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Derry v Kerry – Talking points

Conor Breslin highlights all the talking points surrounding this weekend’s semi-final clash between the Kingdom and the Ulster champions

Championship battles between Kerry and Ulster teams have always provided interesting talking points, especially over the last two decades.

There was the Tyrone v Kerry rivalry throughout the noughties, the All-Ireland final against Armagh in 2002, and even hard-fought battles with Donegal in 2012 and ’14.

Derry has rarely featured in the Kingdom’s eyeline. But that doesn’t mean they are not a threat.

The Munster champions are hot favourites, but everyone still expects this to be the tighter of the two semi-finals.

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Breaking down the match here are some of the talking points that surround this match on Sunday.

How we expect Derry to setup?

Nothing unusual here, like in their previous matches it is expected that Derry will pull all their bodies behind the ball when not in possession and attack on the counter at speed.

In the quarter-final against Cork, they seemed extremely comfortable, conceding just 1-8 while also not allowing the opposition to hit a single scorable free inside their own 45m line.

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While many will argue that Chrissy McKaigue has not been at his best lately, it is expected that he, alongside Conor McCluskey will lead the packed defence.

Knowing when to hold their positions, while also instructing when to commit their team forward, both of these Derry defenders will need to be on song if they expect to reach the final.

As a system the Ulster champions occupy opposing defenders by positing three players deep inside, almost on top of the opposition’s keeper.

It ultimately creates space for the forwards to run into which varies between a kicking and running game.

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So where do the problems lie with Derry that makes them underdogs?

While formidable when playing the game on their terms, if they fall behind, they struggle. They have yet to throw the shackles off or resort to a Plan B, even when things were going against them.

A good start is key here for the Oak Leaf County.

Their fitness is in no way an issue, but they do carry a small panel, with their subs rarely making impacts based on their conservative system.

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One area where Derry struggled on against both Fermanagh and Monaghan was their failure to deal with high balls into their danger zone. From it, they conceded goals as a result.

What many people ask however when accessing Derry as true All-Ireland contenders is if they have enough marquee forwards or players who score consistently.

Sadly, for the Ulster champions, that is not the case. They have only one – Shane McGuigan – and he was held scoreless from play by Cork.

Despite usually having a free role in the Kerry defence, it is expected Tom O’Sullivan – who is well on his way to his third All-Star this season – will be shadowing McGuigan for the afternoon.

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It is thought to have been too short of time from the last game for Derry to tweak these errors.

What about Kerry?

When people talk about Kerry and Dublin, they talk about timing their championship performance, and it appears that these two sides got it spot on.

The Kingdom’s best all-round showing of the season came against Tyrone.

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They won 19 turnovers which yielded an impressive 1-10 throughout that match.

Their defensive system, which alongside David Clifford up front, was the platform for their successful Sam Maguire win in 2022, is back working as they have conceded just one goal in six championship games.

The area where Kerry differs from Derry is their ability to change roles.

If the designated sweeper is usually Tadhg Morley, but if he is tied up on marking duties, Paul Murphy will operate that role.

In the forward line, Kerry has the unique advantage of inter-changing David Clifford and Seán O’Shea from their position at half-forward and full-forward.

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Most of all, Kerry’s brilliance in 2023 has finally been their ability to break down the wall of a defensive unit.

Against Tyrone and Louth, they opened up such defences using width, depth, composure and by not taking the ball into contact. Something they learned quickly from their match against Mayo earlier this season.

Overall, Kerry will be tempted to go for the jugular early and press up on Derry because the Ulster champions’ gameplan will unravel if they have to chase a lead.

For Derry, it’s about frustrating their opponents for as long as possible, tire them down and punish them with scores from the counter-attack.

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