Time has come for Dublin to park airhead nonsense
After last year's debacle, Páidí ó Sé believes there is no more rope for Pat Gilroy or his players
AFTER a long winter of too much talk and too little action, in which the withdrawal symptoms caused by no football and the severe weather were quite a hardship, the national league swings back into action this weekend and I, for one, am badly in need of a fix.
There are those who say that Dublin's clash with Kerry today is bereft of any real meaning -- that Kerry have no interest in the league, and that Dublin have a long way to go before they begin to shape up as potential championship contenders.
I disagree. Pat Gilroy can't waste any opportunity to develop his squad for 2010, and Kerry -- with the loss of such outstanding players as Tommy Walsh and Tadhg Kennelly -- have to seriously reshape their squad.
I have faith in Kerry's ability to produce two or three new players of real quality when it is truly needed. Just look back over recent years when Colm Cooper, Declan O'Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy, Tommy Walsh, Darran O'Sullivan and others came on stream when they were badly needed.
It is so long since Dublin have beaten Kerry in a serious match that I don't really expect them to do it this time either, irrespective of any experiments the Kerry management might instigate. But where are Kerry going to get some new players of real ability this year? I'm not sure. It is nothing new that Kerry's success at minor level falls well behind the achievements of the senior team; it is one of the mysteries of football in the county.
But colleges football is in a healthy state from Dingle to Tralee to Killarney to Cahirciveen, and I don't doubt that there are hungry and talented young players only too keen to step into the shoes of the departed ones.
It is a tribute to the Kerry management that none of the squad had been allowed to slip into a comfort zone. As far as I can see, there is no player able to hide in there and feel that there is nobody challenging for his place. Kerry might have nothing to prove but I would urge them to approach this opening skirmish with deadly seriousness.
Dublin, on the other hand, have to seriously examine themselves after last year's debacle against Kerry at Croke Park. There is no further rope for Pat Gilroy or any of his squad to indulge in any more self-delusion, a state of mind I felt was symbolised in last year's one-sided encounter when a Dublin forward celebrated to Hill 16 after he had scored a goal with a few minutes remaining and Dublin were trailing by about 15 points. That kind of airhead nonsense has no place in the real business of winning an All-Ireland title.
I take the introduction of my old sparring partner Dr David Hickey into the Dublin back room team as a true indication of a "get real" philosophy in the camp. Hickey possesses that essential ingredient that I call the 'X capsule' -- that vital life force and spirit that is infectious and can inspire a team to play at twice their ability. Dublin haven't shown that elusive spirit for some years, but the advent of Hickey could be an important step in the right direction.
There are plenty of good young players in Dublin and a critical task facing the management is to harness that ability, to motivate it, and to give it inspiration. It's also time for Dublin to get rid of the sideshows which accompany their every outing in Croke Park.
I know to my cost what such distractions can do to a team. How can I ever forget the five-in-a-row match against Offaly in 1982 when the spirit that had won us four All-Irelands deserted us on the day?
But I'll never forget some of the complete irrelevancies that came about to upset us in the week before that unfortunate match. On the previous Monday night, the Kerry County Board was exercised by the question of whether the Sam Maguire Cup should be brought to Tralee or Killarney first on the following Monday after victory was secured.
On Tuesday, the main point for discussion was what colour jerseys should we wear to avoid a clash with the Offaly colours. There was talk of wearing the Munster jersey, of togging out in a special designer outfit prepared by a leading sports firm, or as to whether there should be a toss-up as to which county should wear their own colours.
All that nonsense went on and none of it was of any help to us on the day. But I had to admire the entrepreneurial spirit of an Irishman living in the UK who had 2,000 'five-in-a-row' jerseys made up in order to cash in on Kerry's expected success. When Kerry collapsed on All-Ireland final day, he hastily had RIP inscribed on the five-in-a-row jerseys and sold to the 2,000 to Offaly supporters.
Back to the present, though. Kerry will win today and I can't see beyond them for this year's All-Ireland.
PS: It was a great pleasure to meet the fine Spillane family from Templenoe, Kenmare, last Thursday after the sad loss of their mother, Maura, at the age of 86. She was a remarkable woman who ran a grocery, pub and petrol station at Templenoe with great determination after the death of her husband Tom Spillane (a former Kerry footballer and selector) at the age of 42. My sympathy goes to Pat, Tom, Mike and Margaret Spillane, and all the family, on their very sad bereavement.