Jack's Royal return to restore Kingdom glory
Published 03/11/2008 | 00:00
The coronation of the next Kerry team manager -- King Jack the Second -- is developing into something of a slow burner, but Kerry people know when it's time to be patient so they are not unduly concerned about the present delay.
Particularly when the delay is itself caused by Kerry football; in this case the success of Kerins O'Rahillys from Tralee who have qualified for the county final.
That will keep Jack O'Connor, manager of the O'Rahillys team, with lots to contend with prior to setting his stall for his second coming as Kerry manager, but there is no doubt that the Dromid Pearse's teacher will undertake that return assignment.
Forget the fact that when the 'Kerryman' newspaper did a readers' survey about who should be the next manager, it was Mick O'Dwyer who romped into the lead with O'Connor relegated to second place. Readers of papers do not select managers -- which may be bad news for O'Dwyer -- but the Waterville man will surely take a fiendish delight in the results as he heads into his seventh decade.
Football is VERY serious in Kerry, more important than business, politics or, dare one say it nowadays, religion. That is the situation all the time in Kerry but things assume even more importance when The Kingdom are beaten in quick succession by the same county.
Some exceptional defeats in their history shook Kerry football to the core. The best examples were Down's final victories over Kerry in 1960 and '68 and semi-finals defeats in '61 and '91 which not alone rocked Kerry, but means that they have never beaten Down in the senior championship.
But Kerry have a more immediate set of defeats to worry about now with the possibility that Tyrone could beat them FOUR TIMES in succession in the space of seven years. That would leave a lot of Kerry people at their wits' ends next autumn.
So as O'Connor 'Mark II' sets sail, he must be aware that this is the riskiest managerial assignment in Kerry since the ill-fated expedition back in 1982. There's little doubt that he will take the job because the challenge alone will inspire him.
O'Connor will also know that the stakes are higher than for any Kerry manager since the defeat against Offaly in '82, but his demeanour and the high profile that he has maintained since 'retiring' in 2006 left few people in doubt that he would make a return.
There was of course 'the book' undertaken by O'Connor in which several Kerry football taboos were shattered, to the dismay of a great number of followers. Dressing-room secrets and some player assessments more frank than usual certainly scorched a lot of posteriors. But Kerry people know what's important about football and what went on in the book will not feature in the Kerry psyche -- unless of course they fail to win next year's All-Ireland!
Last year was a bad one for the image of the Kerry GAA brand name. Several players besmirched the good name of Kerry in a way that insulted a lot of their heroes of the past and today's public. They also lost against Tyrone for the third time in five years and these two things had a direct connection.
The Kerry public want the recent deviation from their high standards to stop and for football to predominate. In other words, what they want is a hatchet-man in charge of the dressing-room. That will be needed to stop player indiscipline on the field and to make tough selectorial decisions off it.
Gaelic football has always been volatile in Kerry and if one reads the excellent book 'Princes of Pigskin' -- featuring personal accounts from a selection of former Kerry greats -- it is clear that GAA politics was as rabid as real politics in Kerry.
O'Connor will be well aware as a South Kerry man of the political 'niceties' that play such a crucial part in everything relating to the county football team as he pronounced so well in his book.
But Kerry people need to see more than tinkering around with the present situation if they want to beat Tyrone next year. There are more fundamental issues than discipline, finding a couple of new players, retirements, team selection or getting the players fitter than ever before. These will not be enough.
The Red Hands are an exceptionally hard team to beat, as hard as Kerry themselves under O'Dwyer. Being the best set of players does not necessarily mean victory, as Kerry have learned to their cost in recent years. Tyrone players, under the guidance of the mesmeric Mickey Harte, have an unstoppable inner belief in their ability to win big games when it matters most. This was something that used to be the hallmark of Kerry football teams all over the years, but, based on the three games against Tyrone this decade, it does not apply to current Kerry players. This year's final proved that decisively and no amount of excuses can change that.
It will be down to the ability of O'Connor and his helpers to change the psyche of the present Kerry team in that regard and that will decide his -- and the team's -- destiny next year.
But Kerry are lucky at this crucial time to have somebody with such mental strength -- he will need it all.