Midfield becomes an unlikely weak link for Kingdom
T HE pulse is quickening as spring approaches and our expectations are heightened by the reopening of serious hostilities on the football field.
I make no apologies for dwelling this week on the prospects of Kerry in 2011. After all, it is a subject I know a little bit about!
Kerry start their league campaign against Cork in Tralee on Saturday week, a very attractive prospect after the long, at times Arctic winter. The most glaring gap in the current Kerry squad is the absence of truly class midfielders.
Centrefield is a beautiful position for the complete footballer -- all the skills of the game are brought into play, high catching, accurate kicking with both feet, speed off the mark, anticipation, the ability to block down your opponent, vision of the entire field of play, fitness and stamina, composure, and the ability to get a few scores.
It is a dream position for a dream footballer but, sadly, they are not always readily found.
Kerry have a great tradition at centrefield stretching back from Darragh ó Sé, Maurice Fitzgerald, Seán Walsh, Jack O'Shea, Vincent O'Connor and Mick O'Connell and going back before them to the likes of Paddy Kennedy and 'Aeroplane' O'Shea.
Another crucial aspect of midfield play is the ability to distribute the ball shrewdly and accurately to your forwards.
Mick O'Connell could put the ball through the eye of a needle, and Mick O'Dwyer and others benefited from such a superb service; Jack O'Shea and Seán Walsh had an uncanny ability to find the 'Bomber' Liston, at the right moment and in the right place and it is a pity if Kerry don't have a distributor of their class today.
Colm Cooper is marked so tightly these days that he is totally dependent on a specialised ball coming to him with pinpoint accuracy at the right split second in time.
I suppose the best I could advocate for Kerry is to put David Moran and Anthony Maher in midfield. There are those who advocate bringing Kieran Donaghy out. But the forward line would be robbed of his presence, a luxury Kerry cannot afford, I'm afraid.
Unfortunately, it is possible that the only way out of the problem is for Kerry to go against the grain and tradition and devise a game plan that is not so critically dependent on dominance at midfield.
I also think that Kerry have difficulty in the centre-back position and my remedy would be to get Tomás ó Sé geared up and ready to take that slot.
At this early stage of things, I have to say I can't but endorse Cork's prospects for the All-Ireland. The main monkey on their back is that they haven't beaten Kerry to win the All-Ireland, and I know that this preys on their minds.
It is vital when a team steps out onto Croke Park for one of the crucible matches in the later stages of the championships that they possess what I call the supernatural capsule -- that X Factor ingredient that can be unleashed on Croke Park and is the very opposite of the phenomenon, that, for example, causes teams like Mayo to freeze up on the big occasion.
Kerry have almost always had this presence, but for many other teams it is a very elusive ingredient.
I confess to a big liking for Kildare. I believe they were unlucky last year and if the gods are kinder to them this year they have a lot of qualities -- I admire their style of mixing the long ball with the short ball, they've a good physical presence, they are fit and at their best they will be a formidable force.
Other teams that cannot be overlooked are Tyrone and Dublin, and I have a hunch that Tomás ó Flatharta's Galway might surprise a few people this year. They are hungry for success and I believe ó Flatharta has the ability to get them going again.
I am not carried away too much by Down, notwithstanding their fine performances last year. Personally, I don't expect them to be in the frame in 2011.
I had a chat last week with former Armagh star Enda McNulty, who is of the opinion that the art of coaching is lacking in many counties and that there is paucity of people qualified and willing to do the job. Enda feels that, for instance, basic defensive skills such as blocking are not being imparted to the new generation of players in many counties.
This is something that could benefit from critical analysis ,by appointing coaches who have themselves had playing experience at the top level. Anyway, I'm looking forward to a great year in Gaelic football and by heavens do we need it!
PS: The late John Doyle of Holycross was one of my heroes since boyhood and was rightly a legend of hurling not only in Ireland but all over the world.
Eight All-Ireland medals is an achievement you can't argue with and, like many truly great people, he was truly courteous, gentlemanly and a civilised man. I extend my sympathy to his family.
Sunday Indo Sport