You can't replace the Gooch – but Kerry can kick on without him
Published 01/03/2014 | 02:30
THIS is a big week for Kerry football. After two games of the National League, it's not time to be pressing any panic buttons, but there is a big chance to seize against Mayo tomorrow.
First and foremost, two points must be achieved. That has to be the priority for management in order to create some winning momentum. But there are a number of other factors at play.
A cloud hung over Kerry last week when news of Colm Cooper's injury broke. Of that there can be no argument. Last season's All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin lit up the summer. It was the best game of football I've ever seen.
It had everything; no amount of superlatives can do it justice. The entire nation was blown away by what it had seen. Everyone was buzzing. Even though Kerry lost, I felt that football had been brought to a level it had never reached before.
And one man stood out more than anyone – and that was the Gooch. In a contest touched by greatness, he was the greatest. His loss to the GAA is incalculable.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice would undoubtedly have been planning to build his team around the mercurial talents of the Gooch once again, but now he has to change the approach.
Kerry have lost two massively influential figures in Paul Galvin and the Gooch. How they react to it will be most interesting.
But the squad would have received a big lift this week with the return of other absentees and fresh blood. The Gooch's clubmate Daithi Casey, for example, will be desperate to get a chance to impress. The same can be said for UCC's Sigerson Cup-winning captain Paul Geaney who's at full-forward against Mayo.
Darran O'Sullivan is also welcomed back into the fold, and his personality alone should lift the place.
I believe that Kerry will need to come up with three or four different attacking strategies if they are to get close to winning the All-Ireland. Crucially, however, scoring should not be an issue. It is at the other end where Eamonn will need to really work on getting it right.
And there's one name on tomorrow's teamsheet that could really shake up things – Marc Ó Sé. Eamonn will realise that without the likes of the Gooch, Galvin and Tomás Ó Sé, they need a big personality out the field, someone to inspire those around him and drag the team out of a hole when it is required. And Marc fits the bill perfectly.
But there's more to it than his leadership qualities – Marc is just an incredible footballer. He has a good burst of pace, two excellent feet and wonderful evasive skills. He is also adept at kicking scores when needed.
I am in no doubt that he can have a massive influence now that he's positioned in the half-back line and he can go a long way towards making up for the loss of his older brother. Fionn Fitzgerald is also back in the frame and he, in turn, can eventually fill the void left by Marc in the full-back line.
Now is the time to perfect the defensive system and that's why tomorrow – against a top-quality team like Mayo, who are also in need of a win – is as good a place as any to start.
Still the question on everyone's lips will be, how do you replace the Gooch? It's a simple answer. You can't. But in the likes of James O'Donoghue, Declan and Darran O'Sullivan, Donnchadh Walsh, Bryan Sheehan and David Moran, Kerry have attacking power that is still among the best in the business.
There is also Kieran Donaghy. He wasn't at his best in 2013, but he will be approaching this season with a point to prove and show he still has what it takes at the top level. I certainly believe he has.
There is speculation about whether there is there a place for Kieran on the team because he is associated with the long high ball, but he doesn't get nearly enough credit for how good he is on the ground, and he can certainly fit into Eamonn's style of play.
In any case, I have never been one to use the absence of players as an excuse – even those as good as the Gooch. It is the reality of elite sport; every team in every code has to overcome such obstacles.
I wish Colm all the best in his recovery. But while everyone will be gutted for him, Kerry will just have to move on from this. Starting tomorrow.