QUESTION: Who has been the best, most influential forward in Kerry for the last two months, scoring two of the best goals in the last two weeks, winning a county final 'man of the match' award and doing some defensive work that Marc O Se would be proud of?
Answer: Brian Looney CONSIDER this. In the 40th minute of last Sunday's Munster Club SFC quarterfinal in Quilty, Brian Looney ghosted on to a perfectly weighted pass some 25 metres from the KilmurryIbrickane goal and cracked an accurate and confident shot beyond the reach of Peter O'Dwyer. The goal, Dr Crokes' second, put the Kerry club eight points ahead and their passage to the provincial semi-finals looked perfectly safe.
Four minutes later a slick move from the Clare champions saw former intercounty man Odran O'Dwyer take a pass, advance to the edge of the six-yard box and pull the trigger for a shot on goal. Out of nowhere a Crokes body came diving across and made a perfect block on the Clare man. A '45' was conceded but a goal was prevented. The block came from Brian Looney.
We recount those four minutes of action from last Sunday's action to highlight just how complete a player Brian Looney has become and wonder if the Kerry senior team manager can overlook the former Dr Crokes captain for the year ahead?
The previous week Looney scored one of the goals of the county championship and generally has been a scoring machine for Crokes for the last three or four years. But it is Looney's all round contribution to his team that has been most impressive, and closer examination of his performances show a huge work rate and selflessness for a player who surely now has done enough to make the Kerry management notice.
Of course, Looney's performances of late with his club are, in some respects, merely an individual expression of a collective ideal; there isn't a Dr Crokes player that doesn't work incredibly hard or doesn't sacrifice some part of his game at some point in a match for the greater good. It's just that Looney seems to work even harder, run more intelligent lines, track back even further and score more points and important goals than most.
Four or five years ago, when Dr Crokes were enduring demoralising county final defeats to South Kerry, Brian Looney blew hot and cold. On certain days he lit up the stage, scored stylish points and won some games almost single-handedly. Other days he went missing. If there was a flaw in his game back then it was that he appeared to lack courage. He sometimes pulled out of challenges and mightn't have tackled as hard as would have been expected of a half forward. The skill and pace was there; just sometimes the hard edge and conviction seemed absent.
Back then, circa 2007 and 2008, when Looney might have caught a break from Kerry manager Pat O'Shea,
one wondered if he actually had all the right stuff to be a senior Kerry footballer.
Now you realise that back then he was still not much more than a kid. Looney is still just 25 now, back then he was just out of his teens. Along the way between then and now Looney has, to put it simply, grown up. Being handed the club captaincy in 2010 placed trust in and responsibilty on the then 23-year old and he rose to the task and lifted the Moynihan Cup for the first of Crokes three county titles since then.
He has developed a steel and a bravery that allows him to win ball against the head and make vital space for himself, while his natural speed and eye for a score separates him from most club forwards in the county right now.
But it's his intelligence as a footballer and his willingness to put in the dirty work too that marks him out as an obvious candidate for a bigger stage next year. Think back to his goal in the recent county final against Dingle. The support he gave Johnny Buckley from a Dingle kickout; the lovely line he ran after giving off a pass; the way he floated onto the ball two passes late and how he smashed the ball coolly and confidently to the Dingle goal.
And then think of the amount of time you see him emerge from a little cluster of bodies deep in the Crokes defence with the ball, kicking the ball long to a colleague and haring after his own pass.
Of course, all this doesn't guarantee that someone like Looney would make it at the very top, that he would displace Paul Galvin or Darran O'Sullivan or Donnchadh Walsh from a championship half forward line.
Is he considered as good as emerging inter-county talents like James O'Donoghue or Patrick Curtin, or potential senior players like Conor Cox or Paul Geaney or James Walsh? We can't say for sure but what we do know is that right now Brian Looney is worth a closer look at next spring when Eamonn Fitzmaurice convenes his panel.
Dr Crokes' possible involvement in the All-Ireland club championship in February and March would, of course, hinder Looney's chances of getting any significant game time in the Allianz League, but the Kenmare based bank official would be available to Kerry for the McGrath Cup and it would be wise - and generous - that whatever Crokes commitments have at that stage that they make Looney available to Fitzmaurice if the call comes.
When one considers how Donegal used Mark McHugh this year, and that Paul Galvin - the prototype 'box to box' half foward - will be 33 next year, Brian Looney could be a very useful resource in the Kerry squad next summer.
Worth a closer look, at least, no?