Still top after all these years

Tomás Ó Sé, Kerry, celebrates scoring his side's first goal past Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan. Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Tomás Ó Sé, Kerry, celebrates scoring his side's first goal past Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan. Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

WHERE and when will it all end for Tomas O Se? On the evidence presented by the soon to be 35-year old last Sunday it won't be on some sandy pitch in some Ulster outpost, and it certainly won't be anytime soon.

Last Sunday O Se gave another exhibition of just how good a player he is, and of how important he is to this Kerry team. At a stage in his career when he could be excused for allowing the fires that have always raged inside him to dim a little, O Se looks as fired up as he ever has in a Kerry jersey. But it's one thing for a veteran of a team to rage against the dying of the light, another thing altogether to have the goods to illuminate everything around you. Tomas continues to be the beacon around which this Kerry team sails.

At the weekend O Se made his 90th National League appearance, just a handful more than his tally of Championship appearances. His coolly taken goal and smartly converted point brought his National League scoring tally to two goals and 32 points. In Championship football he has scored three goals and 31 points. That's 5-63 from his customary wing-back position; a total that would put many well regarded inter-county forwards to shame.

Of course, that number might be a little higher were it not for the rising number of red cards O Se has been collecting in recent seasons. Only three weeks ago he walked against Donegal for a kick out at an opponent. But O Se's perceived petulance can be misunderstood. While kicking or striking cannot be condoned, O Se's misdeamours can often merely reflect the ultra-competitive nature of a player who is now in his 16th season as a Kerry senior footballer. The day O Se fails to get riled up by an opponent or an opposition is the day he will be of no use to a Kerry team.

Against Tyrone on Sunday Tomas O Se was the epitome of control and restraint. In Omagh he had only one thing on his mind from pistol to tape. Securing a win for Kerry. With that trademark stride, the unique solo and the quintessential O Se pomp, he was the natural born leader of the team.

Cooper might have orchestrated and Declan and Donaghy might have added the grace notes, but Tomas O Se set the tempo, and on Sunday that was more critical than anything else. It was a tour de force display from the An Ghaeltacht man, but when it was all over O Se was typically understated about it all. Kerry's win and Donegal's failure to beat Dublin meant that Kerry held on to their division one league status for 2014, and for that O Se was grateful.

"The fact that we had won, fellas weren't really talking about relegation or wondering about it after the game. When they heard it then we were happy enough, more for Eamonn's (Fitzmaurice) sake really. We came up to win, we weren't really worried or we couldn't control what was happening elsewhere. The way it worked out was good, we've been working hard and I think we deserved to stay up," the baseball-capped O Se said in the aftermath.

"The wind was a factor in the first half, but fellas seemed to tire towards the last fifteen or twenty minutes. It was very hard and (Tyrone) were always going to come at some stage, and the crowd got behind them as well. It was a great test, and it's a great last match (in the League) to have, and it's great to have a win above here. We can go back now and work hard, and we're still hopefully on an upward curve."

O Se has featured heavily in the team since January, including playing much of the McGrath Cup, but Sunday's performance - or the first 35 minutes at least - was a major departure from how the team had performed in most of the previous six league matches. Could the defender put that down to anything in particular?

"There was a general sharpness and fitness to us today. You can't just turn on a switch. Above against Donegal we wanted to do the same thing we did today but it just didn't happen for us. I think it's a gradual thing, a mental thing. You have to be switched on for these games. You can talk all you like but you have to do it on the field and we just weren't doing it. I think it's clicking with fellas now that we have to perform, and the way we want to play at the moment you need to be sharp and you need to be working hard. You're always going to give yourself a chance if you do that.

"We'll say it that we had a tough week (in Portugal) but Tyrone were always going to come back at us. We'd be very disappointed with the goals that went in to be fair, especially the last one. We were after winning a few good kickouts but if they close out that game the arguement is there again as to why can't we close out games. It's a very thin line, but we wouldn't have been happy with the ending at all," he said, before conceding that, despite all the talk ahead of the match, relegation would have been disatrous for the team.

"Relegation probably would have been a disaster, yeah. When I started out playing, the level of the games in the League were no comparison to what you have now. That there (against Tyrone) was as good as Championship as you will get. And that's been the way it has always been. If the pitches were dry in January and February you'd have some level in the national league."

Coming 35 years of age in June, O Se looked as fit and as enthusiastic as any Kerry player on Sunday, and although Brian McGuire and Peter Crowley and Jonathan Lyne are all very capable and talented half backs, there doesn't look to be a player in the squad capable of dislodging him from his no.5 jersey.

Still, O Se is well aware of the influx of youth into the panel and the team, but that's something that encourages him and reassures him, rather than worries or uncerves him.

"The (young) lads have been doing very well. At this stage of the year you're going to be looking at your championship fifteen and it's coming together now a small bit. There's good competition there, there's cover all over, so at the moment it's looking healthy enough, and the lads have benefitted a lot out of it. They seem to be pulling their own weight, and it's good. A few years ago fellas were saying there was nothing coming through but all you need is one or two fellas coming through. That's happening now."

If there is a negative heading away from the League and into the Championship it's the timing of the matches over the next few months. Kerry face Tipperary in the Munster quarter-final on May 26, and should they win that (as expected) they are out again six days later, to face Waterford in a provincial semi-final. Win that (as expected) and it will be another five weeks until a Munster Final appearance. Win again and it will be another four weeks until an All-Ireland quarter-final. O Se cannot understand it.

"There is a nice break until the Tipperary game but I personally cannot understand the layout of it at all. We have two games in a week and then we have two more games in two months. I don't see the logic of it at all. If we get over Tipperary, and if you get over Cork [if they reach the Munster final] then it's two games in two months, and we have two games in six days before that. I don't see the sense in it. It's very hard for a team to prepare for that.

"We're not saying we are going to get through all those games or anything like that, but that's the layout of it so we just have to work away with it. We played Tipp in the McGrath Cup final and it was a fine, physical game. If we do win that game you'd be very lucky to have everyone for the next day out, you'll always pick up one or thing knocks and injuries."