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Where Kerry lead, others follow – the phenomenon of the big full-forward

Sean Rice
Mayo's Barry Moran

Where Kerry lead, others follow


Sean RiceKERRY lay down the standards. We who are not Kerry follow. Their countless colossal achievements bemuse us and irk us because we can’t match them. We just stand and stare as they freshen every season with new material tossed straight off the assembly line of their football factory.
Tommy Walsh and Daniel Bohane are creating the headlines this year, and the championship far from finished. Two years ago it was Kieran Donaghy’s turn. Before that it was The Gooch who massaged their psyche, catapulting him to the top of the football charts as a new discovery in the evolution of the game in the kingdom.
Donaghy scaled new heights as a full-forward. When they selected him in that position against Longford, Kerry had no idea of the impact he would make. It was a qualifier and they could afford the gamble. A shock defeat from Killarney was never a consideration.
But they needed the qualifier to refocus. Cork had packed them off from Páirc Uí Chaoímh with a six-point beating ringing in their ears.  Their defeat opened a wider canvas of challengers with visions of All-Ireland success – Mayo among them.
In the qualifier Kerry were drawn at home to Longford who had reached the final round with some decent results over Waterford, Tipperary and Derry. The draw, however, doused any further hopes of advancement for the midlands men.
For Kerry it was experimental value. And on Donaghy as an unorthodox full-forward all eyes were pinned in Killarney. By game’s end the role had been revolutionised. When they met Mayo in the final a few weeks later, Donaghy had become a household name. At half time he had left his mark once more, and Mayo were reeling in his wake.
The six-and-a-half foot giant had set a new standard, and managers all over Ireland are at their wits end ever since to produce full-forwards in Donaghy’s mould and, paradoxically, to coach full-backs to deal with them.
Not all men of his size make good leaders of the attack. What has stood to Donaghy is the sanded down ruggedness that has come from his basketball experience. He is no less powerful for all of that, and he carries his 15 stone lightly and nimbly.
It is a man of that calibre for which Mayo officials are now scouting the county. They want a big full-forward to complement the front line, someone that will fill in one of the blanks in John O’Mahony’s new Mayo.
But there are few players of that stature in the county. Barry Moran is one they would hope to sculpt in the image of Donaghy. The Castlebar Mitchels man, essentially a midfielder, glowed in the front line against Cavan in the qualifier last year. Like Trevor Mortimer, injury is stalling his development, however. He is physically less robust than Donaghy, and has been sidelined for a great part of this season. Whether he has the qualities the position demands is not yet proven. The making of him as a full-forward will be determined by the service provided to him.
Long before Donaghy was unveiled, John Maughan toyed unsuccessfully with the towering front man concept. His target man was Liam McHale, who had come good in trials at full-forward, and in whom they placed their confidence for victory in 1997. He lacked none of Donaghy’s attributes ­ neither height nor weight nor skill. He was also among the top basketball players in the country.
But he never became a Donaghy – because the midfield service collapsed. The first high ball to the front line went towards pint-sized David Nestor in the corner. The first to the full-forward came off his shin. McHale’s leadership was more urgently required at midfield than in the forward line. Kerry had choked off midfield and the big man up front was thus made redundant.
By Donaghy’s stature, Michael Meehan is average height. In their quarter-final, Meehan, with ten points, was the more effective full-forward, however. It won him the man-of-the-match award.
Before Donaghy was discovered, Dara Ó Cinnéide at full-forward was Kerry’s top marksman – all 5’10” inches of him. Against Mayo in the 2004 final he plundered ten points. His total for the championship amounted to 2-26.
Inevitably, counter measures will be employed to deal successfully with the modern Donaghys. Full-backs big enough and agile enough to neutralise their counterparts will be coached.
And with one wave of their magic wand, a small Kerry full-forward will appear on the scene to run rings around every big full-back, becoming a household name overnight. The small man will be back in demand. And, slavishly, every other county will follow.

Minor must believe in themselves again
SO much has been written about another Kerry giant in the making that Mayo’s minors could trot onto Croke Park for their All-Ireland semi-final clash on Sunday paralysed by the fear of another Walsh.
Barry John Walsh, son of Seán and brother of Tommy, comes with a big goalscoring reputation, and Kerry have high hopes that he will be the key man in their expected victory over Mayo.
But while more talented Mayo teams may have left Connacht in the past, the heart displayed by the current crop has been more impressive than many. Give me heart before style in any team.
They are up against it on Sunday, but manager Ray Dempsey will know what it takes to deal with Barry John Walsh, and Kevin Keane has the ability to neutralise the big full-forward.
Dempsey will be relieved that the hamstring injury picked up by key man Aidan O’Shea seems to have cleared up in time to allow him take his place at centre half-forward. O’Shea is central to Dempsey’s plans and without him Mayo would be seriously handicapped. Eoin Reilly, who injured an ankle in the quarter-final, is a worry for the selectors, however.
Reputations have never counted for much with previous minors. They have beaten the best, and if the young men representing the county on Sunday believe in themselves – and there is no reason why it should be otherwise – nothing will prevent them from reaching the All-Ireland final.

Tyrone march on towards september

WHERE stand Mayo now? In the light of Tyrone’s compelling victory over hot favourites Dublin, where do Mayo rank in the register of public opinion?
Could Tyrone’s performance have improved so much in two weeks as to inflict a similar hiding on Mayo if their meeting had been extended for a fortnight? More to the point, how would Mayo, who ran Tyrone to a point, have fared against Dublin?
We’ll never know. But the manner in which they set about dismantling Dublin’s dream must have had more to do with the mindset of Tyrone than with any physical improvement.
Nobody gave them a chance. They were so unconvincing against Mayo that they, too, had been written out of the script. 
The scene was already set for a Dublin/Kerry All-Ireland. It suited Tyrone, and who better than Mickey Harte to exploit that psychological weakness. In that situation, Tyrone’s All-Ireland winning experience was paramount.
Consider that Brian Dooher, Saturday’s man of the match, was rendered ineffective by Peadar Gardiner and that Davy Harte and Tommy McGuigan who played vital roles against Dublin were substituted in the qualifier, and you can only conclude that Mayo were a better team than they have been labelled.
The question now is: are Kerry safe?

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