Páidí ó Sé: I fear Kerry's great spell of dominance is at its end
Páidí ó Sé believes that unfair treatment of Paul Galvin and Tomás ó Sé by the GAA has hastened the decline of a great team
The typical Kerry supporter woke up last Sunday morning like a man who had been on a big binge the day before. He not only had he a terrible hangover, but as he slowly pieced things together, he realised he had been mugged and robbed of his wallet the previous day, too.
It was a horrible feeling that fine Sunday morning for Kerry people to come to terms with, the slipping away of the holy grail of the Sam Maguire for another year.
But I must say that there seemed to me to be a lot of complacency in Kerry in the days leading up to the Down match and people were sanguine about the outcome even though we were without Paul Galvin and Tomás ó Sé.
But, as the reality began to sink in, it became the view of all and sundry here that Kerry had been subjected to a miscarriage of justice by the CCTV Committee. How is it that in the entire country, the only times a referee's decision has been reversed by the CCTV Committee has been in the case of two of Kerry's most important players?
Eamonn O'Hara of Sligo seemed to me to be lucky to escape the bureaucratic deliberations of this committee for an incident in the game against Galway -- ironically on the same weekend that Tomás was singled out, but I hold to my opinion that the referee's decision on the field should be final, right or wrong.
The great contradiction is that this is one of the GAA's core principles. And it is because of this that Louth are not Leinster champions in 2010, as the Association deemed the referee's decision was the only one that counted. Or is it only 'final' when it suits?
The final cut for me was the disallowing of Killian Young's good goal after what looked to me -- and most observers -- a perfectly good handpass from Donnacha Walsh. I warned at the start of the championship that confusion over the handpass rule would almost certainly cost a team dearly at some point, but little did I know that the team to suffer would be Kerry.
In case people think I am going under with a persecution complex, let me hasten to make clear that I think Down on the day would have beaten Kerry one way or the other.
But I also agree with the widespread feeling in this county that the authorities were out to get Kerry this year, possibly in a desire to spread Sam Maguire around a bit but also, I think, because of a bit of old-fashioned begrudgery.
Another crucial aspect of the whole thing is that, after the Munster final, Kerry had to wait three and a half weeks to know who their quarter-final opponents were going to be. A four-week gap between games is difficult enough for a manager to navigate while trying to keep his team fresh and in top form, but not even knowing who your opponents are going to be gives your players no clear target to aim at.
Here let me say unequivocally that Jack O'Connor has been doing a very good job as Kerry manager and I expect him to be in place for next year's challenges. Hurlers on the ditch are ten a penny and it is my considered judgement that Jack is as good a manager as is available to Kerry at present.
But it is my opinion that he has not done himself any service by too much post-match whingeing.
As to the game itself, Kerry got off to a terrible start and a had series of disasters at midfield, where the loss of crucial possession enabled Down to open up a good lead after only seven minutes. It is not often that Kerry are so badly served in the middle of the field. It is a position that ideally demands a complete footballer, skilful, athletic, physical, quick and quick-witted.
The county has had great football artists in this position in the past, from Mick O'Connell to Jack O'Shea, Sean Walsh to Darragh ó Sé.
A lot of people lost the run of themselves after Micheál Quirke fielded a few high balls against Limerick but I never felt he was mobile enough to carry the responsibility of getting a grip in the centre of the park -- especially in Croke Park. To be fair to Quirke, it takes two to tango and there was no indication that the other players tried out at midfield were any better. It is now clear that we took Darragh ó Sé's sterling service for granted and his departure left a gaping hole.
A lot of grievance has been vented around the country in the fall-out from last weekend's quarter-finals that there is something wrong when the provincial title winners are dumped out of the All-Ireland after losing just one game.
But opinions on these things are as fickle as the weather; when Kerry won the Munster final, there was a lot of stuff written that they would be spared the grinding attrition of making their way through the qualifiers. Now, some of these same people are saying the opposite, and are pointing out that the spectacular progress of teams like Dublin and Kildare is due to the fact that they had to get through the obstacle course of the qualifiers.
There is merit in both arguments. One way of looking at it is that being the manager of a county football team is like training a thoroughbred racehorse. I encountered John Oxx at a gala sports dinner last year and in his speech he might just as well have been talking about footballers as racehorses. To get a racehorse, or a team, fresh and flying for the day is a magnificent skill.
When this Kerry team tried to put its foot on the gas in the second half against Down, there wasn't enough there to give them the acceleration needed. By that time it was too late and Kerry were beaten; you don't start nailing down the rafters after the gale has started.
The loss of four of last year's stars, Tommy Walsh, Darragh, Diarmuid Murphy and Tadhg Kennelly drove a huge hole in the team, and the absence of Galvin and Tomás ó Sé, unfairly banned on video evidence I feel, tore the heart out of the side. So Jack O'Connor has a big job to do and I wish him well next year.
But, having said that, I now fear that Kerry's great 10-year spell of success is at its end and that considerable rebuilding will have to be done. When you think back to the last great Kerry era of dominance, when the team I was part of was lucky enough to have won eight All-Ireland titles in 12 years, it then took another 11 years to win another. I truly hope it won't be like that this time.
There has been talk of Darragh ó Sé going into football management but, at this stage, it won't be Kerry. I think we might be looking more in the direction of Galway.
In any event, the complacency of the weeks before the quarter-final has been completely shattered and Kerry people have the rest of the summer, the autumn, and the winter to let what has happened sink in.
Let's hope that the sense of simmering injustice will light a fire under Kerry and that they will come forward in 2011, renewed and reinvigorated, and ready to write another great chapter in the county's football history.