'If you dispossess a fella it's brilliant, it's a nice buzz'

Damian Stack spoke with Kerry wing-forward Stephen O'Brien after his brilliant performance

Stephen O'Brien. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Stephen O'Brien. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

He's the type of player opposition players must hate to see coming. That style of his is ever so slightly unorthodox and that's what makes it so bloody effective.

How do you solve a problem like Stephen O'Brien? With great difficulty we'd imagine. Is there a better ball carrier in the Kerry squad? Probably not. He's not a small man by any manner of means, but he does seem to have an incredibly low centre of gravity for a guy his size.

Watch him take on a man and what does he do? He dips that shoulder and glides on by in a manner reminiscent of a Moto GP bike skirting around a corner at top speed. With referees being told to be extra vigilant on a high tackle that's a terrifying prospect for anybody out to stop him.

On Sunday afternoon the Kenmare man delivered three points from play and put in a performance of real quality. That number twelve shirt looks like his for the taking for the summer ahead.

In previous years that jersey was Donnchadh Walsh's - and Walsh will no doubt put up a spirited campaign to win it back from his team mate - so there's a certain amount of adjustment for a man who's often featured on the inside line.

"Yeah it's a different role alright," he says.

"But I do enjoy it. It's great when you are working not things in the gym, trying to get stronger and you bring that on to the field and if you dispossess a fella it's brilliant, it's a nice buzz, different from when I started playing when I was probably too light to be able to do that.

"It's a mentality a switch you have to make. You see the likes of Paul Geaney as well, maybe he didn't have that and he wasn't that player, but if you look at him now he's just unbelievable some of the turnovers he gets so he's definitely switched his mentality and has been an inspiration for the rest of us to try and get there. 

"We still have a lot to go to get to the level he is at tackling, but it is definitely a switch because before I would have judged myself on trying to get scores and assists and stuff like that so it's another aspect of the game I'm trying to work on."

There did seem to be an extra edge to Kerry's play against the Banner. The press started from the full-forward line and filtered all the way back. Kerry were in Clare faces pretty much from the get go and, yet, as a Kerry forward O'Brien will be judged by the public at large on what scores he posts.

It's never really been an issue for him in a negative sense. O'Brien has always scored well and scored significant scores - such as in Ennis last year - at crucial moments of games. Even so there's an acknowledgement that scores are not the be-all and end-all.

"Eamonn [Fitzmaurice] and the management does a good job of highlighting say if you get a tackle and a block down in the video and we get a score off that he does a good job of highlighting the block as opposed to the score," he says.

"It's more fellas you meet on the street saying 'Jesus you should take on your man more or you should shoot more' and stuff like that, but it's not something that comes from management or players."

There's real pressure on players to hit their targets, to deliver what they're capable of when they get the chance, because there's such massive competition for places at the moment. The young guys have arrived - seven on Sunday afternoon made their debuts - and the more experienced players aren't going anywhere in a hurry.

"Yeah obviously there is huge competition, which is what every good team has to have," he says.

"When you are on the pitch and you have the jersey, the starting jersey, you just want to run yourself into the ground and if you come off you want to make it as easy for the finisher coming on to win the game for us.

"Maybe before I might have been guilty of it myself in the past, say if you got a starting jersey, because it's so hard to get the starting jersey you kind of relax and sit back and you have to be cautious of that too

"It's actually the match that counts not the game the weekend before where you get picked on and that's one thing I'm trying to work on bringing those performances to the game."

On the outside looking in it was hard to get a handle on just how this Kerry team would perform against Clare. A victory was expected, just not by that sort of margin. In the camp, however, there was a sense of something good coalescing.

"Yeah I suppose you'd always be confident," O'Brien says.

"Training had been going particularly good alright in fairness. We have a new centre of excellence now and it's brilliant to have that and since the last three weeks we have been in the stadium and the pitch out there is beautiful for training so we have been playing well so we are happy with our performance.

"It's [Currans] unreal, you've the kind of central gym for the gym sessions we are doing, it's good. You can warm up and get physio and it's just ideal and the pitches then are very good as well. Really happy to have it. Tim Murphy and Pat O'Sullivan, the old chairman, did a great job of getting that for us it is a great resource."

Eyes now turn to Cork - a place the Kenmare man is more than familiar with. He won a county title up there in 2011 with UCC.

"I'm living above there, I'm working up there, so I'll be getting plenty of abuse now going in for the next few weeks. I'll have to watch my lunch box when I'm in there now," he jokes.

"I suppose I played with a lot of the current Cork team in UCC there under Billy Morgan so they beat us enough times underage now for us there is no way, my generation will be looking at them lightly and they have added a lot to that as well.

"So it's great to be playing at the new stadium as well. We were meant to be playing there last year but it didn't happen so looking forward to seeing what that is like."