Jack O'Connor ‘happy enough’ with Kerry’s League campaign despite disappointment of losing all four away games

O’Connor: ‘The league is done and dusted now, we just have to get what we can out of it, review it and look forward to the championship’

Jack O'Connor was disappointed with the Kerry team's conversion rate against Galway but in his overall assessment of the League campaign he was pleased with how several of the newer players in the panel have performed when given their chance across the seven matches

Paul BrennanKerryman

Perhaps when it all came out in the wash Jack O’Connor was happy enough with how Kerry’s League campaign looked overall. A three-wins-four-losses record isn’t exactly the sort of form that O’Connor has built an impressive managerial career on, but for now, for this spring, it will do.

Before the show got on the road back in late January, it was put to O’Connor that given everything that was in play – players on club duty at the time, players out with serious injury, the group as a collective not long back training, following a December team holiday – would a mid-table finish in Division One be acceptable. The Kerry manager said, in the circumstances, it probably would.

That wasn’t cute hoorism on Jack’s part, merely an honest appraisal at the time of where the Kerry collective was and what the realistic goals were for the National League. Fast forward two months and Kerry have finished fifth in the division, going into the final round with a League final within grasp, and at the same time being a little too close for comfort to the relegation zone, albeit they were never really in danger of the drop coming in the final round of fixtures.

What was O’Connor’s overall assessment of what has been an up and down campaign for the defending League champions?

"We were dicing with danger the way things went in the end. A team went down on six points [Armagh were actually relegated on five points, along with Donegal on three] you couldn't say we escaped by too much. I felt it was going to be a push for us to reach a league final this year because we had started behind other teams. I don't want to keep harping on about that and I’m not using it as a massive excuse but you have to say when you start on the back-foot, plus missing a good share of players at the start of the year, we are starting to get the back and our panel is getting stronger.

"We’re happy enough to go away now four weeks until championship will give us an opportunity to do some solid, uninterrupted training. Hit the ground running in four weeks time,” he said, conforming that Kerry will head abroad for a warm-weather training camp over the Easter holiday period.

The campaign finished as it started for Kerry, a loss away from home, to sit beside those defeats on the road to Donegal, Mayo and Tyrone.

“I saw a stat that only three or four teams had won games away from home out of 20 games. It's just hard to win games away,” the Kerry boss said.

“Galway are a decent team, they had a good crowd here today, well used to the pitch, no issue with officialdom. I thought that man reffed the game very well today but it's hard to win away from home the stats prove that."

Of more concern for O’Connor was elements of his own team’s performance, not least the scoring stats that saw no inside forward score from play, and only Paudie Clifford (0-2) and Sean O’Shea (0-1) of all the forwards used scoring from play.

“Yeah, we were not happy with our conversion rate today. We were well under 50%, 8/20 or something like that,” O’Connor mused. “We snatched at a few things and forced a few things but you would have to give credit to Galway as well. They are obviously very good defensively. They conceded low scores over the course of the league.

"On the day you couldn't have too many complaints. It was probably our best away display of the four games. I thought we played well in patches. We recovered well from the goal. Came back strong at the end of the first half. We came strong for a spell in the second half. At the end of the day the concession of the goal was a hammer blow we failed to recover from,” he said, though he was quick to add that there would be no blame put on Shane Murphy for the handling error that credited Paul Conroy with the game’s only goal.

“Ah look, we don't point fingers at anyone, any player. We all make mistakes. I've made plenty of mistakes over the years,” O’Connor said. “Obviously you could pinpoint incidents from every game that cost you the game. I think the overall thing that cost us today's game is we didn't convert enough chances. We had plenty of the play. Our finishing wasn't good enough.”

Of the new players that saw game time over the last seven games, some of whom have clearly staked a claim for the Championship panel, at the very least, the Kerry manager has been encouraged by what he has seen. “We’ve given game time to a good share. Dylan Casey came in today and did a fine job. We wanted to give Graham O'Sullivan a run there just for legs. The lads have come in, Donal O'Sullivan has done well, Ruairi Murphy made his starting debut today, Barry O'Sullivan has had a very solid league campaign. Our panel will be getting stronger.

"We obviously have the likes of Brian O Beaglaoich, Mike Breen, Stephen O'Brien to come back. Dan O'Donoghue played a club game last night after a setback he had. Our panel will be stronger. “The league is done and dusted now, we just have to get what we can out of it, review it and look forward to the championship.”