GAA: Kerry can flourish with second chance

By Liam Carroll

Hours after Cork’s eight point Munster SFC semi-final defeat of near neighbours Kerry, the media were writing obituaries for the green and gold outfit.

Most commentators slated the Kerry Class of 2009 stating they were past it, too old, lacking in desire, and containing the weakest full back lines the county has ever produced.

Individual performances from some of Kerry’s old reliables were also criticised, namely Aidan O’Mahony, Padraig Reidy, and five all star winner Colm “The Gooch” Cooper. However, a championship has never been won in June and the critics can write off this Kerry team at their peril.

I would be reluctant to draw the line on Kerry’s championship charge, but it goes without saying that will need to undergo some major surgery. The scalpel is in the hand of no man better than current Kerry boss, Jack O’Connor. After all, Jacko’s first operation was an incontestable success, taking a bruised and battered team that was defeated by six points against Cork in 2006’s Munster final, and transforming them into All-Ireland Champions in that year, followed by a 2007 victory and a 2008 final defeat to Tyrone.

The key to 2006’s resurrection was undoubtedly the realignment of Austin Stacks’ man Kieran Donaghy to full forward, where he devastated defences and offloaded countless balls to The Gooch. However, the task seems not quite as straight forward in 2009 and the waters slightly muddier.

Kerry have been without Donaghy for the duration of this year’s Munster Championship and will continue to be so for at least another fortnight as he recovers from a knee injury. The absence of the forward nicknamed “Star” is a major reason as to why Gooch has not been performing to his potential.

The Jacko Factor

Dr. O’Connor knows that the task in fixing this team before they face their first qualifier game on the 11th of July is a huge one and is clearly relishing the challenge.

“It’s not going to be easy trying to perform major surgery in front of everyone’s eyes,” admitted the Dromid Pearses man but he added: “It will be a great test of us, the players, management, everybody to try and stick together. We have some players who have won three, four even five All-Ireland medals on this team and while it might be easy for them to walk off into the sunset and say that’s enough.

“We hope that when the players come back in the next 10 days that there will be a great desire to get back at it and pick ourselves up because the management certainly have a desire to try and restructure the team and get back to Croke Park in September. Whether the players have that desire or not we’ll find out about in the next few weeks.”

The Kerry boss is a clever man and it is certain that he will emerge for Kerry’s next team with a few tricks up his sleeve. He is a sage of the game and he understands the game inside out. This year he coached his school Colaiste na Sceilige to win the All-Ireland senior colleges title, a remarkable achievement for a school that boats a mere 250 boys. It is certain that O’Connor will be aiming for glory on a national scale as he prepares to use the qualifiers to reignite his, and his county’s, championships aspirations.

Munster Joinery, Back in Business: Making Back Doors for Kerry

The joke in the south of Ireland at present is that struggling window and door manufacturers, Munster Joinery, are back in business making back doors for Kerry footballers, after Kerry’s elimination from the Munster Championships and their descent into the qualifier route aka the back door.

Kerry are no strangers to taking the “back door route” as they used their get-out-of-jail card in 2002 to reach the final of the All Ireland where they lost to northerners Armagh, and in 2006 where with a rejuvenated team they achieved All Ireland glory.

The first team to “take the back door and come out the front door” was John O’Mahony’s Galway back in 2001, and Tyrone accomplished the same last year. Kerry can take confidence from knowing that descending upon the scenic route can give players a much needed kick up the backside to rekindle championship hopes.

Ring in the Changes

Jacko will be fully aware of all of his charges that need a slap on the wrist or a boot out the door. Kerry have an embarrassing array of natural footballing talent and there is no shortage of players to take the place of the many slackers who have already worn the green and gold jersey during this year’s championship.

One such player is Rathmore man Aidan O’Mahony, who up until three weeks ago showed few signs of being defensively frail. The 26 year old Garda, who was named man of the match in the 2006 All-Ireland final, had a pair of nightmares at half-back against Cork’s Pearse O’Neill.

