Wednesday 18 October 2017

Buckley hungry to lead Kerry by example

But Dr Crokes powerhouse must first fight for his place and re-establish himself on team

Johnny Buckley at the Munster Championships launch in Muckross House, Killarney. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Johnny Buckley at the Munster Championships launch in Muckross House, Killarney. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

If his leadership of Dr Crokes is anything to judge by, the Kerry captaincy is safe hands with Johnny Buckley.

Buckley's gesture in summoning 10-year-old Amy O'Connor, a young Crokes supporter battling cancer, to the podium on the Hogan Stand on St Patrick's Day to lift the Andy Merrigan Cup with him was a touching one that struck a chord far beyond Lewis Road and Killarney.

In his hour of glory Buckley didn't forget the pledge he had made with club chairman Denis Coleman a few weeks earlier, after Amy had visited Crokes' training.

So, as Crokes first All-Ireland club triumph for 25 years was sinking in, Buckley caught the eye of Coleman, got the thumbs-up and Amy was invited down by the captain who underlined what an inspiration she had been to them.

"The intention was to give Amy the boost and thank her for what she had done," recalls Buckley.

"She had come down the week before and told us she was going to the match. We knew the effort she was going to, just to do that.

Johnny Buckley raising the Andy Merrigan Cup after Dr Crokes win in this year’s All-Ireland club final. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Johnny Buckley raising the Andy Merrigan Cup after Dr Crokes win in this year’s All-Ireland club final. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"We appreciated it and saw it as an opportunity to give her a little boost and say thanks from us."

Impeccable

Buckley's delivery of the moment was impeccable. Thus, with Colm Cooper retired and Fionn Fitzgerald a previous Sam Maguire-winning captain, the honour naturally fell to Buckley to be the county champions' nomination to captain Kerry in 2017.

"It was between a couple of the lads that won the county championship so I sat down with Fionn. Fionn had lifted Sam before, we had a chat with some of the younger lads and between the lot of us we just decided that I would do it this year.

"But when you are going in with Kerry, it is not a huge thing, because there are a lot of leadership figures around the dressing-room anyway so there are no major pressures or nothing else to it."

It will be the lesser of his challenges compared to locking down a place on the team.

He'll be mindful that none of the last three nominated Kerry captains, Kieran O'Leary (2014), Kieran Donaghy (2015) and Bryan Sheehan (2016), started the last championship games that season, underlining the absence of security the honour provides.

Buckley missed all of the 2016 championship after sustaining a micro-fracture of his knee in the league semi-final against Roscommon in April, an injury that required surgery.

He was never able to make up the time after that and was "chasing his tail" as he watched from the sidelines without making a contribution for the first time in two seasons since missing the Clare game at the beginning of the 2014 campaign.

Buckley had been building steady momentum in the previous seasons, playing all five games in 2013, Eamonn Fitzmaurice's first year in charge, at midfield before switching to half-forward in 2014 and 2015.

But he couldn't shake off his knee problems and as attention turned to the Crokes campaign that went from Kerry to Munster and then All-Ireland series there was no time for proper rehabilitation.

It was only when he sat down with Fitzmaurice after the All-Ireland club final that he was able to plot a proper path.

Rehab

"It was difficult to get a chance to take a bit of time out and get it right. In fairness to Eamonn, he gave the all clear after St Patrick's Day to take time to do a rehab programme and get it right, which I have been able to do.

"It's a year I'm really looking forward to. Not having played in last year's championship with trying to get the knee right, that, more so than anything, has added real motivation and hunger."

Buckley, an All-Ireland U-21 winner in 2008, enjoyed a high point in 2014 with the All-Ireland senior win but from a performance perspective, his effort against Tyrone in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final set a benchmark.

His preference is for a role on the half-forward line where he can present as a target for kick-outs, make those tackles and kick those long-range points that he has become synonymous with.

"Any jersey you get with Kerry is always a nice one but I've enjoyed the half-forward role. At wing forward you get on a lot of ball.

"There's lot of work-rate and tackling involved. I enjoy getting stuck in and allowing you to get on a bit of ball."

The departure of 'Gooch', as well as Marc ó Sé and Aidan O'Mahony from the Kerry set-up will help to cultivate new leaders, Buckley feels.

"What it has done is that is given fellas who have been around for a few years the opportunity to step up to the plate and become that leader in the dressing-room and that leader on the field, which is a very powerful and positive thing," he adds. "So that is what we are focusing on."

Irish Independent

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