Cold comfort for Kerry from past experiences in February
Published 09/02/2016 | 02:30
The danger in pairing the words Kerry and crisis together in the same sentence in the month of February has not been lost on those who jumped the gun and did just that three years ago.
Remember that? Kerry travelled to Mayo and lost by six points in Eamonn Fitzmaurice's first league match, failing to score in the second half. Then, a week later in Killarney, they went another 21 minutes scoreless against a Dublin team that eventually dished out their biggest beating in meetings between them since 1998. Over the course of the two games Kerry scored just 10 points.
It was fodder for crisis talk as experienced observers struggled to recall a half of football where they had failed to register a score or even a performance as anaemic as that against Dublin was.
Allied to the dearth of underage success, the waves of concern were rising high. But by the end of August they were within minutes of an All-Ireland final.
The following year February was possibly worse when Colm Cooper's knee injury was factored in but they ended the season of course as All-Ireland champions (and All-Ireland minor champions) and any labouring set of results in February quickly became another footnote.
Last year Fitzmaurice got his first February league points away in Derry but defeat to Roscommon on Sunday has ensured that Kerry supporters still have not have witnessed a home league win in February in this decade.
It doesn't amount to much in the context of winning an All-Ireland title and five of the six Munster titles.
But defeats to Dublin in Killarney (2010) Cork in Tralee (2011), Armagh in Tralee (2012), Dublin in Killarney again (2013), Derry in Killarney (2014) and Mayo in the opening game of the 2015 campaign have ensured the curious anomaly of a home shut-out since their 2009 victory over Donegal, ironically the last year that Kerry were league champions.
Three times in the four years of Fitzmaurice's four-year stewardship now they have lost their opening two league games but that's a fate that has befallen his predecessor Jack O'Connor too who watched opening games against Dublin and Cork slip by in 2010. It's something that they have developed an understanding and even acceptance of.
"We don't tend to do things the easy way, we tend to make things difficult for ourselves. But we have been down this road before," Fitzmaurice reminded his media audience after Sunday's one-point reversal.
In three previous league campaigns they have finished sixth each time and have now chalked up 13 defeats (and one draw) from 21 matches since he took over.
Could it be that the exertion of their taxing layers of club competition still resonates into the second month of the new year?
Most Kerry clubs are still engaged in district championships right into November and December. Last year's South Kerry final took place on St Stephen's Day, while the North Kerry decider went to a replay which was played on January 9.
It was interesting to hear Fitzmaurice reflect on the timing of their post-Christmas holiday after the defeat to Dublin the previous week.
For Kerry, there is comfort to be drawn from the return of Marc ó Sé, Cooper, Bryan Sheehan and Kieran Donaghy for the trip to Down in three weeks' time.
But their inability to develop a one-point interval lead with such a strong wind advantage and stop a Roscommon team from running through them with ease so often on Sunday, just as Tyrone, Cork and Dublin did in last year's championship, must have been a little disconcerting for those among the 4,507 crowd.
Tommy Walsh and Barry John Keane failed to fire and from a position where they looked to have an embarrassment of riches on the inside line, they look a little more bereft now.
In the greater scheme of things history has taught us that February doesn't really matter to Kerry. But already, in a division where five points relegated Tyrone last year, they are sailing close to the wind.