Sunday 11 December 2016

Tomás Ó Sé: I packed my walking boots instead of my football boots and got an awful chinning

Respecting every opponent was a strong Kerry principle - the 1992 Clare defeat taught us that

Published 12/06/2015 | 02:30

Wicklow's Trevor Doyle taught Tomas O Se one of his most important lessons in inter-county football
Wicklow's Trevor Doyle taught Tomas O Se one of his most important lessons in inter-county football

In a week like this, the name of Trevor Doyle routinely skips across my mind.

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Trevor handed me one of my earliest and most important lessons as an inter-county Gaelic footballer, one I never forgot right up to spilling my last bead of sweat almost two years ago.

My Kerry career had barely left the station when Wicklow came to Killarney for a League match around 1998.

Paidi was in charge of us at the time, his indifference to the winter stuff perhaps crystallised best by Westmeath's transformation in the summer of 2004.

Remember Dwyer's cuckoo line around that time?

Anyway, that indifference sometimes seeped into his dressing-rooms and, quite often, Kerry found themselves in the lower divisions on his watch.

That afternoon I packed the walking boots instead of the football boots in preparation for a stroll in the park.

Read more: Ignoring the world order in counties where hurling is king

Read more: 'We are going there for the win. There is no point saying otherwise because that is why you play. You play to win'

We beat them handy enough but I got an awful chinning from Trevor, leaking four or five points to him that left my head in a spin.

One of the toughest places for any footballer is a dressing-room where your team has won well but you've got a roasting yourself.

Other players and management know you've played poorly and there's an awkwardness there that has you peering at the floor.

Kieran McGeeney
Kieran McGeeney

Every player has his pride. Mine took a battering that day.

I vowed there and then never again to underestimate an opponent from a so-called 'weaker' county. I'd like to think I've lived up to that promise.

The common view is that Kerry will make quick haste this weekend to a Munster final with the luxury of being slowly able to crank into championship mode.

I can assure you, from being inside that dressing-room for so many years, that is not the way the Kerry players will see it.

In fact, the knot in the stomach would often tighten that bit more facing a Tipperary or Clare team in the Munster Championship.

Certainly, Kerry supporters will be expecting a trouble-free day and that's where the problems start.

You hear it all the time. Even now, up in the RTE studios when I'm there, you'll have fellas telling you "ah sure all you have to worry about down there is Cork."

There's the story of the Kerry player asked on the street one day who we were playing in the first round.

"Tipperary," he replied.

"Ah sure ye could play those fellas over the phone."

Frankly, such insulting talk pisses me off, even when I hear it second hand. It's rubbish.

I know I'd be tuned out from everything else in the week of one of these games, concentrating like never before. Because these are the dangerous ones, that damn you if you do and damn you if you don't.

That's not me trying to come across as the cute Kerry man, it's the truth.

There were so many good footballers around Munster in my time that deserved nothing but the utmost respect.

That Limerick team that put us to the pin of our collars so often, but never got the credit they deserved.

It used to annoy me that we'd win a game against them by a couple of points and feel great but, somehow, the reaction made you feel as if you had lost.

People think these games against Clare, Limerick and Tipperary in Munster have to be cricket scores. Players can get sucked in by that, irrespective of the barriers they erect. Thankfully we, as a team, were never turned over in one of these games.

One of our great strengths was that we genuinely respected every opponent, no matter who they were.

I feel other teams outside Munster could learn something from Kerry's approach to these types of games.

Maybe 92 played its part in that.

Funny, in all my years with Kerry it never got an airing, not that there was any specific omerta in place.

Seamus Moynihan made his debut in Limerick that day. He's a great friend of mine and has a sharp sense of humour. But even the great wits never drew down on that one. We just didn't joke about it.

Would it really be such a shock in today's game if Tipperary turned over Kerry or Clare took out Cork? Last year Clare gave Kerry a harder test in Ennis than they got in Cork.

The danger for a Kerry player this week is that he's going to come across an opponent playing above himself, a team playing well above their Division Three status.

You're saying to yourself 'we'll be grand' but, subconsciously, if any of the idle talk has seeped into your head, you have a major problem.

There's so much to admire about what's happening in Tipperary football right now. They've won an All-Ireland minor title and reached an All-Ireland under 21 final four years apart.

This from a county that is drenched in hurling.

It's been some achievement and was reflected, for me, in the recent under 21 semi-final win over Dublin. They had no fear, they were the ones doing the bullying that day, taking the game to the Dubs.

Read more: Ignoring the world order in counties where hurling is king

Read more: 'We are going there for the win. There is no point saying otherwise because that is why you play. You play to win'

That said, I expect Kerry to win here. People will say 'what a load of cods wallop he's talking, of course they will win.' But my point is it won't be a cakewalk, and Kerry will approach it as seriously and as tuned in as any game this year.

A three or four-point margin after a tough struggle, where Eamonn Fitz can learn about certain players' ability to perform under pressure, is the ideal result.

Mark my words, they'll have it tougher than anything the Dubs will have in Leinster, save for maybe Meath. It'll be a real barometer of what's right and what's wrong, a point those outside the province consistently miss.

Cork should progress too against Clare. It seems as if they have shaken their latest trouble with Dublin out of the system but their supporters will put the umbrella and coat in the boot just in case - they have become as unpredictable as our weather.

Until they crack a big team again in Championship, I don't think they can be seen as contenders.

Elsewhere football really takes a step up in a couple of other provinces with Mayo in Galway and Donegal in Armagh.

What Mayo have done in Connacht over the last four years is really special.

Kieran McGeeney spoke last week of Mayo now being among the most physical teams. I'd agree with that.

Around the middle they'll win too much ball and will eventually crack this promising, young Galway team that just doesn't have the right blend with older players yet, I'm afraid.

Speaking of McGeeney, I love the attitude and direction he gives his teams. Even as captain of Armagh he brought it. Now he's one of the very modern managers.

Paul Grimley was manager last year but, as his assistant, McGeeney's stamp was all over them, especially against Donegal. They were abrasive but thoughtful too. They are developing into a fast, counter-attacking, kicking team.

Still, my hunch is that if Jamie Clarke can be pinned down they may not have the capacity to build a winning score.

Donegal are the ultimate gunslingers, thriving in these tight, tense, provincial games. The Athletic Grounds will mirror Ballybofey for cauldron-like atmosphere and my sense is their experience will carry them through.

So bring on a right good weekend of Championship football.

Read more: The maestro that Mayo let slip from grasp

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