Tomás Ó Sé: 'I could see Pat McEnaney running towards me so what could I do but hit the deck, pretending I was hurt?'
Published 11/06/2016 | 02:30
The most memorable atmosphere I experienced in all my time playing with Kerry was on a hurling field. Our two games with Dublin in Semple Stadium 15 years ago had an electricity that almost blew the roofs off the stands.
Even now, I get goosebumps just recalling them. The Dubs on tour bring something special to a provincial town and I remember a 45-minute delay to throw-in the first day because so many of them were still out the road, struggling with maps and, presumably, nosebleeds with them being so far from home.
Páidí pulled a trick both days that I haven't seen pulled before or since.
He took us to this big guesthouse a few miles outside Thurles, nobody around but a farmer and his wife. There, John O'Keeffe took us out into what was basically a huge meadow to get ourselves loosened up and the peace of the place was something else. It felt like going to a monastery before a bullfight.
Then a garda escort in to the stadium, the streets around us absolutely black with people. I remember clapping my hands together that first day on the bus, thinking "This is f***ing great!" As a Kerryman, the sight of Cork or Dublin jerseys swarming around would always lift you, get the competitive juices flowing.
It didn't matter if you were down to play them in chess or checkers. I wouldn't call it hatred but, by Christ, there was an edge to you when you saw those colours.
I always reckoned we could be lifted by the scale of the opposition's support and, in Thurles, you could feel the Dubs right in on top of you. It was more intense than anything you'd ever experience in Croke Park.
I will always remember Vinnie Murphy coming on for the Dubs both days and Tom Sullivan hopping off him, the crowd going absolutely berserk.
The atmosphere was nearly swallowing people whole. Just look at Dublin manager Tommy Carr shouting the odds at Maurice Fitz as he kicked that famous line-ball to send the first game to a replay.
Ordinarily, Tommy had the manners of a well-behaved curate. But, at that moment, he was in a war-zone, ready to do whatever it took to win. We all were.
I was sent off the second day for a wicked challenge on Collie Moran. Absolutely cleaved him. In those days, fellas still got the chance to run at you and, if Collie slipped inside me, we were in trouble. So I flipped him up in the air, making absolutely no attempt to play the ball. It looked terrible.
I could see Pat McEnaney running towards me so what was there to do but hit the deck, pretending I was hurt?
So I'm on the ground, supposedly an ambulance case, when Ciaran Whelan comes across, trying to drag me up. Red rag to a bull. I'm up on my feet immediately, ready to go 12 rounds and McEnaney gives me the look of a weary school principal. Shows me a straight red.
If I have a memory of the dressing-room after, it's of a beaming Páidí holding court to journalists in his Y-fronts. The dressing-room was open to media then, everyone free to mop up quotes from a triumphant Kerry team. Except there's one man sitting there with a face longer than a wet weekend. Páidí spots it.
Looking straight across at me, he roars: "Don't open your mouth to these fellas!" And I didn't.
I was reminded of Thurles last weekend with the Dubs back on the road again although, walking up to Nowlan Park, I'll admit I had the head half down, wondering if there might be some kickback to my recent poor use of language about their team. And, you know, I didn't get a single nasty comment.
The thing that strikes me about the Dubs supporters is they have a true passion for their team, but it's always articulated through a sense of humour. I love that about them.
In contrast, I thought the Laois supporters let their team down big time. They just didn't travel. Now you can have all the issues you like over a match venue, but does that justify abandoning your players? Because that's effectively what they did. It was a disgrace how little support that Laois team had in Nowlan Park.
There must have been 17,000 Dubs there, and they (and they alone) gave the game a real sense of occasion. Or at least as much as it could sustain after those two early Dublin goals.
Now it needles me that people think I'm being some kind of cute hoor when I talk about this Dublin team, as if I'm deliberately building them up with some kind of broad Kerry agenda. Surely it's self-evident just how good they have become.
Put it this way, when you're looking for cracks in them, you have to look fairly damn hard. Now it's true they had the game won in five minutes against Laois so anything we processed from there on in should probably have been stamped with a Government health warning.
