Saturday 16 December 2017

Kerry in transition

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

No other All-Ireland champions have had to cope with such a list of defections as Kerry have had to over the last few months.

First Tadhg Kennelly high-tailed it back to Australia to renew a contract with Sydney Swans; then Tommy Walsh signed on the dotted line for St Kilda.

Earlier this year Diarmuid Murphy took his bow and was followed last month by Darragh O Se, who ended a 16-year involvement with the team.

Mike McCarthy completes the quintet of departed even though his leaving hasn't been officially confirmed, resulting in Jack O'Connor having to restructure five of the six lines from last September's All-Ireland final out of necessity, not choice.

The only line he can conceivably put together en bloc is the full-back line, with Marc O Se, Tommy Griffin and Tom O'Sullivan all committing again. With a third of his All-Ireland-winning team gone, it presents a challenge to O'Connor and places a strain on Kerry's reserves.

But they are one of the few counties that can cope with such a rush to the exit doors and already replacements and a new structure are taking shape.

Two early league defeats have been put behind them with wins over Derry and Galway making survival in Division 1 much more likely now.

Here we look at how the Kerry management are setting about filling in all the gaps that have been left.

Out -- Diarmuid Murphy.

Probable replacement -- Brendan Kealy.

Long shot -- Tomas Mac An tSaoir.

Ger Reidy's snap decision to walk away from the squad last week makes things a little less complicated, but altogether more difficult for Jack O'Connor.

Reidy had been shaping nicely as Diarmuid Murphy's understudy in recent seasons and looked the most likely contender to fill in. But Kealy has shown himself to be an able commander of the No 1 shirt, most notably against Derry in the recent league game. Since then Reidy has packed up and left to concentrate on his studies.

The other contender is An Ghaeltacht's Tomas Mac An tSaoir, who was Kerry's U-21 goalkeeper when they won their last All-Ireland title in the grade two years ago.

Out -- Mike McCarthy.

Probable replacement -- Aidan O'Mahony.

Long shot -- Tommy Griffin.

There won't be any announcements or fanfare, but Mike McCarthy has more than likely played his last game for Kerry.

For the second time in four years McCarthy has slipped quietly out the back door, it seems, after his whirlwind return for just three months last season. It was a profitable decision to return and O'Connor is holding out hope, albeit forlorn hope, that he may come back again later in the summer.

For now though the responsibility is with Aidan O'Mahony to produce the form that made him one of the best half-backs around in the middle part of the last decade. There were signs of his old cutting edge against Galway last weekend.

If O'Mahony's form isn't recoverable then Tommy Griffin may be an option. So far in this league, Griffin has been stretched as a full-back and featured as a late replacement at wing-back the last day.

Out -- Darragh O Se.

Probable replacement -- Mike Quirke.

Long shot -- Anthony Maher.

The king is gone, long live the king. It was going to happen some time soon anyway, as was illustrated when O'Connor actually left Darragh O Se out for the first time in a championship match against Cork last season, preferring Mike Quirke instead.

The implementation of the 'mark' experiment in the league has suited Quirke, who can use his bulk to telling effect under a dropping ball.

But Quirke may not have the mobility and staying power for 70 minutes in Croke Park, which is what all Kerry teams are ultimately designed for.

That's why Anthony Maher is again touted as a more long-term solution to replace O Se. Maher featured prominently in the early stages of last year's league but has had his injuries. Now he looks well positioned to kick on again.

Out -- Tadhg Kennelly.

Probable replacement -- David Moran.

Long shot -- David O'Callaghan.

David O'Callaghan's name had scarcely been on the radar before this year's league, but in the last three games he has made people sit up and take notice with his probing and energetic style and ability to get on the end of moves and kick points off either foot.

His time may not be now, however, with David Moran more likely to succeed Tadhg Kennelly across the half-forward line. With Kieran Donaghy back, there's a return to his more conventional (at inter-county level anyway) centre-forward role in the offing, though Kerry have been experimenting with Moran in that Kennelly-style role that he filled so well in the last three games of the 2009 championship.

His three points against Derry served notice that a difficult 2009 might be now behind the talented Kerins O'Rahilly's man.

Out -- Tommy Walsh.

Probable replacement -- Kieran Donaghy.

Long shot -- Barry John Walsh.

Technically Walsh started last year's All-Ireland final against Cork as a corner-forward with Declan O'Sullivan at full-forward, but Donaghy's availability again after a summer of troublesome foot injuries makes this the most seamless transition of all. Donaghy has been in imperious form in the league and Colm Cooper, for one, will certainly appreciate his restoration.

Outside Donaghy there really isn't any other candidate. Barry John Walsh could pressurise Darran O'Sullivan, so too will captain Bryan Sheehan. But Kerry are blessed to have Donaghy in reserve from last year.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport