Three key battles that will decide the All-Ireland football final between Kerry and Donegal
The unlikely duo from the semi-finals have reached the decider on Sunday, and before all you Kerry and Donegal fans jump down my throat, it must be said the odds were on a Dublin/ Mayo rematch when the pairings were made.
But as it is, the two best teams in the country will face off at half three on Sunday and no doubt the atmosphere in Croke Park will be at meltdown levels. Who will win is up for interpretation, so if you haven't already done so, read this week’s Burning Issue to see our predictions on who will emerge victorious on Sunday afternoon.
Here are the three battles on Sunday that we are really looking forward to and will have a big impact on the direction this game takes…
Kieran Donaghy v Neil McGee
This promises to be a huge battle and is one that will certainly dictate the shape of the game on Sunday. Donaghy was responsible for earning Kerry a draw in the first game against Mayo and he was in inspired form in the replay, leading his side to victory. McGee was immense against Dublin, so much so that he was nominated for man of the match despite receiving a black card midway through the second half.
While Donaghy was allowed to run the show against Mayo due to some naivety and lack of tactical nous from the westerners, he will not be given the same freedom on Sunday when he packs down against the colossus Neil McGee. Donaghy has a very simple playing style, catch the ball and go for goal; if the goal avenue is closed off he will hope to be fouled or lay the ball off to one of the inside forwards. It would be harsh to say he is one-dimensional but he certainly doesn’t have the skill set of some of the other Kerry forwards.
Video via ForKingandCountry2014.
McGee is one tough cookie and if you look at the changes in his physique since 2011, it is amazing to see how much the Gweedore man has bulked up in recent seasons. Recently quoted as being in too much ‘agony’ to sleep after some of his trainings, McGee has been the standout full-back in the country this year. Despite giving away some inches to his opponent, you have to think that he will have the edge in the strength stakes and will not be physically dominated like Ger Cafferkey was in the semi-final.
I think McGee could just have the upper hand in this tussle which will be a severe blow to Kerry’s attacking threat. Even if McGee cannot win the ball straight up, he should have enough strength to break the ball and allow one of the many Donegal defenders to sweep it up.
David Moran and Anthony Maher v Odhran Mac Niallais and Neil Gallagher
One of the most important tussles on the field. Can Moran and Maher establish the dominance they enjoyed in their semi-final win over Mayo? Will Donegal gain parity or control the middle-third on Sunday?
Moran and Maher were simply outstanding against Mayo and they really bossed the middle third of the field. Moran had over 40 possessions in the replay which was simply phenomenal and his workrate and tackling was extremely impressive. Maher was quietly effective and added a great balance to the midfield and allowed them to outplay Seamus O’Shea, Barry Moran and Tom Parsons. If David Moran can produce a repeat performance then Kerry will stand a great chance of dominating the middle sector.
Video via RTE Sport.
For Donegal, Mac Niallais and Gallagher endured a tough opening period against the Dublin midfield before they eventually managed to come to terms with their athleticism. Gallagher produced a superb display when he eventually got into the game and deserved a man of the match nomination. A good performance in the final should earn him an All-Star while Mac Niallais is in line for Young Footballer of the Year.
This is going to be tight on Sunday, but I feel Kerry may have a slight edge in this area if Moran can play to his potential. But don’t rule out Gallagher and Mac Niallais, who will have plenty of back-up from Rory Kavanagh and Christy Toye.
Frank McGlynn v Donnchadh Walsh
You were probably expecting Michael Murphy v Aidan O'Mahony for number three and this might not be one of the first duels that springs to mind when you think of the game, but it has the potential to be an absolute dinger.
Walsh has been hailed as underrated so much so that he has become well known and is no longer able to slip under the radar. McGlynn has been Donegal’s best player this season and it was he and Michael Murphy who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in their tight game against Armagh.
Donnchadh Walsh has an unbelievable work rate and you will see him in every line of the pitch on Sunday. As I said before, formerly under-rated but now recognised for the important work he does. He was immense against Mayo in the first game, scoring a point and was a hair's breadth away from a goal as well as being a general thorn in the Mayo side. He wins the dirty ball and is capable of distributing it well; just look at his lay-off below for James O’Donoghue’s goal against Dublin last year.
Video via Kevin Bolger.
Frank McGlynn is Mr. Consistency for Donegal. He never has a bad game and he constantly turns over ball and rampages forward in attack, scoring points from the half-back-line. He possesses great pace and reads the game very well, meaning he gets on the end of a lot of loose ball. McGlynn is a shoo-in for an All-Star and he deserves it; he is a wonderful player to watch and he ideal player for young footballers to model themselves on.
This is the duel I am really looking forward to. It may not decide the game and the two players could very well end up cancelling each other out but it promises to be an enthralling battle. I can’t call who will come out on top, will Walsh’s work ethic dictate this or McGlynn’s brilliance win out, but I can't wait to find out. If they end up marking each other, of course.
All roads lead to Croker on Sunday and Dublin is sure to be hopping when the two counties from opposite ends of the country descend on the capital.
Tune into the game at 3:30pm on Sunday for a real footballing treat… you won't regret it.