Midfield maestro bidding to become sideline general

Former Kerry footballer and All-Ireland medal winner Darragh O Se. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
Former Kerry footballer and All-Ireland medal winner Darragh O Se. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

IT'S an old adage but often a true one in sport that great players don't automatically make great managers. Darragh O Se knows this.

He has seen his late, great uncle Paidi go from player extraordinaire to a manager with a midas touch, but Paidi was usually the exception to most rules. For Darragh six All-Ireland winners medals and the love of a county will only carry him so far in gaelic football management and one of the many lessons learned from his uncle is that the distance between the slap on the back and the kick in the arse is about the width of an O'Neills.

"There's always pressure on the Kerry teams to win. That's just the nature of the sport in Kerry and the nature of the supporters. They expect success and they demand success. Kerry people want to see their teams doing well, so there is always a certain pressure on players and management. I'd also put pressure on myself to do well. I always wanted to try to win as a player and I'd be the same now that I'm moving into management," O Se explains.

It's about six months since he was appointed manager of the county under-21 football team, but despite his high profile in the game, Darragh O Se has pretty much had the last six months to himself as regards his new job. As well he knows, the senior football team is the biggest show in town and right now his former team mate and close friends, Eamonn Fitzmaurice, is feeling a little hotter under the collar than Darragh right now, given the seniors' poor start to the National League.

In seven days time - next Wednesday - O Se will learn a little more about the pressures of inter-county management as he takes his team to Pairc Ui Rinn to face reigning provincial champions Cork in the quarter-final of this year's Munster Championship. Twelve months ago Fitzmaurice was U-21 team manager with O Se as a team selector. Now Darragh carries the bainisteoir bib and the responsibility.

"I suppose I didn't expect that the job would come up at all last summer when it did. Eamonn was settled in for a two-year term and I was happy enough to be part of his management. Then when the senior job came up [after Jack O'Connor's resignation] Eamonn took over there and it fell into place that I got the Under-21 job. It's a huge honour and responsibility to manage any Kerry team, and those opportunities don't come along too often so I had no hesitation in taking it on.

"I have Harry (O'Neill) still there from last year and John Shanahan, while Noel Kennelly has come in as a selector. They all have a great knowledge of the game, and especially of the younger lads in the county so their experience and knowledge has been a great help. So far it has been very enjoyable. We have trained a lot since well before Christmas and we feel the preparation has been very thorough and useful.

"We have played a good share of challenge matches, against the likes of Cavan, Roscommon, Dublin and others, as well as a few of the colleges who were preparing for the Sigerson Cup. That all helps in getting a feel for how good the players are, and overall I'd be very happy with the squad we have at the moment," the An Ghaeltacht club man says.

A two-time Under-21 All-Ireland winner who went on to win six All-Ireland senior medals, O Se appreciates the current concerns circling around the slippage of the senior team's performances, and the associated concerns about the recent lack of All-Ireland glory at minor and U-21 level. He acknowledges that 20 years is too long a wait for an All-Ireland minor title, while 2008 has been the only U-21 All-Ireland winning year since 1998. However, always optimistic about the fortunes of Kerry football, O Se prefers to see the glass as half full.

"Yeah, it could be seen as a cause for concern but it's not all bad. Kerry have always been able to pick up one or two fellas of minor and U-21 teams and bring them into successful senior teams. If you go back to the team that won in 2008 six or seven of those players have come into the senior set-up and some have won senior medals. Of course, you'd like to be winning more underage titles but the important thing is to get those lads at that age to understand what it to play for Kerry.

"To be fair it's probably harder on younger lads nowadays. When I was 18 or 19 there was nothing else for me to do but play football. There was no internet or video games or mobile phones or any of those types of distractions when I started playing underage football with Kerry. You came in from school, threw down the bag and went out the door to training or to a game. Nowadays there are so many others things going on that it can be hard for young lads to give everything they have to football. Part of my job is to help the players to stay focussed on playing for the team and getting them to appreciate the huge honour it is to wear the green and gold.

"That's a big part to being a manager and, to be honest, it's something I'm beginning to enjoy. As a player you need to be very selfish, and you just have yourself to look after.

"As a manager you have nearly forty lads to be thinking about. It a fella is off form or down you have to try and pick up on that and see where the problem is. It's a lot about managing emotions and things like that, as well as getting the football done as well," the nascent manager explains.

As for next week's 'winner takes all' Munster Championship quarter-final against Cork it's typical of the man that while he will respect this Cork team he won't fear them.

At the sight of a Cork jersey no one rose higher to the challenge than Darragh O Se and it's all he can ask of his players when they face the defending champions in Pairc Ui Rinn.

"Cork have been very strong at this level over the past few seasons but I thought we were unlucky against them in the final last year. We have to go there confident that we have the work done and the players to do the job.

"It's knockout football, and I've no issue with the format of the championship. We know what we have to do and we'd be as confident as we can of at least getting the right performance. After that you just hope to get the few breaks and the bit of luck that will carry you over the line."


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