Sunday, Kerry v Donegal, Croke Park, 4pm (Ref: Martin Duffy, Sligo)
Latest from the medics and management…As you were for Kerry from the team that defeated Clare last week with Darran O’Sullivan unable to force his way back into the attack and having to be content with a place on the bench.
KERRY: Brendan Kealy (Kilcummin); Marc Ó Sé (An Ghaeltacht), Aidan O’Mahony (Rathmore), Shane Enright (Tarbert); Tomás Ó Sé (An Ghaeltacht), Eoin Brosnan (Dr Crokes), Killian Young (Renard); Anthony Maher (Duagh), Bryan Sheehan (St Mary’s); Paul Galvin (Finuge), Declan O’Sullivan (Piarsaigh Na Dromada), Donnchadh Walsh (Cromane); James O’Donoghue (Legion), Colm Cooper (Dr Crokes), Kieran Donaghy (Austin Stacks).
The Donegal line-up has yet to be confirmed but it is not expected to deviate from the side that was so impressive in dismantling Down in the Ulster final.
Checking the odds…Kerry are favorites at 8/11 while Donegal are priced at 6/4. The handicap betting has Kerry (-1) at evens.
Clues from the form guide…It’s remarkable how Kerry have upped the gears in recent weeks and illustrated once again how they can utilize the qualifiers to tap into a rich vein of form. The listlessness that characterized their performances against Cork and Westmeath has been eradicated. They were pumped up for the challenge against Tyrone which was reflected in their dominant display and then blew Clare away with minimum fuss last Saturday.
Donegal are in great shape themselves after coming through Ulster unscathed from the preliminary round for the second successive year. The one true scare they endured against Tyrone when Paul Durcan’s foot was needed to divert away Martin Penrose’s late goal attempt. But apart from that they have impressed, particularly with the greater scoring totals they have racked up and that was perfectly expressed by their 2-18 total against Down in the Ulster decider.
The game breakers are…The marquee names in the Kerry line-up are heading for Croke Park at the most important stage of the season and are significantly are all playing brightly. Colm Cooper and Declan O’Sullivan are dictating the direction of their attacking play, Paul Galvin, disciplinary issues aside, continues to excel in the half-forward line while Kieran Donaghy has finally settled in one position up front and settled into good form. Throw in a fit again Bryan Sheehan at midfield, an exciting prospect in young James O’Donoghue at corner-forward and a defence that is improved albeit while still looking unconvincing, and Jack O’Connor’s men are in a good place right now.
Donegal’s Mark McHugh. Pic: INPHO/Jonathan Porter
But Kerry are coming up against a team who defensive structures are solid and who they will have to be imaginative against if they are to break them down. The likes of Mark McHugh and Frank McGlynn have been simply outstanding for Jimmy McGuinness’s side this season, and the ease at which that pair switch between defensive and attacking duties is representative of the fluency of Donegal’s play and why they will be such a tough nut to crack. They have developed enormously this season, which they had to, from the team that was defensively orientated last year, and have big names like Karl Lacey, Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden that want to adorn the latter stages of the championship.
Gazing into the crystal ball…It’s remarkable that a pairing that has never emerged before in the history of the championship, has generated so much hype and expectation. It will not a pure or pretty spectacle but that should not detract from a potentially fascinating tie. How Kerry cope with Donegal’s unique approach to the game will be interesting and in their favor is the fact that Jack O’Connor has consistently proved himself a great strategist in these matters. Having Eamonn Fitzmaurice amongst his back room team will have helped this week in attempting to create ploys to take down Donegal.
But the Ulster side are not the untrustworthy side of the past and have developed great consistency. They have designs on the All-Ireland title this year and now is the time to show that. They will be facing an attack better than any they have encountered in 2012 tomorrow and it’s worth reminding how Kerry took Donegal apart in the league back in the spring. Yet Donegal have progressed so much since to dilute the relevance of that clash and while tomorrow should be tremendously tight, they have the resolve to edge it at the finish.