Sunday 18 February 2018

Don't write off the Kingdom's masters of reinvention

W hen Mark Twain said that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated, he could have easily been talking about Kerry. Since last week's defeat, most commentators have dispatched this Kerry team to history. Too old in football terms, no hunger, no replacement for Darragh ó Sé, Gooch in bad form, no subs for the full-back line and many more reasons to dismiss the Kingdom from this year's title race.

I'm not in any hurry to join the ranks of those who feel the monster has been slain. Of course last week's result was a setback; whether that is temporary or otherwise will be determined by the Kerry players themselves. Defeat at any level where a back door exists, can be seen as an opportunity. To change tack in training, to have serious questions asked of both management and players and, most importantly of all, a chance to introduce a bit of freshness through new players. It happened with Kerry in 2006 and Tyrone used the same formula last year.

If any side has the talent to make a few adjustments and come back stronger, it is Kerry. Those alterations will have to include the full-back position, allowing Tom O'Sullivan into the corner, and they seem to have started that process already by enticing Mike McCarthy out of retirement.

Midfield needs to be remodelled too, with Darragh ó Sé as the second-half back-up while the value of Kieran Donaghy -- even playing badly -- is now apparent. A fit Tommy Walsh, Donaghy, maybe Aidan O'Shea, David Moran and a couple of others and this team will still be at the business end of things. But it is time for Jack O'Connor to give his side a serious facelift and he can do it now without any dissension.

Last year, Tyrone were in a very similar position. They had lost to Down and many were writing them off. Even within Tyrone, Mickey Harte was being looked upon as another manager who had stayed too long. Now supporters think he is like King Canute and could hold back the tide if he so wished.

He went from zero to hero in a few months and when a county has as much raw talent as Kerry, it would be foolish to write them off before the longest day of the year. Kerry are the masters of reinvention -- they have done this in every decade so it is hardly wishful thinking for at least some of their supporters who feel the defeat by Cork may not be the worst thing that has happened.

Dismissing Kerry is also a back-handed insult to Cork who are a very good team at the moment with the possibility of getting better. Yet the worry for Conor Counihan must be that it will be hard to keep his troops at this level for the next three months. More often than not a team that wins in September is only getting going now and building up to a peak later. It will be hard for Cork to improve on these displays, but they can afford to take their foot off the pedal as they are now almost guaranteed to be playing football in August.

And nobody will want to meet them then. Their sheer size would terrify most teams. But not only have they size and football ability, they also have pace. A big slow man is no good anymore but the sight of Pearse O'Neill careering through defences like a runaway train will cause a few sleepless nights for centre-backs. The speed at which they can move forward too is exceptional. Graham Canty and John Miskella seem to attack as much as defend but it will be interesting to see what happens if they are losing heavily in the middle of the field. Maybe that won't happen as they have so many options on kick-outs, but in the same way as Kerry have not become useless overnight, neither have Cork become champions. Time will reveal all, but Cork do have the players.

If Cork have sent out a clear message of intent, the spotlight falls on Tyrone today as they take on Derry. After taking in the scenery last year, the quickest route for the Red Hand would be seen as best by all concerned this time. And there will be no love lost between these great rivals.

Yet all the aces lie in the Tyrone pack. Against Armagh, Tyrone were as organised and hard-working as ever and have the great ability to be able to respond when the opposition get an inspiring score. It shows maturity, calmness and confidence which playing and winning together brings. It means every man will continue to put in the maximum effort and do the right things in possession. With the individual level of ability that Tyrone have, it makes for a very difficult team to beat.

Derry are working hard to get to this level. They felt that in their first-round win over Monaghan they had to stand up physically as

well as win the game. It made for a mess but sometimes wins like these mean more to a team than the public realises. However, there was a price in terms of suspensions, while the injury to James Kielt and subsequent dropping of James Conway shows a capacity for self-destruction. Successful county teams have an unwritten code of conduct when playing club football: they don't tangle with each other. In Derry, that obviously doesn't hold. Anyway, even at full tilt I would not fancy Derry today. Tyrone could win with a bit in hand this time.

And to finish, what are we to make of Martin Cullen and his riddles on grants to county players? The Indians were always right: never trust the white man because he will always do you in the end. It would be outrageous to take away these token payments which amount to between €1,500 and €2,500. Cullen has overseen much waste in his various briefs and his comments at the time of the education cutbacks showed no knowledge of what was happening.

If players carry more than their share of cutbacks, it will cause annoyance way above the sums involved. Of course there are more deserving things, but that same comment could be made about a lot of spending. Make the cutback but give the money with good grace.

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