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Kingdom inspired by legacy of the jersey - McGeeney

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Kieran McGeeney has been impressed by Kerry's attitude this season

Kieran McGeeney has been impressed by Kerry's attitude this season

SPORTSFILE

Kieran McGeeney has been impressed by Kerry's attitude this season

Kieran McGeeney has identified the empowerment of the Kerry jersey as an enduring factor in their return to yet another All-Ireland final this year.

The recently appointed Armagh manager believes players are naturally elevated by the "legacy" of the green and gold shirt in the same way that an All-Blacks rugby player might be.

But McGeeney has also identified geography as an unfair advantage that gives them the "guarantee" of an All-Ireland quarter-final every year and consequent big match experience that helps them to develop quicker as footballers.

McGeeney admits he has been taken by the attitude of James O'Donoghue who has constantly stressed the requirement of an All-Ireland medal to be considered worthy of the status of a Kerry footballer..

"You are there to win games and if you get that jersey you are a very lucky person. O'Donoghue exemplifies that," he said.

"Even though he has been playing brilliant all year, the one thing he keeps telling everyone is he is not a Kerry footballer until he wins an All-Ireland.

"If that is not your attitude and your goal then..? What a great way to have your players. That type of humility, it is a hard thing to put into an athlete."

Attitude

McGeeney's wife, Maura O'Rahilly, is from Kerry and the attitude towards the jersey strikes him even more now than it did when he was a player.

"I am down there quite a bit. You wouldn't necessarily pick them (Kerry players) out at club level but there is a thing in Kerry when you wear that Kerry jersey.

"Maybe like the All Blacks they feel like they are following on from that legacy and it is important to them."

"You can even see the likes of Kieran Donaghy, Declan O'Sullivan, Darran O'Sullivan and Marc O Se being dropped and not a dicky bird. Not a peep.

"If any other team dropped players like that there would be war," suggested McGeeney.

"It is not that they are happy with it but they accept is as part of the Kerry legacy. You are there to win games and if you get that jersey you are a very lucky person."

For McGeeney, O'Donoghue's attitude manifests even more in his actions on the field.

"I think he is class. He has that excitement about a footballer than you love, he doesn't look for frees he doesn't lie back. He just goes at people.

"Even the last day I thought his battle with Higgins was exceptional. He never stopped. He just kept coming and you have to admire that in any footballer," said the 2002 All-Ireland winning captain.

But the provincial system has routinely given them an advantage that they have been able to exploit for so many years, he insists.

"They have brilliant players. But if you are guaranteed a quarter-final place every year, you have a chance. Cork and Kerry are going to be in a quarter-final most years. Guaranteed.

"That gives them big game experience all the time. I don't believe geography has a part to play in you being good at a particular skill. I can't see it.

"There is no where else in the world where geography seems to have such influence (as Gaelic football). In physical respects maybe high altitude (influences). But what geography can give you is big game exposure and that improves your ability to make the right decisions at the right time out there (Croke Park).

"Making the right decision at the right time is the key to any successful sport," he said.

"It doesn't matter what it is. When you are exposed to big games and you are exposed to that (decision-making) I think it is a massive benefit."

But McGeeney is still backing Donegal to add a second title in four years and sees the improvement in Colm McFadden, Karl Lacey and Frank McGlynn from their game against his own Armagh to the semi-final as critical.

"They have a fantastic full-back line. I think the two McGees are the most under-rated defenders in the country. Nobody ever talks of them in the same light as other big name defenders because they do their job which is taking people out of the game.

"Neil is exceptionally fast. I have only noticed that at the international rules training. He is carrying a big frame, 14 and a half stone, 15 stone. He might not forgive me for saying that!

"But he is so quick for such a big man. I'm sure he will have his fill of it, whether it is O'Donoghue or (Kieran)Donaghy he is picking up.

"You look at the quality of footballer that they have, it's not just the system. Murphy and McFadden are quality players, McBrearty and Karl Lacey are quality players.

"People like me would have had a thing about it because our team (Armagh) would have been similar. It's a team of made up footballers.

"You have a system but you'll hear it's not the way those players would play if they were from Kerry or Dublin or Galway. But the great managers look at the weaknesses and close them up, Mickey Harte, Pat Gilroy and now Jim McGuinness. They have all played to the same rules."

l Kieran McGeeney was speaking in Croke Park at the launch of the third successive year of First Derivatives gold sponsorship of the Asian Games which will take place in Kuala Lumpur from Friday October 10.

Irish Independent