Maybe towards the end, when Laois threw off the shackles, we got small glimpses of vulnerability. The concession of two goals will certainly have needled Jim Gavin and, I don't doubt, Stephen Cluxton too. But when a game is already won, you tend to get stuff happening that would never occur when everyone's on a war footing.
I saw Jimmy McGuinness suggesting a blueprint for how the Dubs might be dismantled, but it's a moot point if there's another team out there right now equipped with the requisite skill, pace and physical strength (not to mention 20 fit-for-purpose players) to implement such a blueprint over 70-plus minutes.
I keep saying that cracking Cluxton is a big part of that challenge. When Kerry achieved this in the past, we did it by pushing up man-on-man, squeezing the space for his kick-outs.
Simple? Not really. I suspect that strategy wouldn't work today because you expend so much energy enforcing it your shape starts cracking somewhere.
The ball hasn't even gone dead when seven or eight of the Dubs (Cluxton included) are on their toes, ready to go. If I was managing against them now, I think I'd nearly concede the short kick-out because I'd be more interested in keeping my midfielders and six defenders in position and just making sure the forwards were programmed to chase and hassle the Dublin ball-carrier into kicking long.
Bottom line, you've got to make your opponents do something they don't want to do.
I'd challenge my forwards to be meeting the Dubs on the 45 and by meeting them I mean making physical contact. Engage with them, knock them backwards. It's not enough to crowd the Dubs, you've got to make that contact. And when you get a turnover, get on your bike and go. No pointless lateral passing. You must break forward at speed.
The only team I've seen this year that looks capable of meeting Dublin on those terms is Tyrone. But they've been beating second division teams so it's impossible yet to know how good they might become.
I will say this, I think the game needs somebody to come shooting out of the pack and make some kind of bold statement now because the game is a pale shadow of what it once was. We haven't seen a proper Championship contest yet this season (apart from New York's heroics against Roscommon I suppose) and the longer we go without one, the greater the impression of Dublin's invincibility will be.
I paid close attention to Bernard Brogan in Kilkenny and, while the general consensus seemed to be that he was quiet, this is always the case for a forward who doesn't score. Particularly one whose marker has a decent game. But, trust me, Brogan was fantastic last Saturday.
Ciaran Kilkenny, Dean Rock and Diarmuid Connolly rightly took the plaudits but, if you ever wanted to see Dublin's work ethic in microcosm, Brogan's performance in Nowlan Park provided it. The man worked himself to the bone, chasing, tackling, making unselfish runs.
Put it this way, if you were a Dublin defender watching that kind of work-rate in front of you, the ferocious blocking of opposition defenders trying to break out with the ball, you'd have been in no doubt about the value of Brogan's contribution.
The number of passing mistakes forced on the Laois defenders by Dublin's pressure was phenomenal. That was down to a full-team press. Starting with the No 15.
The movement of Dublin's forwards off the ball is absolutely unreal. It's a nightmare for opposing defenders and any Dubs overlap is almost impossible to stop without fouling because of the way they load three, even four men into it.
If there's a team to beat them, they've certainly yet to show their hand.
Kerry are in action tomorrow and it's important that they make some kind of statement. I'm hoping to see a team with a bit of attitude against Clare, one that's mean at the back and ruthless in how it attacks. I'm hoping to see one going right for the jugular, playing with pace and directness.
I still believe that, talent-wise, we're as good as anyone, albeit the League final deposited serious doubts.
There's about a dozen really good young players coming through the Kerry system right now and it might be time for Eamonn Fitz to give a few of them their head.
When I was in their position, I learned the Championship ropes from guys like Eamon Breen, Liam Flaherty, Moynihan, Maurice Fitz, Cinneide, my own brother Darragh. These young bucks can now feed off the influence of Marc, O'Mahony, Donaghy, Gooch, Moran, Maher and Darran.
One I particularly like the look of is Briain Ó Beaglaoich, from my club, An Ghaeltacht. Keep an eye on this fella. He's hungry, hard and a proper footballer who won't drop the head no matter what's thrown at him. That's what Kerry need from here on in. Fellas with that bit of steel.
Because, without it, you're just going into war with cap guns.