Kerry can summon spirit of Eighties -- Spillane
Published 15/05/2010 | 05:00
Kerry have been in this position before. When Offaly and Seamus Darby halted the march to five-in-a-row in 1982, that great Kingdom side was expected to go quietly into the night as some of its more established stars like 1981 captain Jimmy Deenihan, Paudi Lynch and Ger and John O'Keefe drifted away from the inter-county scene.
In 2010, they are in a similar predicament. Some forceful characters and talented footballers are no longer available and, even though they are tipped to get past Tipperary in Semple Stadium tomorrow, Kerry's powers are expected to wane after last season's highs.
And just as it was in 1983, when Cork won the Munster title, the Rebels are the most likely pretenders to their All-Ireland crown; Kerry great Tom Spillane can see similarities.
"We'll see how they react in the next few years," said the Killarney-based auctioneer.
"There's no doubt they have lost some big players but we came back and won three-in-a-row and I suppose not many expected that at the time, but Kerry always seem to have a few good footballers coming off the conveyor-belt.
"We haven't won a minor All-Ireland in a long time and only recently won an U-21 but it doesn't seem to make much difference: there always seems to be players there."
The likes of Spillane and Ambrose O'Donovan would force their way onto the side that landed three successive titles from 1984 and this year, Spillane can see some of the Kingdom's squad players forcing their way onto the team as the summer progresses.
"You'll never replace the likes of Darragh (O Se) -- he was really looked up to in the dressing-room. But Seamus Scanlon has been in great form. Kieran Donaghy played very little football last year so he's almost like a new signing because he has a huge influence on how they play and also on those players who play off him like Gooch.
"Barry John Keane impressed me at the end of the league: he shows very well and can score and I expect to see more of him as the summer wears on.
"Some players have been let go back to their clubs, but don't be surprised if there's a few others brought in over the coming months."
Cork have been tipped across the board to climb the Hogan Stand steps in September and they continue to impress, handing out a hammering to a Dublin selection in a behind-closed-doors challenge recently but Spillane feels they still have plenty left to prove.
"They are favourites and rightly so. But they'll know that they won a poor-looking League final and that that won't be enough later in the summer," warned Spillane.
"Back in the 80s, there were basically four games to win an All-Ireland but the way I see it now, there are really two championships in the year. One in June and July and then the important stuff for the All-Ireland.
"So when do you start really taking it seriously? That Kerry team that was beaten in Pairc Ui Chaoimh last year was a pale shadow of the one that turned up in Croke Park just a couple of months later. There was no comparison.
"You need to be playing your best football at the end of the year -- that's Cork's biggest challenge."
Jack O'Connor's side must first beat Tipperary tomorrow. A Kerryman, John Evans has restored pride in the big-ball game in the Premier County, but Spillane insists Tipperary have always rattled Kerry on the football field, even when they were given precious little chance of causing an upset.
"This will sound strange, but in my experience Tipperary always gave Kerry a tough time," he recalls.
"I can remember a match in 1975 when Kerry played them in Clonmel and were a few points down with less than 10 minutes to go. John Egan nipped in for a very fortuitous goal and they won.
"That was 1975 and the start of the so called 'Golden Generation'. As they say the rest is history, but it could all have been very different.
"John Evans has them organised and committed now, but even though they are a hurling county traditionally, Kerry don't get it easy from Tipp. Never have."
Cork await the winners in the Munster semi-final but like last year, that result will most likely have little bearing on what happens later in the summer when the action moves to Croke Park.
Kerry's options have been cut after the various defections and retirements that hit the squad but after last year's mid-season resurrection, the Kingdom demand the greatest of respect.
And while all the talk has been of those who have left the squad, there is little spoken about those who remain.
Paul Galvin, Declan O'Sullivan, Colm Cooper and Donaghy are among the most coveted footballers in the country. Mike McCarthy is the classiest of operators, Tomas O Se's legend grows with each season, while brother Marc looks so good on the ball most other counties would consider him wasted at corner back.
So, mirroring the post-mortems in 1982, the core of a superb team remains and talk of their demise look exaggerated.
"Kerry will be there or thereabouts at the end of the year," Spillane reckons. "It might take them a while to get going but don't write them off."
Kerry aren't ready for their half-acre on Jones' Road to be rezoned just yet.