Fallen Kingdom tumbling towards spell in wilderness
Fitzmaurice doing best he can, but new crop nowhere near quality of departed legends
Published 25/06/2014 | 02:30
Most genuine Gaelic football fans like Kerry. Some might not like their dominance of All-Ireland titles and some complain about their easier route to Croke Park, but there is not much to dislike about the Kingdom on the playing side of things.
Who could dislike a county that gave us so many past and living legends of the game and so many memories?
Leaving Ennis on Sunday evening after their laboured Munster semi-final win against Clare, I felt a tinge of sadness. I felt sad because, for the foreseeable future, we'll not see Kerry compete for the All-Ireland title on the third weekend of September.
They're heading into a barren period much like the '90s before a talented group of youngsters, led by Darragh O Se, kicked off another period of dominance. Kerry have been papering over the cracks since their last All-Ireland win in 2009.
Every year since, they have lost irreplaceable players. First to sign off in 2009 were O Se, Diarmuid Murphy, Mike McCarthy and Tadhg Kennelly.
Tommy Walsh, tipped by many to be O Se's natural replacement in midfield, went to Australia.
They could still compete though. Led by more iconic stalwarts like Tomas and Marc O Se, Colm Cooper and Paul Galvin, they made the final in 2011 and lost out to Dublin last year in one of the greatest games of all time.
However, Tom O'Sullivan bowed out after the 2011 final and was followed by Galvin, Tomas O'Se and Eoin Brosnan after last season. Throw Gooch's injury into the mix and even a county like Kerry can't cope.
New blood has filtered in since 2009. Shane Enright, Peter Crowley and Fionn Fitzgerald are now regular starters in defence. Anthony Maher, David Moran and Johnny Buckley have the unenviable task of replacing the great Darragh in midfield. All good, solid inter-county players, yes, but certainly not replacing like with like.
On Sunday we got a glimpse of the future, with Eamonn Fitzmaurice forced to hand five players their inter-county debuts.
Of the five, Brian Kelly and Paul Geaney impressed most, but I didn't see a budding Galvin in Michael Geaney, a Mike McCarthy in Paul Murphy or a Gooch in Stephen O'Brien. Maybe that's an unfair comparison for these newcomers, but if Kerry want to stay at the top table some of these lads need to be exceptional. And they're not.
Their league form for the past two years is another indication of their slide. Both years a win was needed in the final league game to secure their Division 1 status and it's only a matter of time before that goes too.
Kerry could still compete next year. The forward of his generation – the Gooch – will be back and with him providing good ball to Declan O'Sullivan and James O'Donoghue, Kerry will cause defences problems.
However, Gooch will turn 32 next summer and the reality faced when he calls time on his career is the ultimate worry for Kerry fans.
I feel sorry for Fitzmaurice. By all accounts he is an excellent young manager who finds himself putting out fires at every turn. He has brought a professional aspect to Kerry's preparation and impressed me on the line last Sunday and also with his honest assessments after the game.
His appointment probably came three years too late for both him and Kerry.