Friday, September 23, 2005

Five Steps to Heaven

1. The Gooch Factor
Ok, you can't really stop him. Not altogether. The finest forward in the game always hurts you- damage limitation is the only practicable tactic. There are many tremendous forward talents playing the game at the moment, several of whom will occupy the sacred sward on Sunday, but Colm Cooper is a notch above even the likes of O'Neill and Canavan. He never seems to be ineffectual, off the pace, disinterested, physically intimidated, crowded out or dominated. Instead, in game after game he is sharp, wholehearted and utterly devastating. So will the dark prince of corner backs, Ryan McMenamin, who seems likely to be detailed the unenviable task of marking the 'Gooch', be the man to finally subdue the boy genius? He couldn't on his own, so look for trademark Tyrone defence in numbers- you won't see Cooper one on one with McMenamin at any stage on Sunday. A side issue, but one that could be important: Will the task of minding Gooch prevent McMenamin from making his usual counter breaks up the field, which have been a key weapon for Tyrone?

2.Does midfield matter?
Tyrone have ceded midfield control repeatedly this season. Without Kevin Hughes, and with Sean Cavanagh just not mad into that side of things, the Ulstermen have been happy to live on scraps, defend in numbers when the opposition wins the ball, take it off them then break with deadly precision. But they could have lost against an Armagh team that they repeatedly outplayed, and they only finally shook off a much inferior Dublin outfit in the last quarter of the 140 minutes of their contest, due to the fact that by giving up so much in midfield, you are always throwing a sucker an even break. Expect Tyrone to swarm all over Darragh O'Se with even more freneticism than usual when he plucks kickouts from the air. They will know that Kerry's forward divisions cannot be allowed to be easily fed.

2002 and 2003 and all that. Keeps coming back to those dark days for Kerry. The emotional trauma of those defeats still drives the Kingdom, and will likely do so until they've won another thirty-three All-Irelands. But this is the first test since then. Will the old demons come back? Will Eoin Brosnan's heart sink when he looks up and finds himself surrounded by half a dozen red and white shirts again? Not likely. Kerry have taken on board so many lessons from those defeats, and matured into a grown-up football team under Jack O'Connor so as to barely resemble their 2003 incarnation. They know the dark underbelly of the game now, and can go their if necessary.
Still, we won't really know the ultimate answer to the biggest question mark over Kerry until quarter past five on Sunday evening.

4.What's in the tank?
Tyrone have maintained such an energetic tempo throughout their gruelling program of fixtures that to suggest that they may run out of gas on Sunday seems almost disrespectful. But the contrast in their championship campaign so far and that of Kerry is so marked that you do wonder what impact it will have. Kerry can be said to have experienced the Invisible Championship so far, arriving at this stage (much as their great teams of the 1970s and 1980s often did) with barely a bead of sweat being broken. This could play out in two ways: Kerry could find the sudden increase in intensity impossible to reach, or Tyrone could finally wilt after the exertions of their torrid campaign.

Ok, so its not really going to be an issue, is it? These boys are all too hairy-arsed to let the big day get to them, and almost all have been through it before successfully. But this game is huge, particularly for Kerry. Their 2004 win, while accomplished with elan, kind of has an asterisk under it because of the fact that they never played the terrible twins from the north, so there will be a tension within Kerry due to the deep desire to put that right. Tyrone have been through everything you could possibly imagine, on field and off, so will take whatever the big day throws at them with nonchalance.
Still, it is a big day, the biggest of them all, and all it might take is for one man's legs to wobble in the maelstrom of it all to change the destiny of the 2005 All-Ireland Football Championship.

I'm not even gonna go there.......


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