Sport Gaelic Football

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Billy Keane: Kerry must be as free as a dolphin in the Shannon

Billy Keane

Published 21/06/2014 | 02:30

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Eamonn Fitzmaurice will hope for similar success with Kerry this year as he enjoyed with Pobalscoil Chorca Duibhne who won the Hogan Cup in April. Photo: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE
Eamonn Fitzmaurice will hope for similar success with Kerry this year as he enjoyed with Pobalscoil Chorca Duibhne who won the Hogan Cup in April. Photo: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

The wind was a whisper all this week and the Ballybunion waves wouldn't knock over a sandcastle. The last few lilting notes of a Clare reel travelled the six miles over the water to the sun-kissed shore.

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Judging by the truncated playing style, I'd say the fiddler was your man from the Miltown Malbay direction who lost a finger in an argument over a lame mare at the Fair of Spancil Hill.

We'll cross over to see Kerry play their first championship game against Clare tomorrow and we might even ask the fiddler to play a lament. Our squad has been decimated by injuries, retirements and holidays. Yes holidays.

Kerry have picked five new caps. We have lost five All Stars from last year's team, but only three of the missing won Footballer of the Year.

ENORMOUS

Even Dublin would be badly affected by such enormous losses. Then there's the vexed question of how it is so many young Kerry stars are on holidays in America this summer.

Conor Cox, from my own club, is the best fit Kerry forward right now. Conor is playing summer football in San Francisco and the commute to training is 10,000 miles.

I heard a Dublin player complain that he had to take a bus and a tram to get to the gym. It is said he's recovering from his ordeal in the decompression chamber installed in his home by the Dublin County Board and their sponsors. Mick O'Connell rowed his boat from Valentia to the mainland, back in the days before the bridge was built.

There would be a hard night's training and three hours of driving with another boat trip over to the island.

The Kerry County Board must take a long hard look at why it is there are so many excellent players spending their summers in the States. So far as I know, cash-rich Dublin haven't lost a single player to the American teams.

The good news is we have David Moran back. David has been through more than his fair share of injuries. He is one of our favourites, on and off the field. Declan O'Sullivan was the best forward in the country over a period of two or three seasons.

He is back in harness and not a minute too soon. Declan was the victim of a savage and unpunished tackle in the 2011 All-Ireland final.

Only the Gooch has suffered more off-the-ball treatment. I'm not sure if the refs read this page, but maybe someone somewhere might have a quiet word, or even a cross one. Bounty-hunted magpies and jackdaws get more protection. This team building will take time. Young lads need to be encouraged and sometimes I believe we in Kerry ask too much of our young players.

Tomas O Se was skinned in the early days. We still have an O Se on the team. Marc believes in the new Kerry. Word has it Kerry are very fit. Hard work and heart will make up for a lot of deficiencies.

The pressure is on our manager, Eamonn Fitzmaurice. He was a tough lad when he played. His long kicks were inch perfect and he always held the middle while still managing to mark his man.

Eamonn's finest hour was Kerry's worst. It was against Meath in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2001. Kerry were beaten sick, but Eamonn never gave in. It's seldom you praise a man for getting sent off, but Fitzmaurice was red-carded that day for trying too hard.

Eamonn's achievements in guiding his school to an All-Ireland Colleges win will go down as one of the most incredible training performances in GAA history.

Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne has only 120 male pupils. There are schools with as many in first year. Fitzmaurice obviously has the gift of lifting players. Pobalscoil were five down at half-time in the final, but they never gave in.

I wouldn't write off Kerry, but we need a little bit of luck with injuries, the emergence of new talent and the homecoming of a few returned Yanks.

There are four North Kerry players playing ball in America this summer who should be crossing the Shannon with Kerry tomorrow.

Clare kicked 22 wides against Waterford and if they can halve that waste, then the Banner will be in with a chance. Clare are at home in Cusack Park and have played two championship games. Kerry go in cold. There's this theory abroad in the School of Football Begrudgery, where the class sizes are growing bigger by the day and the pupil-teacher ratio is one to one.

The proposition is that Kerry have a huge advantage in that we can gear our training towards two or three games a year. There may be some benefit when you have a very settled side, but it could be the case that a team-rebuilding Kerry will only discover their weaknesses when it's too late to do anything about it. I have no doubt, though, that if Kerry was moved by plebiscite to Ulster or Leinster, we would have won 100 All-Irelands by now, if not more. But we will always stay close to Clare.

This sunny week, the Shannon Estuary dolphins put on a show for the paddlers in Ballybunion. West Clare shone in the sun like Hy-Brasil of the lore. Clare was so near, it seemed as if a flower arranger with a long reach could pick daisies for a chain in the meadows of Carrigaholt. The Shannon school of dolphins are citizens of Kerry and Clare. They jumped for joy yards from the shore. I'd love to be as carefree as a Shannon dolphin. Maybe in another life...

All we can say to this young Kerry team is to forget yourselves and play for the fun of it, like you were splashing in the water with the bottle-nosed dolphins of the Shannon Estuary.

Irish Independent

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