Ideal opportunity for Fitzmaurice to trial Kerry’s tactical changes

With Croke Park nearly sold out league finalists will have perfect stage for summer rehearsal

All Star defender Paul Murphy is being deployed at centre forward by Kerry for their league final against Dublin at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

All Star defender Paul Murphy is being deployed at centre forward by Kerry for their league final against Dublin at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Sunday’s AFL Division One final couldn’t be a better game at this stage of the year, according to former Kerry manager Pat O’Shea. “They’re the two best teams,” he says, “and what happens will be hugely relevant for what happens in the rest of the year.

“I think there’s confidence in Kerry that we can win it but I honestly believe that the stakes are also higher because if Dublin win there is going to have to be a lot of hard thinking about how Kerry can beat them in the championship if they end up playing, which I believe they will.”

With GAA officials now indicating that Sunday’s AFL finals “will go very close” to filling Croke Park, the stage is set for the perfect rehearsal for the biggest matches of the year in the coming summer months.

Finalise preparations

There is more to the anticipation though, as both counties try to finalise preparations for the championship.

Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice has responded to last year’s All-Ireland final defeat by Dublin by looking at tactical variations during the league and having reached the final for the first time in his four-year tenure he will have the opportunity to road test the changes at the highest level.

One of the most remarked-on positional switches by Fitzmaurice has seen former All Star defender Paul Murphy, whose performance marking Donegal danger man Ryan McHugh in the 2014 All-Ireland final earned him the Man of the Match award, deployed at centre forward in a grafting, semi-defensive role.

“I think it’s worked exceptionally well,” says O’Shea. “Paul Murphy in the centre forward role is a safety net. So far he’s played a more advanced role and he gives huge energy to the half forwards, which has been lacking in recent years. Donnchadh Walsh is fit and hard working but he’s a different sort of player to Paul.

“I think it gives Kerry good balance in the middle third. Paul’s well able to play there because his club Rathmore had to press him into action in the position last year out of necessity and it went well.

“Éamonn has used quite a few players at centre forward but they’ve tended to be scorers rather than playmakers. Paul’s not an established scorer but he’s a very good link man rather a sprayer of passes.”

O’Shea believes, however, that Murphy’s performances to date have only told half of the story about the thinking behind the switch.

“His displays have shown him as a good link player, a hard worker and someone with the defensive instincts that can protect Kerry but later in the year and quite possibly on Sunday when Éamonn decides that the team has to go defensive, he can drop Paul back to play between the full-back and half-back lines as an extra defender.

‘Defensive instincts’

“He would be a natural as a sweeper because he reads the game very well and has great defensive instincts.

“Sunday is going to tell us a lot because if Kerry are finding it hard to get scores Éamonn may want to switch a scorer into the half forwards but up until now Paul has fitted the brief very well.

“It will be interesting to see will Dublin use Cian O’Sullivan to mark Paul. I don’t think so and I would imagine that someone like John Small would do the job because Jim Gavin won’t want Cian dragged out of position and away from the centre.”

Enduring attraction

The enduring attraction of the Dublin-Kerry rivalry – backed by a strong Division Two final between Tyrone and Cavan and the GAA’s 1916 commemoration Laochra – is once again obvious with a record crowd for the league a strong possibility.

In 2007 when the GAA turned on the Croke Park floodlights the record for a league attendance was set with the 81,678.

Meanwhile, Tyrone captain Seán Cavanagh will make his 100th appearance in the league in Sunday’s Division Two final against Cavan. He is predictably the only survivor of the county’s last league victories in 2003 and 2002. It will also be his 220th outing for the county.

Manager Mickey Harte has made four changes to the side that drew with Fermanagh on the last day of the regulation campaign. Former All Star Justin McMahon and Tiernan McCann come into the half backs in place of Barry Tierney and Hugh Pat McGeary whereas Niall Sludden and Mark Bradley replace Pádraig McNulty and the injured Darren McCurry.

KERRY (AFL v Dublin): B Kealy; M Ó Sé, M Griffin, S Enright; P Crowley, A O’Mahony, F Fitzgerald; K Donaghy, D Moran; B Sheehan (capt.), P Murphy, D Walsh; D O’Sullivan, C Cooper, S O’Brien.

Subs: B Kelly, J Buckley, K Young, BJ Keane, P O’Connor, M Geaney, J Lyne, B O’Sullivan, K O’Leary, T Walsh, D Daly.

TYRONE (AFL v Cavan): M O’Neill; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; R Brennan, J McMahon T McCann; C Cavanagh, M Donnelly; N Sludden, M Bradley, R Donnelly; C McAliskey, S Cavanagh, R O’Neill.

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