Saturday 17 March 2018

Kerry paid heavy price for the lack of a human touch

Management shares the blame for a final they should have won, writes Páidí ó Sé

Paidi O Se

One thing that I learned from my playing experience is how to man-manage players.

That human touch is probably my forté from a management point of view and I believe it can only come from someone who has travelled that road before. I used this skill to great effect when I managed Westmeath and I got a great response from the players. I've experienced everything as a player from bad games to good games, wins and losses, and I learned something from every one of my appearances in a Kerry jersey.

I firmly believe that if a player is going badly in training, the last thing he needs to hear is that he is playing badly. Instead, I'd tell him that he looks tired or stiff or give him a night off and when he comes back I'd tell him that he is improving and maybe even tell him that he had turned a corner. And I'd do all that in an effort to rebuild the player's confidence.

The element of human touch is not a club that Jack O'Connor has in his bag and that was evident this year on more than one occasion.

It was particularly obvious when it came to Kieran Donaghy. If a player like Star isn't playing well - no matter how hard he tries - and is hearing about it from the Kerry fans, then there should be some compassion shown from the management. He should be taken aside after training and reassured that he was still a vital cog in the team or else a visit should be made to his home to make sure he is not being affected by the negativity and that he still feels part of the team.

When Tomás ó Sé got suspended against Tipperary, he didn't hear from the Kerry management until he was back in the fold for Kerry again. That was almost two months of a break without contact and it simply beggars belief that a player of Tomás's calibre and importance should be left waiting in the wings. These are only simple things but so important in the grand scheme of management.

Now I'm wearing my former Kerry manager's cap and I'm not going to find fault in every aspect of the Kerry management or put the blame for losing on the line. Every manager does their best and goes out with a game plan that they think can get them over the line. Having said that, I never had any problem facing up to constructive criticism and acknowledging mistakes. I made plenty of them in my time and I always tried to rectify them even if towards the end, when I was making mistakes, I wasn't left around long to correct them.

Kerry played a full league campaign in which the midfield was not convincing. They struggled to get any consistency out there. In fact, going into the Munster final, Kerry were very unsure about midfield but as it turned out they were the key factor in beating Cork that day in Killarney.

After that Munster final I made the point in this column that the next call that Jack O'Connor needed to make was to Tommy Walsh in Australia. From Kerry's point of view, it was vital that Walsh came back and Tadhg Kennelly too. That didn't materialise even though Walsh is back now to play football for his club. If that man can play for his club today, there was no reason why he couldn't have played for his county last Sunday.

In the aftermath of the game, there was an awful lot of chat in Kerry that this All-Ireland was thrown away but I'd like to point out that Down were totally in control of last year's All-Ireland final up until the last seven or eight minutes when Cork were allowed come back into the game courtesy of two invaluable Donncha O'Connor points. It's nothing new for a team to come from behind in the latter stages of a game; unfortunately it's happened to Kerry once or twice too often.

The pattern of football that surfaced last Sunday was the type of football that Kerry were playing prior to them winning back their All-Ireland in 2004.

The key thing was that Kerry were playing the ball over and back across the field because they had no particular player in the inside line to target.

When they eventually found Donaghy and put him on the edge of the square, everything else was history. For the last number of years Donaghy has dictated the style of Kerry football by getting the players around him involved and also giving the players outside him the opportunity to kick in speculative balls. He has a great aerial advantage from his basketball background and has a good eye for what is happening around him.

However, last Sunday he was pulled and dragged around the field from midfield to wing-forward to full-forward. All that movement has an unsettling effect and would make a player feel uncertain.

Daniel Bohan was brought in the last day to help steady the ship like he has done so often in the past. But it didn't work out that way and he was nowhere to be seen when Kevin McManamon went through for the goal. I spoke to a former Kerry player after the game and he told me in no uncertain terms that McManamon should have been taken out in some way, shape or form.

The main jobs of a defender are to mark his man, keep his man scoreless and try to stop the opposition from scoring. The question has to be asked by Kerry: who was marking who during those vital closing stages last Sunday?

A few Kerry players shied away when duty called and I thought that one in particular had to think twice before he went in for the crunching tackle. You might get away with that in a league match but you won't get away with it in Croke Park.

As a Kerryman, I congratulate Dublin on their win. It's a success which was both overdue and merited. But, also as a Kerryman, I hate to lose All-Ireland finals and what hurt last week was that this was one we didn't have to lose.

Sunday Indo Sport

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