Kerry’s 2018 All-Ireland dream is somehow still alive, in spite of a frankly shambolic performance in round two of the inaugural Super 8s on Sunday. The Kingdom were completely outplayed and outmanoeuvred by Monaghan in Clones and it took a moment of magic from 19-year-old wonder kid David Clifford to rob a point at the death. It was more than Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side deserved and many fans were left scratching their heads at a number of contentious calls that the management made both before and during the crucial fixture.

In the build up to the game, speculation was rife that major changes were imminent and so it proved as Shane Murphy, Jason Foley, Brian ó Beaglaoich, Killian Young (suspended) and James O’Donoghue made way for Brian Kelly, Ronan Shanahan, Mark Griffin, Tom O’Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy.

Murphy didn’t have his best game against Galway but his exclusion still came as a big surprise to a lot of people, myself included. I was naturally delighted to see my Legion clubmate Brian Kelly getting another opportunity and he did well as always but this practice of constantly changing goalkeepers is a nonsense in my opinion. I know from experience, in both football and soccer, that you want solidity and consistency at the back and that starts with your keeper.

I’ve been on a couple of teams who have been fortunate enough to have more than one good option in goal and I accept that it’s hard for managers to choose just one, but it has to be done. If Murphy is your first choice, stick with him. If Kelly is your first choice, stick with him. As I’ve said before, we’re lucky to have two top class keepers in Kerry at the moment (we had three before Kealy retired) but there can only be one number one. This chopping and changing is no good for anyone.

It’s very easy to say it in hindsight but putting Mark Griffin on Conor McManus was a big risk. And if it wasn’t evident before throw-in, it should have been clear enough after 77 seconds when the Monaghan sharpshooter found oceans of space directly in front of the Kerry goal and made no mistake to fire the hosts into an early three-point lead.

Despite this disastrous start, Griffin was left on McManus for the entirety of the first half and the Clontibret man racked up 1-5 (1-3 from play) before the interval. Any defender would struggle to keep McManus quiet but it was obvious from an early stage that it wasn’t Griffin’s day. He’s a far better option for Kerry when he’s marauding from the half back line, which he showed again in the second half in St Tiernach’s Park.

Micheál Burns was (harshly) whipped at half time in the Munster final with Kevin McCarthy taking his place and the Crokes man hasn’t started since. The tables were turned on Sunday as Burns replaced McCarthy at half time and, to be honest, I thought that was harsh enough as well.

I suppose as a manager you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t: if Fitzmaurice made no changes he’d be criticised for that as well. But hauling young fellas off at half time like that is bound to hurt their confidence, especially when they weren’t that bad. I’ve been a victim of it myself and it’s tough to take. It’s embarrassing more than anything. (Although, to be fair, I was rubbish the same day.)

Kieran Donaghy was drafted in for James O’Donoghue, ostensibly to mix things up, but how many long balls were sent in his direction? If you’re going to wait 74 minutes to launch a high ball into Star, then you might was well wait 73 minutes to bring Star on. If your tactic is to move the ball through the hand and play nice, dinked passes into the forwards, which appeared to be the case for large spells of the Monaghan game, James O’Donoghue should have started.

I know he wasn’t having a good game but substituting Paul Geaney is unforgivable as far as I’m concerned. There are certain players you just don’t withdraw when you’re chasing a game. Regardless of how many chances he has missed, Tottenham cannot withdraw Harry Kane if they need a goal. Even if he’s 2 for 15, the Warriors cannot sit Kevin Durant down the stretch. And irrespective of how many wides he has kicked, Kerry cannot take off Paul Geaney. He’s too dangerous. Kerry needed a goal and he’s one of the few players in the country who can magic up a goal from nothing.

You might think that it’s unfair on the other guy who gets subbed off instead of him but as a player you have to accept that.

Reintroducing Geaney in the 72nd minute bordered on the ridiculous. If a club team did that you’d be laughing at them. “Have they no one else?” I’m not necessarily saying that Barry John Keane would have been a better option at that stage but how is he supposed to react to such a snub? If I were him I’d be thinking, “Well, what’s the point of me even bringing my boots?” It’s a real slap in the face.

The whole thing reeked of desperation and I don’t think anyone could honestly say that we deserve to still be in contention for an All-Ireland. We’ve effectively played two quarter finals so far and haven’t won either. In fact, we should have lost both fairly comfortably.

It took a single moment of magic to save us against Monaghan. James deserves credit for pinging that 50-metre pass into Donaghy, as does Donaghy for touching it down to Clifford, but there’s no doubting who the really hero was. It was an exceptionally cool finish considering the circumstances and Clifford has already firmly established himself as one of our most important players, despite his tender years.

We might even have stolen a win were it not for a really poor decision from David Moran at the death. He had better options (Begley and Stephen O’Brien were free to the left and Clifford was coming out on the loop) but he opted to shoot under pressure from distance and his sliced effort barely reached the 21. It’s easy for me to say it here I suppose. If he nailed it he’d be the hero and we’d be talking about one of the greatest scores in the history of Kerry football.

In fairness to the players, they showed a lot of heart even though things clearly weren’t working for them on the day. They battled away and they live to fight another day. But it’s just all so rudderless.

If Kerry do manage to beat Kildare at home, and Galway do beat Monaghan (which is far from a foregone conclusion), then what? Dublin in the semis? Anything can happen and Kerry have the players to cause Dublin one or two problems, but at the moment you’d have to say that it’s not a very attractive proposition.

MVP

Tom O’Sullivan and David Clifford impressed for the visitors but choosing a Kerry player would be a stretch, even for a Killarney magazine. The kicking of goalkeeper Rory Beggan (at both ends of the pitch) was spectacular and he certainly deserves a mention but it’s hard to look past the excellent Conor McManus. Monaghan’s talisman kicked 1-9 and was a constant thorn in Kerry’s side. Hopefully Galway make a better job of stifling him than we did…

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