Sunday 26 January 2020

'It's not simply a matter of time' - Stephen O'Brien under no illusions on task facing Kerry

Stephen O’Brien: 'I'm probably in the prime of my career, and want to maximise every year too.' Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Stephen O’Brien: 'I'm probably in the prime of my career, and want to maximise every year too.' Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Rolling again so - and preparing for another run of the gauntlet. And at the launch of the 2020 Allianz Football leagues, Kerry's Stephen O'Brien revisits the pain of last summer in a quite matter-of-fact way.

Perhaps they should have won the drawn game, he agrees. And he definitely feels like he should have pulled the sides level with a goal chance in the replay coming down the home stretch. But dwelling on it? It serves no purpose.

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For O'Brien, those helter-skelter 140-plus minutes of action against Dublin last year are there only to be learned from.

On more than a few occasions he saw Dublin's experience dig themselves out of hole. Reflecting on his goal chance, that saw Stephen Cluxton stay big and make an important save on 53 minutes, he recalls the decision of Jonny Cooper that forced his hand.

"I got the ball, beat one or two players, then, I remember it was a very similar chance to the goal we scored against Mayo (in the Super 8s), where I passed to Paul Geaney on the back post.

"But I remember looking across to him, and (Jonny Cooper) was on the line, he did a very good job. I was coming from a tight angle, and I was hoping he'd come to me, and I'd just pop it over his head.

Kerry's Stephen O'Brien has his shot blocked by Dublin's Michael Fitzsimons during last year's drawn All-Ireland SFC final

"But I think it's something we work on as well, where the goalkeeper stays, if you're coming at a tight angle, stay at the back post. Because that's a certain goal.

"So I just didn't think the pass was on, the loopy pass to Paul, on the back post. Possibly a bit of a drilled pass (was on), I know (Mick Fitzsimons) was coming back, I saw him as well. So Paul wouldn't have had time to catch it.

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"At the same time I was still very close to goal, tried to put it over Cluxton's right hand shoulder, and I just didn't catch it, went straight at him, a poor finish really. I should have kept it low, if I could go back again."

It goes down as a regret but as something to learn from too. As a whole, O'Brien put down his best season to date in a Kerry jersey and can count himself unlucky to miss out on an All-Star in what was an ultra-competitive line-up for the six forward positions.

"I suppose everyone was saying that, 'Oh Jesus you kind of came out of nowhere'," he reflects.

"Maybe I scored bit more which maybe got you a bit more credit and things. The year before I thought I played well as well playing out around the middle.

"I suppose scoring is a bonus, there's a couple of other things I'd be looking to do too, tackle count, assists and things like that and drawing frees. On reflection it probably was.

"I thought my first year was good as well, we won the All-Ireland which was the main thing in 2014, I thought I played well that year too, but you are trying to add to your game. So maybe it was my best year on reflection."

Kerry should be better equipped in 2020. Over the past two years, the number of championship debutants they have handed out stretches into double figures, meaning Kerry are a team high on talent but relatively low on experience.

Manager Peter Keane will also be in charge for his second season this term and O'Brien hinted Kerry may put less emphasis on the league this time around,

"The league was probably a huge focus for us last year and we did a huge block of work in December and this time of the year last year," he said.

"That probably hasn't happened for us this year between a variety of things including going on further last year (to All-Ireland final) and club duties and the holiday as well I suppose.

"Yeah, I suppose we definitely want to do well in the league. You definitely want to secure your Division 1 status first and foremost I suppose. I'd love to get to the final again and have a chance to win it because that's a huge big competition.

"Definitely, for the management team, they're always trying to throw in new fellas and unearth them which is part of the game. You need probably a couple of lads coming through every year and putting their hands up."

Having been part of the team that won Sam Maguire in 2014, O'Brien is keen to experience that all over again but he warns that success just won't automatically follow for Kerry.

"That's the talk, and for a lot of those guys there is a long future ahead of them, but that's not the way you can look at sport. You have to be the best team in that year to win it. Hopefully the experience gained from those lads who made their debut, Kerry can only get stronger.

"At the same time we lost Killian Young, Michael Geaney, so you're losing fellas, and it's not like Dublin and Mayo don't have fellas coming through too. It's not simply a matter of time.

"I'm probably in the prime of my career, and want to maximise every year too."

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