Kerry hit the ground running and have clearly moved on from last year

Donegal have sent a warning shot across everyone’s bow but don’t write off Tyrone just yet

Niall Morgan will never learn a better lesson.

Niall Morgan will never learn a better lesson.


I went to Killarney on Sunday and before heading up to the pitch I dropped into the bookies down at the roundabout. I know one of the lads behind the counter there and I asked what the spread was on the game.

“Kerry minus nine,” he said. “And I wouldn’t be afraid of it either if I was you.”

“Why not?” I said.

“Because I just had a couple of Tipperary fellas in who’ve backed Kerry minus 11!”

That was good enough for me.

It was a non-event in the end. The Division One teams are just miles out of reach now. The game is the same as the one Tipperary are playing in Division Four but the speed of it is so different. You are looking at players having to make decisions at a pace they’re just not used to. They got blown away, just as they would have against any Division One team.

I watched the two teams warm up and even there you could see the difference. Tipperary were doing lots of hand-passing drills whereas Kerry were doing snappy kick-passing drills the whole time. That set the tone for the day. If Tipperary thought they were going to be able to handpass their way around Kerry, they were doomed from the start. The distance now is massive.

Have moved on
Kerry have moved on from last year in a couple of different ways. Some of them are bigger for a start. I noticed it in Colm Cooper and I noticed it in Marc Ó Sé. When I was playing, I had winter togs and summer togs. The winter togs would have an added inch or two in them but once I got back into serious training, I’d switch to the summer ones.

These fellas look like they’re still filling out their winter togs but it’s not for the reason I was. There’s more bulk in them now and that’s down to whatever work they’ve been doing in the off-season.

The other thing that’s different is the aggression in the tackle they show now. Again, that’s a Division One thing. Mayo were doing it against Galway, tackling with aggression and causing turnover. Donegal and Tyrone were doing it to each other. And Kerry were doing it to Tipperary. Tackling in groups, tackling clean and hard. That’s the starting point and there’s no exemptions to it for anyone in the team.

But above all else, what’s different is the change of manager. When you have a new guy in with a new trainer, new selectors, new ways of doing things, it gives everything a freshness. I remember when Pat O’Shea came in with Kerry in ’07, we were after winning an All-Ireland. It was the perfect moment for somebody new to come in. It made us kick on and it filled in that long period between winning an All-Ireland and trying to come back and defend it.

Kerry have had that this year. Even when things weren’t going well in the league, the fact that there was a new management team around would have meant that everything still felt fresh.

There’s three and a half months to an All-Ireland and Kerry are hitting their stride. They’re getting their players back and they’re showing a few differences in their approach from last year.

Had to be worried
But even just on this first showing, there is plenty for them to work on. Sunday was a day where you couldn’t really just watch them in isolation. Everything they did, you had it in the back of your head that the game that was going on up the north was the real context for it.

So when Tipperary scored a couple of points by isolating Marc Ó Sé and Aidan O’Mahony, from a Kerry point of view you had to be worried. The better sides will crucify Kerry if they leave that much space in front of their full-back line.

After the game, I got into the car and drove home without the radio on. I wanted to see Donegal and Tyrone play without knowing a thing about what had happened and the difference between the two games was clear from the start. I had just come from watching Colm Cooper at his majestic best but the space he got in Killarney just didn’t exist in Ballybofey.

And if we go back to the couple of times the Tipperary forwards got into space, even that amount wasn’t available above in the north. Okay, Donegal maybe managed to manufacture it a few times but the Tyrone players hardly ever saw it.

The speed that the Donegal players funnel back at is incredible. I watched Frank McGlynn at one stage when the ball was turned over and he just put his head down and sprinted back into position.

It’s amazing how quickly space disappears in the time it takes for a hop or a solo. If you pause or ponder at all, the shutters come down.

Concentrate so hard
The other thing they do is make you have to think of so many things while you’re out on the pitch. You’re having to concentrate so hard, all the while putting in such a big physical effort. It’s one thing being alert but being alert for 70 minutes when every hit you put in gets returned to you and every turnover sees the ball disappear up the other end, that’s what makes it so tough.

Cork lived with them in the All Ireland quarter-final last year for the first half an hour. They scored some fine points against them and had as good a gameplan as any Donegal have been met with yet. But they ground them down mentally. Cork’s tactical discipline went before half-time. If you’re suiting up for a game against Donegal, you have to accept that you are going to be wrecked and you have to realise that that’s what they want. Yes, you will be tired. And no, they’re not going to stop running. Have you got it in you to keep making the right decisions?

Donegal and Tyrone gave us exactly the match we were expecting. I said here last week that we should just look at it as a game on its own, with no real repercussions for the rest of the year and that’s how they played it. People have decided that Tyrone are gone now but I wouldn’t be so sure. They have a couple of months to reignite themselves and to learn from what they did wrong last Sunday.

I’d say young Niall Morgan (pictured above) will never learn a better lesson. I felt sorry for him on Sunday. That was a big long look in the mirror he got for himself and he got it in front of 18,000 people at 21 years of age. Say what you like about him winding up the crowd – which he obviously shouldn’t have been at – but there’s not many people who can brush off such a public jeering session at such a young age.

To be honest, I was disappointed with Tyrone and with Mickey Harte for not having a Plan B when it came to Morgan. Everybody knew that Donegal were going to target him and you could see Michael Murphy and Rory Kavanagh giving him plenty as he went up to take his kicks. He should have been pre-armed with a plan for what to do if it went wrong. God knows Tyrone were the ones who opened the door on getting in fellas’ ears and inside their heads.

Fall-back for Morgan
A player has to be aware of what he did the last day for the simple reason that it’s what is going to be foremost in the minds of his opponents. If I ever had a game, say a Munster final against Cork where I caught seven or eight kick-outs, I would always have gone into the All Ireland quarter-final knowing that the Dubs or whoever were going to spend the first half constantly breaking ball in midfield. They were never going to allow me to just do what I’d done the last day.

Tyrone should have had a fall-back for Morgan. Let him chip a quick one into somebody making a run, let somebody else come out and kick it, have Conor Gormley or one of the McMahons go in there and horse Murphy and Kavanagh out of it if they’re standing too close. The only thing I saw was one of the Tyrone players pacing off the distance between the ball and the Donegal players. Sure they were laughing at him!

Morgan had his concentration broken and he missed five out of his six kicks. But it’s no harm that it happened now. Tyrone have to go the long way round but they will learn along the way. It’s a long time till September. Tyrone will be different come the end of the championship, Donegal will be as well. I wouldn’t be crowning them just yet.

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