins against recent champions but neither Corofin nor St Vincents were still cruising at that altitude and neither were able for the strengths of their opponents.
Chrissy McKaigue as defensive pivot not alone kept Diarmuid Connolly to a point in the semi-final but broke up field to kick four of his own. Crokes won’t be repeating that mistake and if manager Pat O’Shea won’t want to interfere with too much with the game plan it seems unlikely that his son Gavin, a wispy centre forward, will be asked to sacrifice his natural instincts to mind McKaigue.
Another key operative for the Ulster champions is Pádraig Cassidy, who didn’t start two years ago but is the centrefielder they consistently find on restarts and brings mobility and footballing nous to the team.
They have a well ordered tactical structure based on the short, possession game and a versatility in defence and attack.
O’Shea has a distinctive approach, influenced by his basketball experience, but one that also emphasises inter-changeability. He has always innovated with Cooper, using him as a play maker in the club’s progress to the final 10 years ago where they were unlucky not to defeat Crossmaglen, before Kerry did so.
In the current team Cooper again plays very deep, assisting in defence but always with a view to reading the game, which he can break open with the quality of his kick passing.
Up front the Killarney club have a range of quality attackers. Daithi Casey and Kieran O’Leary are no longer on the county scene but are nonetheless thriving whereas Johnny Buckley brings leadership and work rate. Crokes also have a range of young talent to be unleashed from the bench in recent minor All-Ireland winners Micheál Burns, Jordan Kiely and Tony Brosnan.
It depends whether you place more store by defensive or attacking orientations – the unmoveable obstacle or the unstoppable force – but the team for whom scoring comes more easily always appears the better bet.
Verdict: Dr Crokes