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Analysis: Meath Have Changed The Game. Can Kerry Solve Their System?

Analysis: Meath Have Changed The Game. Can Kerry Solve Their System?
By Shane Mangan

This year’s All-Ireland senior ladies football final will be the first since 2002 not to involve Cork or Dublin. Meath, fresh from their maiden senior All Ireland win in 2021 take on joint record holders Kerry (11 wins), a team themselves who have not won since 1993. Both teams are no stranger to finals, however. They faced off in the Division 2 league final last year, with Meath 10-point winners on the day. Kerry went one step further this year, securing victory against a strong Armagh team. Meath were Division 1 victors this year and remarkably this is Meath’s 5th All Ireland final in a row. After taking 3 attempts to win the intermediate grade, they went and won the senior championship in their first year. Nonetheless this is a novel final pairing, the first time the two teams will face off in an adult championship final and it will bring an interesting clash of styles.

Meath, under the coaching of Paul Garrigan, Shane Wall and Mark Brennan have changed the way many ladies football teams play the game. They play a game that requires an incredible level of conditioning, discipline and composure. Jersey numbers are not important as they once were, Meath will defend as one and attack as one. Corner backs will show up in the full forward line and corner forwards will show up in the full back line.

Defensive Setups and Pressing

Kerry are more traditional in their approach. They will keep 2-3 forwards up the pitch at all times. Even in the last 10 minutes of their semi-final versus Mayo, when Mayo were in search of goals, they kept two players up the pitch. This offers them an out-ball in transition and means the opposition will have to keep at least three players back for protection.

When Meath lose the ball in the opposition half, you will see all the players running back to defend their own 45. This is where the incredible levels of conditioning come in, running back into a defensive position but being ready to explode up the pitch after winning the ball. Meath in a low defensive block will use a combination of player-player marking on key forwards and spare players will mark zones around the D and covering the full back position.

Kerry on the other hand will typically only get 8 players back and in longer attacks they will drop back 2 more. They will try to win the ball higher up the pitch, particularly from kickouts. The example below follows a Mayo kickout, after Mayo have won the ball. Kerry go player on player in a mid-press. The press is eventually beaten when a double up doesn’t work and another player doesn’t scan behind them. Once the press is broken, there was huge space in front of the full forward line for a direct ball. It’s a risk-reward trade-off. One that Kerry are willing to take, and Meath choose not to take.

Opposition Kickouts

Instead, Meath choose a different game moment for a higher risk strategy – the opposition kickout.

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This seems the smarter choice when taking a risk, the reward is greater and the risk is less. In the semi-final, Meath allowed Donegal to win the kickout short in the first half when they were playing against a strong wind. This allowed Meath to conserve energy and to get into a defensive position quicker. In the second half, that changed. Meath pushed 11 players inside the Donegal 65. Marking zonally, they tempted the Donegal keeper into kicking into certain traps or trying to kick over the press. Even after losing a midfielder to the sin bin, Meath pressed up high and caused Donegal all sorts of problems on their own kickouts.

Kerry are more conservative with their press on opposition kickouts. In their games versus Mayo and Armagh, they switched between a zonal press of 6 and 8. Mayo got kickouts off short quickly against Kerry and I imagine Meath will do likewise. In the Armagh game, Aimee Mackin had a shot less than 10 seconds after Armagh won a long kickout, scoring their 4th point of the game. Armagh’s 2nd goal in the first half came 15 seconds after winning a long kickout. Meath will likely have 10-11 outfield players inside their own 65 for kickouts.

It’s an area where Kerry will either need to take more risk and commit more players inside Meath’s 65 or else drop back and try to win a turnover in the middle third. An in-between press of 6 to 8 players would suit Meath.

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Meath have fared well against teams who have setup traditionally against them in the last two years. Games they have found toughest against Dublin, Donegal, Armagh and Galway are when the opposition mirror their setup. Kerry are unlikely to do similar and if they do, it’s a style they are not used to and unlikely to work. Instead, Kerry will stick to what has served them well so far.

In their 4 championship games, Kerry have score 13 goals while Meath have only scored 2. Meath’s highest scoreline so far has been 1-13 (16 points), while Kerry’s lowest scoreline was 3-10 (19 points). Meath should win the kickout battle and the turnover battle, but Kerry’s scoring threat gives them a real chance. Looking at results, it’s hard to see beyond a Kerry win, on the tactics board it’s hard to see beyond a Meath win.

One thing is for certain, it will be an intriguing clash of styles.   

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SEE ALSO: After All-Ireland High, Came The Low For Meath Captain Shauna Ennis

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