Thursday 12 December 2019

Kerry need patience for game of 'cat and mouse' - O'Connor

Kerry minor manager Jack O'Connor
Kerry minor manager Jack O'Connor
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

SO often the main event, Jack O'Connor and his Kerry minor team will form part of the curtain raiser on Sunday.

After that, he'll settle in to watch how Eamonn Fitzmaurice will attempt to figure out the Donegal puzzle.

O'Connor is in unique position to judge how the All-Ireland final might unfold. He brought Fitzmaurice in as part of his management team in 2009, when they went on to win an All-Ireland title, while his last game in charge of the Kerry seniors was when his side were downed narrowly by Donegal in the 2012 All-Ireland quarter-final.

In that game, the Kingdom seemed to be finally figuring out how to cope with the Ulster men when the clock ran out.

For O'Connor, there are clues in how to unlock Donegal out in what Dublin failed to do.

"It just requires ferocious patience," O'Connor says of the Donegal set-up. "I think the mistake Dublin made, for example, was that they got sucked into the opposition half of the field. You just can't do that.

"In many ways, you have to be prepared for a game of cat and mouse."

That 2012 game saw Kerry slip six points behind before rallying hard late on. They closed the gap to a point before Karl Lacey broke clear to seal the win for Jim McGuinness' side.

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Kieran Donaghy got the goal that sparked that comeback, and in recent weeks, he has looked back to the sort of form that made him such an integral part of Kerry sides under O'Connor.

"He burst on the scene, won Player of the Year in '06 and maybe lost a bit of hunger for a while. But certainly he's hungry now. That's good news for Fitzmaurice going into the final," says O'Connor (below).

"It'll be interesting to see how he does against Donegal because Mayo wouldn't have as many people back as Donegal do. But he's still a very awkward person to handle.

"He has certainly given Kerry another dimension. Kerry's forwards were lively but small. He's just another option. It's important that you have more than one way of playing."

Despite the significant change in personnel, O'Connor's fingerprints remain all over the current Kerry set-up. Fitzmaurice's qualities as a player prompted O'Connor to bring him in on board as a selector in 2009, with the Finuge man getting a solid grounding with in coaching colleges football.

"That's where I started off myself, with the colleges. You can do your work there and try things out," says O'Connor.

"We'd often have discussions about new drills and he'd say 'We'll try it out with the lads at school and see how it works.' That is a great training ground.

"If you are plonked into training inter-county teams as your first job, that can be difficult. You have to make your mistakes away from the bright lights.

"Eamonn was always a good thinker on the game, he had leadership qualities, a very steady lad. I brought him in in '09, the year I came back for the second stint. He was a great help to me and he learned a lot that year.

"He did the video analysis, so he learned a lot in those two years, '09 and 2010. Then he went off with the U-21s for a year so he got a good apprenticeship. So he wasn't a novice when he came in and he is doing a great job."


The belated emergence of David Moran has also been a huge plus for Kerry as injury stalled what has long been expected to be a stellar career.

"David Moran and Tommy Walsh were the two best minors that came through in Kerry over the last ten years.

"We always felt the two of them would have huge parts to play in the future of Kerry football," says O'Connor.

"Unfortunately, David was coming very strong in 2011 and he did that cruciate in Monaghan, in a league game.

"We had fierce high hopes for him that year and I thought that was detrimental to our chances of winning the All-Ireland that year.

"On form, himself and (Anthony) Maher are the form midfield partnership in the country.

"It will be interesting because (Donegal 'keeper Paul) Durcan was fantastic with the kickouts with how he slices them. He managed to disguise the kick-outs. So it will be a big tactical battle.

"Obviously McGuinness is the king in that area at the moment but Fitzmaurice is no slouch, I guarantee you that."

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