O'Brien primed for Kingdom's Roscommon revenge mission
Published 05/04/2016 | 02:30
In some ways, Stephen O'Brien maintains, Kerry's defeat to Roscommon in round two was the making of their league campaign.
The weekend after that loss - the first time a Kingdom side had gone down to Roscommon on Kerry turf - Eamonn Fitzmaurice, with pitches at a premium in the county due to the weather, brought his players to Banna beach for training.
They had lost two games on the bounce at that stage to leave them facing another fight for their top-flight status.
However, those close to the camp knew not to panic. Kerry only returned from a team holiday on January 10 and were well behind on preparation but O'Brien saw things starting to turn that weekend.
"We had a weekend of training in Banna beach," he recalls. "The weather was really bad and we could hardly get a pitch.
"We had a week where we trained on the beach in Banna, running up sand dunes and things like that. It was completely different to normal training and it was the weekend straight after the Roscommon game.
"That was brilliant. It was good craic and it raised spirits. Something outside of football can often be a help because you can keep going down the same line of football, but if it is not working, you maybe need something different."
They got a few of their heavyweight stars back as the league progressed and Kerry grew in confidence. They have now won five games on the trot since that defeat to the Rossies and are in their first league semi-final since Fitzmaurice took charge.
They'll face the Connacht men again this weekend in the first of Sunday's league semi-finals at Croke Park and O'Brien is delighted to get another crack at the Rossies.
"Nearly the majority of the team haven't played in a league semi-final, which is unusual for a Kerry team," the Kenmare clubman said. "I am really looking to going back to Croke Park.
"We owe one to Roscommon after they turned us over in Killarney, a result we wouldn't have been too happy about. They went on from strength-to-strength after that. It is a good feeling to make a league semi-final.
"At the start of the year, it was an ambition of all the players to try and target the league and have league success.
"We didn't get off to the best start, but we are now after winning five in a row. We are happy enough with where we are going."
O'Brien has seen plenty of action in the league and was deployed in the full-forward line last Sunday, an area of the pitch where competition for places is particularly tight.
Fitzmaurice admitted yesterday that he had yet to see his full squad together. Anthony Maher and James O'Donoghue won't see any league action, even if they get to the final. Paul Geaney was a late withdrawal from the match-day squad with a hamstring strain but is expected to train fully this week.
"You can definitely get caught looking over your shoulder, especially with the competition that is there," O'Brien said. "You can only control yourself. There is competition, but it is not cut-throat competition.
"Eamonn has fostered positive reinforcement. I was taken off last weekend and I was delighted that Alan Fitzgerald played well. If I was started in front of a fella, he would be the first person down to me to wish me luck. There is no badness in it."
Kerry's move into the semi-final helps bridge the gap between league and championship and should they advance to the final, they would have a seven-week break until their championship opener.
However, he's not looking past the challenge of Roscommon on Sunday. "They got some unbelievable scores (in Killarney). Their forwards looked deadly. They are close enough to being the top-scorers in the league.
"I would have known Niall Daly. He was in the same year as me. He was brilliant. He was the best player I played with over the course of my years in college. They had serious players in the backs as well.
"They started well, but we kind of weathered the storm with a couple of points before half-time. After not playing well, we went in a point behind and we were nearly expecting to kick on in the second half. It just never came.
"We had the wind as well so I don't know if it was over-confidence. We have all seen have they have done since so we definitely underestimated them. We were caught on the hop which is something we can't allow this weekend.
"They just beat us, they flat out beat us on our home patch so you have to give them credit for that."