Brosnan return exposes lack of Kerry backs
The first ball that Eoin Brosnan got to in Castlebar on Sunday hopped off his chest and out of his grasp. As a portent for the future, however, it would prove wholly inaccurate.
For the next 65 minutes, Brosnan provided a steady hand at the heart of the Kerry defence. Nothing flash, nothing exuberant like you might expect from a converted forward, just a performance that oozed control and calm authority.
It left you wondering why the experiment had never been instigated before, why a player with his ability to carry the ball and lay it off so effectively was never dropped into the centre-back position at inter-county level before.
But then Kerry -- at least the Kerry teams of the last decade -- have never been placed in such a predicament before. They have never faced the defensive conundrum they now have on their plate.
In the past, there have always been solutions. Even in 2009, Jack O'Connor was able to lure Mike McCarthy out of retirement by offering him a new role at centre-back to shore up the defence. Quite probably Kerry would not have won the All-Ireland two years ago were it not for McCarthy's return after a two-and-half-year absence.
That Kerry should turn to another retiree in his 30s is a reflection of the great form that Brosnan has found for his club Dr Crokes on their way to a long overdue Kerry title, and subsequently a Munster campaign that ended recently in a much-delayed final.
But it's also a spin-off of the dearth of quality defenders available to the Kingdom.
The O Se brothers provide a constant level of quality, Killian Young has moved from rookie to frontline, but after that, the variables kick in.
It was that game against Nemo Rangers in Mallow, that set O'Connor thinking in much the same logical vein as he had thought about McCarthy some two years earlier.
But had he asked Brosnan to come in and do the same thing that he had done in his previous life as an inter-county footballer, the likelihood is that he would have refused.
Less than two years ago, Brosnan got out because he was no longer enjoying his football. The fall-out from the All-Ireland final against Tyrone the previous September, particularly the feeling in Kerry that his Crokes club-mate Pat O'Shea, then manager, had given Brosnan too much time in the half-forward line, was still cutting deep.
The trick for O'Connor was to come up with more unconventional thinking, to offer a different challenge. That and timing.
"It's all about timing. Maybe I got the timing right because obviously he was disappointed after losing with Crokes and I just went up and watched that game in Mallow and I said to myself that this man is going as well as I ever saw him in my life," said O'Connor.
"When you're in that kind of form, life is short and your football career is short so why not make use of it, especially with Gooch, his club-mate, the captain this year. I think he's happy he made the decision because he was outstanding out there (against Mayo).
"It was always felt that Eoin was better facing the ball. He has great presence in and around that area and is great coming onto the ball because he has tremendous athleticism."
It's a gamble. Comebacks are always a gamble. McCarthy had the experience of being a defender all his life; Brosnan is relying more on instinct, albeit an instinct that served him well on Sunday.
He has the pace to survive and most likely the fitness too. The physicality? Anyone who saw him barge Aidan O'Shea out of his way midway through the first half would say they saw a different Brosnan in that moment, to the graceful centre-forward they had watched for much of the last decade.
But as much as it reflects Brosnan's form, it also underlines the predicament Kerry have found themselves in defensively, that they have found themselves reverting to a 31-year-old who had been content to put his feet up just a few weeks earlier.
With Tom O'Sullivan's retirement imminent -- O'Connor's two-week deadline is not expected to be met -- concerns over Tommy Griffin's fitness and the trawl for defenders not unearthing sufficient quality to make their departures any easier, Brosnan has now become a big cog in the wheel that Kerry will roll out over the next few months.
Maybe Jonathan Lyne, the young Legion half-back, can provide an alternative across that line. But the championship may also be a year too early for him. Much the same can be said of Shane Enright, who acquitted himself well at left corner-back in difficult conditions in Castlebar to restrict a profligate Mayo to just eight points.
It forces O'Connor to keep looking to Padraig Reidy and Aidan O'Mahony to show a return to the form that they enjoyed pre-2009.
By comparison, Dublin, Kerry's opponents in Croke Park on Saturday, are over-subscribed with defenders. There are five Kilmacud defenders waiting in the wings in addition to Philly McMahon and Ger Brennan, regulars for much of last season. O'Connor probably wouldn't mind dipping into those reserves if he could.
Already Brosnan's return looks like shrewd business on Kerry's behalf. It solves a micro-problem wrapped up in a macro-problem that is now Kerry's greatest challenge.