Sunday 19 January 2020

Kerry eager to go North and prosper

Kerry rarely have an easy game against Down, especially in the Championship or when they travel north
Kerry rarely have an easy game against Down, especially in the Championship or when they travel north
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Something of a myth has grown around Kerry that the further north they travel for early-season League games, the less they appear to like it.

The myth may be wrapped up in their recent Championship record against Tyrone -- three defeats in the last three meetings -- and their 100pc loss record against Down in their only five Championship encounters.

It has spawned a belief that games like Sunday's Division 1 fixture against Down in Newry carry an extreme sense of foreboding for the Kingdom. It's as if taking a step inside the Six Counties acts as their very own kryptonite, weakening their mercurial powers.

However, this theory flies in the face of the evidence from their recent visits to the deepest parts of Ulster, which resulted in victories in Armagh in 2011, as well as in Tyrone and Derry in 2009. Only a late goal from Colm Cavanagh denied them back-to-back victories in Omagh in March 2010.

But Down is not a county they have ever come away from with much success -- their best result in modern times was a 2-7 to 1-10 draw in Newry, which prefaced heavy defeats in 1986, '89 and '94 in Newcastle.

So on Sunday, Kerry are bidding to create their own little piece of history against opponents that have had a certain hex over them in the past.

But if there is a sense of trepidation for Kerry about their journey to Newry, it has more to do with recent events than any historical consequence, with problems all of their own making three weeks ago after a home defeat to Armagh that no one could have envisaged.

What should have been a routine night, against a visiting team shorn of their Crossmaglen Rangers players and Stevie McDonnell, turned into a nightmare. It was their heaviest League defeat -- albeit by only four points -- since the 2008 final defeat to Derry, when the margin was also four points.

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But it was a performance soaked in complacency, which was followed by the candid admission from county chairman Patrick O'Sullivan that Jack O'Connor had addressed the issue of his players continuously challenging the decisions of referees in recent matches.

O'Connor has always been Alex Ferguson-like in his protection of his players, so it represented a new departure to allow such an address to reach the public domain as it did.

There are possibly further winds of change blowing with regard to team selection.

Much of the good mined from the victory over Dublin on the opening night of the League was undone in Tralee. Once again, the 'D' question appears back on the agenda -- as in what to do with Kieran Donaghy.

Fired up as he was in last year's All-Ireland final after a couple of indifferent afternoons at Croke Park, he showed quite a response on the day that mattered most. But where to get the most out of him is now a burning question for the Kerry management, whose taxing midfield conundrum has been compounded by the setback suffered by David Moran.

Quite a bit of the foundation for optimism for Kerry rebounding back in 2012 was based on Moran, now 23, making up for lost time. Regrettably, that won't be.

Declan O'Sullivan's placement at full- forward in a challenge match against Kildare last weekend pushed Donaghy out to wing-forward. More and more, this management seem to be leaning towards a more permanent move inside for Declan O'Sullivan, with Darran O'Sullivan possibly operating through the middle.

However, the greatest challenges lie in finding fresh legs in defence.

TRIPS

If a myth has built up over Kerry forays up the M1 and M2, it is an absolute fact that Down really only thrive in home League matches, a fact borne out by their most recent trips south -- to play Cork in the last round, and Kerry and Cork in last year's League, which all ended in significant defeats.

The departure of Martin Clarke and Caolan Mooney to AFL will hurt, but at least they have Danny Hughes, Conor Garvey and Damien Rafferty (who is recovering from a groin operation in the US) on the way back to full fitness, while Paul McComiskey is also available.

Former Down forward Ross Carr is acutely aware of the importance of Sunday's game to both sides.

"For Down, it's a real opportunity. Some of our worst defeats 20 years ago were on the road, but at home we were always a formidable side," he said.

"Beating Donegal was a huge result for Down, but like Kerry, some of the good work was undone in the second round. I always feel the third and fourth rounds set the tone at this level."

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