Tuesday 28 February 2017

Will jack rebuild his kingdom?

Defeat leaves Kerry boss with much to ponder in bid to find a cure for their ills

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Kerry manager Jack O'Connor has plenty to ponder after his team's defeat to Down last Saturday. Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile
Kerry manager Jack O'Connor has plenty to ponder after his team's defeat to Down last Saturday. Photo: Brian Lawless / Sportsfile

For the first time in his inter-county career, Colm Cooper won't be throwing his bag over his back and wandering down from his house to nearby Fitzgerald Stadium on an August evening for Kerry training.

For Declan O'Sullivan and Marc O Se there is the same adjustment to their lifestyles. In fact for all the Kerry players with one exception -- Tomas O Se, who knew Munster final defeat in 1999, when there was no back door -- they are entering new territory.

For others there's an even greater upheaval to the way they organise their lives. Paul Galvin and Kieran Donaghy's inter-county seasons have always stretched into September. Jack O'Connor's great record of reaching the All-Ireland final in every year that he has been manager is over.

Not that they would have chosen such a path, but Kerry will get to see what's left of the summer in a different light. For so many of them on the road for so long, that can't be a bad thing.

Even in the unforgiving environment of the Kingdom, there is acceptance that these players have packed so much into their young lives that respite had to come in some shape or form. Ten consecutive All-Ireland semi-finals for some, six successive All-Ireland finals for most. That's the scale of what they have been at over the last decade. At some point it had to end.

Losses

Saturday was as good a point as any, with two players suspended and another four taking their leave after last year's All-Ireland final of their own accord. No team could absorb those losses. Hindsight wasn't even required for that one.

New territory it is. But a new era may not be ushered in as quick as it looks on the face of it. Until that Cooper-Donaghy-O'Sullivan-Galvin axis in attack has had its day, there won't be dying embers. But there is extensive repair work to be done.

Will O'Connor be around to fix the slates blown off in last weekend's storm? There was no hint of immediate departure after Saturday's result, but then when he stepped aside after the 2006 All-Ireland triumph over Mayo there had been little hint of that either.

Within a month he was gone, but only for two years. The hastiness of that original decision was reflected in his decision to come back. He knew there was more left in the team, more which manifested in last year's All-Ireland triumph.

There was more too in the manner of their Munster title victory this summer: two epic games against Cork, with the replay labelled by O'Connor as Kerry's most important victory since the All-Ireland quarter-final win over Armagh four years earlier.

It may be one of the last stings of a dying wasp, however. The end is not imminent, but it's much closer than it was. Given the age profile of the team and the mileage in them, it's safe to assume that we won't see the same group of players back in 2011.

Mike McCarthy has already retired once, came close to retiring again over the winter and will surely leave no room for persuasion again from O'Connor or any prospective new manager.

Tom O'Sullivan was under pressure in every game he played this season and after a decade of great service he too will be strongly considering his future. Tommy Griffin is more lightly raced but nearing 33, he too might feel the time is right to depart rather than invite a potential struggle.

O'Connor's efforts to inject some fresh blood into the team during the league only succeeded to a point. Barry John Keane emerged but Barry John Walsh fell back. David Moran hasn't come on as expected for the second successive year. Jack O'Shea's son Aidan has had more injury heartbreak.

O'Connor himself has worn the look of a persecuted man all season. The whole of issue of retrospective suspensions has him badly bothered and even up to last Friday night he was protesting the case that Kerry were hard done by, a theme that continued in the aftermath of their defeat to Down.

Yes there is an imbalance in the way suspensions are retrospectively handed out to some and not to others and Kerry have drawn the short straw in that regard. But Galvin has accepted that what he did was wrong; Tomas O Se didn't bother to contest either. They are only 'hard done by' because others didn't suffer the same fate.

Abuse

Maybe the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) could do more to show a more public face and explain some of the decisions being made. The same week that O Se was banned, Eamonn O'Hara survived. The following week, no Louth player was hauled over the coals for abuse directed at Martin Sludden. Were any of these incidents investigated? We don't know, because business is not done so publicly.

So yes Kerry can feel a certain sense of grievance but their own indiscipline put them in a bind last weekend, not CCCC ambivalence to other incidents. They've got the benefit of decisions too, Tadhg Kennelly's challenge on Nicholas Murphy in last year's All-Ireland final being a case in point.

The future is a little more uncertain than it was for Kerry. In the short term they will remain competitive, provided they can plug two to three holes in defence and one in midfield. The mid-term prognosis has never been great. Apart from the All-Ireland U-21 triumph in 2008, pickings have been slim at underage level.

O'Connor came in for two years and has seen out those two years, adding an All-Ireland, a league and a Munster title to the two All-Irelands, two Munster and two league titles that covered his previous term. Just as he was smart to come back, he may see this as as the right time to get out again.

Irish Independent

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