Kerry's bench could hold the key to catching the Dubs

Kingdom have scored an average of 1-19 per game in their last five meetings with Cork

From 2010 when Cork last won the All-Ireland football title, Kerry have claimed seven of the eight available Munster titles. Crucial to their domination in the province has been their attack, with an average score of 1-19 per game in their last five championship matches against Cork.

Racking up a frightening total of 0-32 in their Munster semi-final win over Clare, following up on a league average of 0-16 per game (in a disappointing league campaign they still finished up as second top scorers in Division One), Kerry’s forward line has been the key to their success in Munster over the past decade. Yet it’s still fallen short of Dublin’s – with the All-Ireland champions scoring 10-124 last summer, an average of 0-4 per game more than their old rivals.

A breakdown of Kerry’s scorers over that period however reveal some surprising figures, and perhaps some keys to them halting Dublin’s dominance. Looking solely at scorers from play, Kerry’s top scorer in championship football since 2010 is James O’Donoghue.

The former footballer of the year has scored 5-68. The 28-year-old corner forward has done so in 27 appearances, 24 of those being starts.

Second on the list is Paul Geaney, a year younger than O’Donoghue and Keane, he has scored 7-58 from play in just 24 appearances. Although 20 of them have been from the start.

Ninth top scorer in that period is Barry John Keane. Another Kingdom attacker aged 28, Keane came off the bench to score 0-3 against Clare last time out. They were his 31st, 32nd and 33rd scores from play for the green and gold in the championship. Keane has made 34 appearances in scoring 2-31 since his debut, which was back in 2010. He has come off the bench in a staggering 30 of those matches.

Kerry have a number of top quality inside scoring forwards, but a look at Dublin’s strength in depth shows why even more are needed. Jim Gavin's Dublin used six subs in all of their championship matches last summer, bringing them on for an average of 20 minutes per player, and 26 of the 36 substitutions made seen Dublin introduce forward players.

Bigger impact

The trio of O'Donoghue, Geaney and Keane played together in the All-Ireland minor semi-final defeat to Mayo in 2008 but while Keane has featured for Kerry more often, the other two have clearly started far more matches and had a bigger impact as the team’s two primary attackers. Interestingly Geaney’s score per start average is 0-4, slightly edging O’Donoghue but three points adrift of Keane. Geaney and O’Donoghue have been more prolific in their starts, albeit they’ve had a lot more them.

Against Cork in this weekend’s Munster final, and certainly as the summer progresses, the Kerry bench could now become one of their key weapons. The introduction of the likes of Sean O’Shea, Michael Burns and of course David Clifford have meant that a number of Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s more experienced attackers are now more often than not likely to start on the bench. Kieran ‘Star’ Donaghy has 8-23 in his 35 championship appearances since 2010. Stephen O’Brien tops that with 4-28 in his 14 starts and six substitute appearances. O’Brien, who started against Clare, is fourth top scorer over that eight year period.

Kerry’s bench scored between them 1-14 in their five games last summer. All-Ireland champions Dublin played one game more, and their replacements amassed 3-22.

So Kerry’s increased competition up top in 2018 could crucially increase that total, however the role of super-sub for the Kingdom looks like remaining in the possession of Barry John Keane. The Tralee native’s 30 substitute appearances is 14 more than the next highest for a forward, that being speedster Darran O’Sullivan. Although O’Sullivan has also started 20 games. Keane has scored 0-7 in his last five championship substitute appearances, coming on inside the second half on each occasion.

So while Keane continues to make his mark from the bench - probably far more often than he’d like to be - Kerry’s new attacking mix of young and old could add the required firepower to support him and provide those extra inches.

Eamon Donoghue

Eamon Donoghue

Eamon Donoghue is a sports journalist with The Irish Times