independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Sheehy pleads with Kerry fans to be patient

Kerry’s Declan O'Sullivan leaves the pitch deflated after the league defeat to Dublin in Killarney

The Kerry football management always had a sense that the early rounds of the league could spell trouble for them. But this much trouble?

Mikey Sheehy, Kerry legend and selector to manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice, admits he never envisaged it would be so bad. In his own words, Kerry's paltry return over the last two weekends is "frightening".

An average of one point every 15 minutes in their last 150 minutes (including additional time) of competitive football, and in excess of an hour without a score at all somewhere in the middle of that spell, presents the stark reality that Kerry are in a much greater hole than they could ever have imagined they would be.

For Sheehy, the defeat to Dublin was even more disappointing than the previous weekend's reversal to Mayo.

The fact that more effort was expended before a sizeable home crowd in Killarney for even less return is a sobering reality for the most decorated county in the game. The lack of fluency, co-ordination and appreciation of space that has been their hallmark for so long was worrying for keen observers of Kerry football.

"I suppose the most disappointing thing from our point of view after the two games is the performance level," said Sheehy yesterday.

"You are going to lose games at this time of the year but I just think it was the poor performance really on both days. Mayo was disappointing but I was actually more disappointed on Sunday. There is a little bit of inexperience in the team but still there were certain aspects of the play that you would have been disappointed with."

Sheehy feels the notoriously demanding Kerry football public will have to be patient because there is, he says, simply no choice but to be any other way.

He admitted they could ordinarily have expected "a bit of a reaction" from the home crowd on the back of such a poor performance but it didn't surface.

"I think there probably will be (patience). Even on Sunday I kind of got the vibes from the crowd that they were more than patient. We were playing that poorly, you would expect maybe a bit of a reaction. I think they are going to be patient and I think they don't have a choice really," he said.

Comparisons with the post-Mick O'Dwyer era in the early 1990s are plentiful but still premature at this point of the season. But when a respected commentator like Weeshie Fogarty delves back to a period in the 1960s for a parrallel, it underlines the scale of the crisis looming.

Sheehy does acknowledge that difficult days potentially lie ahead for the 36-time All-Ireland champions beyond the current golden generation led by iconic figures like Colm Cooper, Tomas O Se and Declan O'Sullivan.

"It is a very poor statistic from our point of view that Kerry's last All-Ireland minor title was in 1994 and I think the last U-21 title was 2008. Even though we had a minor team that was beaten in a semi-final by Dublin (their third championship defeat) last year, I think it could be a problem down the road. We won't press the panic button quite yet, though."

Sheehy, eight times an All-Ireland winner, said the management couldn't fault the work-rate of the players in training but clearly sees an attacking problem that only the return of established figures can resolve.

"When you replace four of your starting forwards, then you do have problems. It is a frightening statistic from our point of view, no score in the second half against Mayo and four points over 70 minutes against Dublin. That's galling really.

Contenders

"At the end of the game I think there were 10 guys who finished on the team that could be serious contenders on our championship team."

The arrival of Kieran Donaghy, O'Sullivan and Bryan Sheehan was a bright note on an otherwise dark day and the willingness of O'Sullivan and Donaghy to make themselves available ahead of schedule bodes well for Fitzmaurice in the weeks ahead.

Paul Galvin will also be available for the Kildare game in Newbridge in three weeks' time after Finuge's defeat in the All-Ireland intermediate club championship final, while Dr Crokes have seven players on the squad including Cooper, team captain Eoin Brosnan and Kieran O'Leary.

Sheehy admits that these are tough days for the management and especially Fitzmaurice, one of the youngest managers in the game.

"It's not easy taking over from Jack O'Connor, who had such a successful spell. Eamonn is a young guy who could have gone and done different things, but he put his head on the block. It's a learning process. He's a very solid, very good guy and a very cool guy. He speaks a lot of sense when he speaks to the players," said Sheehy.

"I spoke to him briefly after the game on the phone and, of course, it's frustrating.

"The only good thing from our point of view is it is still only February. I think the break will suit us, and three weeks down the road we'll see. What we want to see is a performance. If we're beaten, we still want to see a better performance than we did the first two days."

If there was another consolation for Sheehy, it was the quality that Dublin brought, and even at this early point of the season he sees the last two All-Ireland champions (Donegal and Dublin) as the front-runners for September glory.

"I thought the Dubs were exceptional. Mayo were pretty good against us, but Dublin were at a different level again. Even when we were looking at their team when it was announced during the week, there were a lot of young lads. Some people might have said they're inexperienced, but they are very good footballers," he said.

"I think that Jim Gavin has them playing a more direct style of football, which was quite impressive. Inside, when Paddy Andrews went in with Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan, they caused all sorts of problems. Our full-back line did quite well on the quality of ball that was coming in. But they are going to be a serious side."

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