GAA Statistics: Kerry must learn to switch from hunters to hunted

If Kingdom want to beat Dublin on Saturday, they must improve their performance while ahead

Kerry led for only 10 of the 78 minutes in their drawn All-Ireland final against Dublin.

Peter Keane's team did a lot of things excellently, that's why they were winning in injury-time against a team on their final mission in the quest for five-in-a-row.

However, they didn’t seem quite prepared for what to do when they were in the lead. Mentally and tactically – and the two are intertwined – they were far more comfortable being the hunters than the hunted.

Kerry were in front on only three occasions. In the 13th minute they held a one-point advantage for two minutes and 13 seconds (including stoppages in play). Approaching the 18th minute they took the lead again and it lasted only 27 seconds, while it took Dublin just over eight minutes to engineer an equalising point in the 74th minute and send the final to a replay.


Twice in the first half Kerry drove on after going ahead: David Moran and Jack Barry each in turn caught a kickout and those respective attacks ended in wides from Paul Geaney and Moran. Kerry were not clinical. They regained the lead within five minutes, but with their momentum waning they continued to press on. Brian Howard won the next kickout and Jim Gavin's team scored the first goal of the match.

Dublin’s first two scoring responses to going behind – Paul Mannion broke through and fisted over and Jack McCaffrey raised a green flag on the overlap – were their easiest scores of the half. Each took only 14 seconds from Stephen Cluxton’s kickout to the score going over or under the bar.

Back in control of the scoreboard and the game, Dublin held and increased their advantage until the final four minutes of normal time.

How Dublin managed that lead, and built on it, was in total contrast to how Kerry unfolded after Killian Spillane kicked them in front in the 66th minute. A total collapse was only prevented by last-ditch defence and some incredible inaccuracy by the usually efficient champions.

Blessing in disguise

Kerry were wasteful themselves throughout, and their endeavour and skill in hunting down Dublin’s lead was not matched with a similar level of control and confidence each time they nosed ahead. Considering how poorly they performed when in front, the 2-8 they squandered from play may have been a blessing in disguise. If they’d led earlier I’m not sure how well they’d have dealt with it.

The final 12 minutes of the match were played in Kerry’s 45, and that was more their fault than Dublin’s. From the white flag being raised after Spillane’s point to the full-time whistle being blown, the ball was in play for just shy of seven minutes.

In that time, 48 per cent of the action unfolded inside the Kerry 45. Dublin, with a man less after Jonny Cooper’s red card, enjoyed 62 per cent of the possession – and 49 per cent of it was inside Kerry’s 45.

In comparison, 48 per cent of Kerry’s possession in that crucial closing period was inside their own 45. They held 82 per cent of it within their own half.

In the final 12 minutes Kerry ventured inside the Dublin half with the ball in hand for only 30 seconds and they only entered the Dublin 45 on one occasion.

The dark arts, too, will be needed to stop this Dublin team

Dublin can mix it any way, but their game management after McCaffrey’s goal was them at their most comfortable. Straight from the first restart David Moran was fouled after claiming it, the ball was kicked away. Kerry pushed up and forced a poor shooting option. They then created three scoring chances by retaining possession, via swift hand-passes and quality kick-passes. They got out of their own half as quickly as possible each time, scored twice, built a four-point lead and it all happened on auto pilot. That’s what experience does to a team.

After Spillane kicked Kerry’s last point, the substitute turned with a raised fist as he tracked his man out to the half-forward line. This lapse of concentration forced the other two Kerry full-forwards to shuffle their zonal press across to his side and allowed Dublin an easy restart to David Byrne in acres of space in the opposite corner.

Bad option-taking

In the final 12 minutes a Kerry outfield player kicked the ball only three times. They held the ball inside their own half and allowed Dublin to pressurise them. They lost the ball five times in all, and on four occasions it was due to bad option-taking rather than Dublin’s tackling. They lost one of their three kickouts uncontested, and the other two to marks where Brian Howard was allowed to turn and go without having a finger laid on him.

The dark arts, too, will be needed to stop this Dublin team.

The first Dublin turnover came after a poor, forced hand-pass by Moran. The second was from good Dublin pressure on the Kerry kickout. The next was after Moran ran into traffic with three kicking options available.

Jonathan Lyne should’ve been awarded a free for an accidental trip but again he was looking to go by the man and handpass rather than kick the ball over the defensive line or attempt to stretch the play.

Managing a game late on isn't easy – do you stick or twist?

Kerry had largely kept their attacking shape, but from midfield back they were squeezing the field in on themselves. Too nervous and unsure to go for another score, but still with too much of a hunter’s mindset to see it out with blue heads rather than red ones.

Then, after Dean Rock had equalised, Seán O’Shea ran down another blind alleyway in their last attack. Both Moran and O’Shea had provided many heroic moments but at this stage of the game Kerry lacked experienced leaders.

Winning position

Dublin had the final six attempts and scored only one. From a winning position for Kerry this could have become a comfortable Dublin finish and it was largely Kerry’s own doing.

Managing a game late on isn’t easy – do you stick or twist? But both approaches require you to keep the ball against a manic press, and to keep it you need to kick it.

After Dean Rock’s injury-time free put Dublin one point up against Mayo in the 2017 final, they aggressively (understatement) pushed right up on the next kickout. They forced it over the sideline. From there they kept the ball for one minute and 15 seconds, kicking the ball six times from play and ending the move in a scoring position when the full-time whistle was blown.

Kerry kicked the ball six times in the concluding 12 minutes of the drawn final, and three of them were via their goalkeeper. There’s no better lesson than an All-Ireland final, and in their second in two weeks Kerry must learn to be ultra-clinical, focused and efficient when in the lead. They can't fall back into the wrong zones nor can they afford to stop kicking the ball. These go hand-in-hand.

The Kingdom’s youngsters will most likely be the hunters for the majority of the replay once more, but if they want to beat Dublin they must also improve how they perform when in the lead. Both mindsets are needed.