O’Mahony is a much more potent force at wing-back and should be moved from his 2009 Championship starting position. O’Mahony’s vacant centre back position should then be filled by the relentless Marc O’Se should he return fit from his hamstring injury that affected him over a fortnight ago.

The other defensive weakness exposed by this month’s run-outs against Cork is that of the full back position. Rathmore man, Tom O’Sullivan has been positioned at full back for the majority of Kerry’s games for the last three years, often as an unhappy and makeshift replacement for quiet Kilcummin defender Mike McCarthy, who hung up his inter-county boots in 2006 at 28 years of age, and three All-Ireland medals in his pocket.

However, McCarthy last week announced his decision to the Kerry fold. “Is this the man who can save Kerry’s summer?” was The Kerryman’s reactionary headline to the McCarthy’s return. One can only assume that McCarthy has been drafted in as a running repair to the problematic full back-slot. McCarthy’s arrival can see Tom O’Sullivan return to his preferred corner-back position. With these changes in personnel, Kerry’s defensive powers will multiply and there will be immense strength in depth, with the likes of Daniel Bohane, Tommy Griffin and Aidan O’Shea as more than capable replacements.

Outside of defensive worries, the Kerry selectors will have to pay particular attention the Kingdom’s faltering midfield combo. Boasting gifted midfielders such as quadruple All-Star winner Darragh O’Se, Seamus Scanlon, Tommy Griffin, Paul Galvin, David Moran, Anthony Maher and Michael Quirke, Jacko’s headache is which of these fine footballers to start in their first game of the qualifier series.

Arguably, the returning Tadhg Kennelly and Sean O’Sullivan could also do an excellent job in the centre of the park, so Jacko’s decision becomes increasingly painful. In selecting his midfield pairing, Jacko must realise that An Ghaeltacht’s Darragh O’Se is no longer a 70-minute man.

The five time All-Ireland winner is far from finished, he can provide a wealth of experience from the bench if and when Kerry to call upon him. There is a big question mark too over the elephant in the room, Paul Galvin, as for the second year running he let his team down by getting a red card for letting his temper getting the better of him. Is Galvin more of a liability than an asset to this Kerry team? Can Kerry run the risk of sticking with a player who is easily provoked and runs the risk of being sent off?

Hungry in Limbo

Contesting five All-Ireland finals in a row and four National League finals since 2004 has meant that this Kerry squad has ticked over plenty of miles over the last half decade. This huge amount of football is certain to eventually take its toll on the players, not just physically, but mentally also, as arguably their appetite for this level of competition can diminish.

Though few signs of this mental fatigue were on display as Kerry walked to National League glory this year, the first potential example of this theory was demonstrated in the pair of matches against Cork. Kerry were so often second to every ball and Cork forwards were left to dance their way in on goal. Jacko is a fantastic man manager and will surely be able to add new dynamic to this team which is need of some slight re-invention.

Fresh faces such as Mike McCarthy, Brendan Kennelly and players who will return after periods on the doctor’s table such as Kieran Donaghy and Seamus Scanlon will ensure that the Kingdom will be focusing on future glory, instead of dwelling of past successes.

Kerry have a magnificent team this year, and with defensive and midfield additions and realignments, they could be set for another Croke Park final appearance come September. Jacko boats a dream full-forward line in the Twin Towers ft. Gooch ie. Kieran Donaghy, Tommy Walsh and Colm Cooper, and free taker Bryan Sheehan has the ability to dissect the posts at will. Sheehan is a dead ball artist, the moulded mixture of placing Ronan O’Gara, Dan Carter, David Beckham and Roberto Carlos in a blender.

Kerry’s provincial battle has been fought and lost, but the war is far from over. They are in limbo at present, not knowing until Sunday who they will be playing in the second round of the qualifiers. A home draw is vital. A rapid reinfusion of talent including Mike McCarthy and Kieran Donaghy will ensure that Kerry will return a renewed and reinvigorated team on the 11th of July. Seldom do we see Kerry lose twice in a year. Watch this space.

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