Thursday 19 September 2019

Keane's Kerry on the 'fast track' for experience to halt Dubs' charge

Kerry manager Peter Keane poses for a portrait during a Kerry Football All-Ireland Final press conference at Kerry GAA Centre of Excellence in Currans, Co Kerry. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kerry manager Peter Keane poses for a portrait during a Kerry Football All-Ireland Final press conference at Kerry GAA Centre of Excellence in Currans, Co Kerry. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Conor McKeon

Peter Keane likes his motoring metaphors, which couldn't be more apt given that he now faces the ­ultimate challenge for any inter-county manager: trying to stop the Dublin juggernaut in the home straight of the fabled Drive for Five.

Where Jim Gavin is closing in on a sixth All-Ireland SFC title in seven staggering seasons, Keane is in his maiden campaign at Kerry.

He does enjoy one statistical head-start, however: he was in charge when Kerry achieved a different version of the five-in-a-row last September. Taking over from Jack O'Connor ahead of the 2016 season, Keane steered his county's gilded youth to the third, fourth and fifth legs of their All-Ireland minor quintet.

A case of been there, done that?

"I wouldn't say it's the same," the Cahirsiveen native counters, "because your minor teams are new every year.

"He (Gavin) is getting into the same car, pretty much for the past five years, where we're changing cars every year. The car knows him as well as he knows the car. There's been teams that have come up against them and haven't knocked any smoke out of them."

Therein lies the challenge: Keane may be road-testing the ultimate electric car of the future, but Gavin is already at the wheel of Gaelic's Rolls-Royce.

"The thing we wanted to do was put experience into the team," said the Kerry boss.

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"A lot of fellas retired and fellas had walked away the previous year. Added to that, you had Jonathan Lyne, Jack Sherwood and Tommy Walsh who came back in. So, like, there's been a huge transformation in the personnel. While it might not be huge from my perspective because I wasn't with them before, there is still a lot of learning gone on there.

"We're going in with a team who don't have a whole pile of experience. And I know there's fellas trying to say that we do - we don't," he insists. "You've some guys who have four or five games for Kerry."

And then he draws the inevitable comparison to Stephen Cluxton. "Is he 110 or 115 games playing for Dublin?" he asks. (A slight exaggeration: the all-time record holder has 104 SFC caps). "That's the type of experience that you're up against. And this was the whole thing, to try and get experience into players.

"So, we're on a fast track here and, do you know, we're hoping that we won't fall off the track."

You won't be surprised that Gavin has a different take on the readiness of Kerry's young guns. The Dublin manager's All-Ireland press day mantra could be summed up by the following message: "Their time is right now, it's not next year."

"For God's sake, what do you think he's going to say?" Keane retorts.

"Of course, he's saying that. Sure, he's going for five in a row. Sure, we haven't been in a final since '15, with a team that has no resemblance to this year's team!"

Next question: does that mean Kerry, as 4/1 underdogs, are now in bonus territory?

"You've a lot of guys who've won minor All-Irelands," he demurs. "They're not thinking they're in bonus territory - that's not the way their psyche is."

On the day of their semi-final against Tyrone, Keane had yet to catch Dublin's second-half masterclass against Mayo. By the time of this conversation, that had changed.

"I thought they were hugely impressive," he affirms.

Irish Independent

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