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The Coach And The Back Driving Kerry's Defensive Improvement

The Coach And The Back Driving Kerry's Defensive Improvement

Simplistically, the narrative going into the drawn All-Ireland final was that Kerry would have the firepower to take Dublin out but their defence would be unable to withstand the barrage coming its way.

Instead, it was the opposite which played out. The Kerry defence stood tough, bending but not breaking, while their attack performed below par.

The Kingdom's backline has taken major steps forward from earlier in the championship when their perennial problem - that gap through the middle through which could have driven a fleet of buses two abreast - was still there to be exploited.

One of the most notable appointments to Peter Keane's backroom team, when it was named late last year, was Donie Buckley, the Castleisland man with vast inter-county experience.

"The beauty Kerry have at the moment is that Donie Buckley was involved in Mayo for years," says five-time Kerry All-Ireland winner Aidan O'Mahony, speaking at the launch of National Fitness Day 2019.

"Defensively, they probably had the best record against Dublin, going man for man. I'm always saying that if you are to beat Dublin, you have to go man for man, and you need to get goals."

Buckley was involved with Kerry in 2011 and 2012 under Jack O'Connor. It was during that period that O'Mahony learned of Buckley's defensive coaching qualities.

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The video analysis, you could nearly tell what side of the bed a fella sleeps on.

I remember when Donie Buckley came into us first: we were playing in the Munster final and I don't know who I was marking but he said, 'He'll get the ball, he'll shift to his left and he'll turn back onto his right and he'll go to kick it. That's when you'll come in and block it down'. I remember it happened twice in the first 20 minutes. I said, 'Jesus Christ, this is amazing'.

Obviously, the third ball came in and he turned the opposite way and I was sitting on my arse.

"They live and breathe it now," continues O'Mahony.

"The last day, Kerry's backs were very tight. But Dublin are going to get chances in games because they play that game where they take it out wide, they come on loops with Niall Scully and Brian Howard and they hold their runs, try to penetrate the middle then. When they come, they come in packs.

"You're going to be on your own inside in that fullback line at times. Tom O'Sullivan and Tadhg Morley did very well. If you keep Paul Mannion to two or three points, then that's a very good day; Tadhg Morley had an exceptional day.

"I'd be saying to the Kerry lads, it's like having a second bite at the cherry to show how good you are, how good of a man-marker you are. I just think that defensively, they were very good."

O'Sullivan has emerged as a key defensive figure for Kerry this year. In games against Tyrone, Meath, Donegal, Mayo and Cork he faced Peter Harte, Cillian O’Sullivan, Jamie Brennan, James Carr and Paul Kerrigan, respectively, and kept them all scoreless.

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"In my time, he was playing wing-back, he played centre-forward because he has frightening pace," says O'Mahony.

"Paul Murphy did the same, maybe if you play in the forwards a few years - I never got the chance to do it, I wonder why! - but maybe you learn more when you play in the forwards; the runs that players make.

"Tom O'Sullivan has had a great year. The last day against Con O'Callaghan, he's a player who will get chances in games; you're not going to play in games and the fella you're marking is not going to get a goal or a point. I think Tom did well the last day. He played on the line a bit, which you have to.

"He's just come on leaps and bounds. He's been Kerry's best defender this year. He's just a young lad. He has pace on his side, he's a very good reader of the game as well and has been Kerry's go-to guy for man-marking this year."

On this year’s National Fitness Day (26th September 2019), Ireland Active will host the second Docklands Fitfest as part of Dublin City Council’s Dublin Sportfest. National Fitness Day is supported by Sport Ireland, Healthy Ireland and the European Commission, with a common goal of promoting the benefits of physical activity. In celebration of National Fitness Day, Fitbit will be giving away free Fitbit devices as part of the initiative in participating leisure centres, workplaces and schools across the country.

See Also: Why Do Dublin Players Hold Their Hands Up During Games?

PJ Browne
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