Thursday 19 September 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Just who is Peter Keane?'

Success at minor level and a strong backroom earned him one of the top posts in football

Keane edge: Victory on Sunday would be some coup for Kerry boss Peter Keane. Photo: Sportsfile
Keane edge: Victory on Sunday would be some coup for Kerry boss Peter Keane. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Peter Keane's appointment as Kerry manager had only been ratified a few days earlier, but already he was being asked about a hypothetical challenge that might arise 11 months away.

Facing the media for the first time last October, he probably knew that the question of who could wreck Dublin's five-in-a-row ambitions would come up.

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He had, after all, taken over in the county viewed by many as mostly likely to break the blue monopoly.

So how did he see it? "I haven't even picked a panel so where would I start on that issue? That's like digging a field and you don't even have a shovel. We'll get the shovel first and then we'll start thinking about that one," he said.

Not Dublin specifically, but the more immediate challenge of moving Kerry forward after the disappointment of failing to reach the All-Ireland semi-finals for the first time since 2012.

Six weeks earlier, Kerry had completed an All-Ireland minor five-timer, with Keane in charge for the last three. Then came the call that couldn't be ignored. Was he interested in replacing Eamonn Fitzmaurice as senior manager?

There were no promises. The approach could be classed as a scoping exercise within the overall process of filling one of the most attractive posts in GAA management.

Keane knew he had to go for it. He had expected Fitzmaurice to continue for a seventh season, but now the landscape had changed. He would make his bid and see what happened.

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Some time later, and with a backroom team of Maurice Fitzgerald, Donie Buckley, Tommy Griffin and James Foley lined up, he was offered the position.

So why Keane, as opposed to a higher profile figure?

"He has a huge track record at minor level, but outside of that he has assembled a formidable management team. I think the man knows it's the sum of the parts," Kerry county chairman Tim Murphy said.

"It's the culmination of more than one person that will get results and I think he has a great ability to do that."

Murphy also insisted that, contrary to rumours, the board did not apply any pressure to have certain individuals on the backroom team.

The chosen ones all had pedigree in various areas. Apart from being one of the best players ever produced by Kerry, Fitzgerald had worked with Fitzmaurice, thereby ensuring continuity.

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Maurice Fitzgerald

Buckley is a vastly experienced and highly-regarded coach, having worked with, among others, Kerry, Limerick and, more recently, Mayo over several years, while Griffin and Foley were alongside Keane on the successful minor journeys.

Balance

The balance appeared to make perfect sense in Kerry, but since Keane's managerial achievements were at minor level and he had never played senior inter-county football (he featured on minor, U-21 and junior teams at various stages), little was known about him in the rest of county.

That's still the same to some degree, although it will change very quickly if Kerry win on Sunday. Even if they don't, the 47-year-old Killorglin-based supermarket proprietor is in for the long haul - well at least another two years, as per the arrangement worked out last October.

He took over at a time when a changing of the player guard was inevitable. Quite a few familiar names departed, some perhaps before they were pushed, others because they felt they had no more to give. This season was always going to see much different Kerry team.

Five successive All-Ireland minor wins points to a smooth-running talent carousel, while there's also several seasoned campaigners with plenty more miles to run.

The mixture is promising. Indeed, if it weren't for Dublin, the timing might be perfect for Kerry.

Of course, it might still come off for them this year, but there's also the possibility that Sunday could be a difficult experience for Kerry and Keane in his first season.

They have lost only two games all season (both to Mayo in the Allianz League) and can even boast of a win over Dublin.

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Yet, doubts persist about their defence, which faces the ultimate test against a forward line where Niall Scully is the only member without an All Star award.

As for the style of play Keane prefers, he said after his appointment that he liked an attacking approach, albeit with a caveat.

"I remember being involved with a team once and some fellas asked me what way are you going to play? I said 'how will I know until I see what I have. I might want a big full-forward and the biggest fella you might have is 5'2"," he said.

Size isn't a problem with the Kerry squad, and there's lots of scope across all other important areas too.

But has this massive test come too soon for what genuinely is a work-in-progress?

"This (Dublin) team are probably the team of the ages and all we are doing is trying to go against them. Our lads are not thinking that they're in bonus territory - that's not the way their psyche is," said Keane.

There's a mixed message there for Dublin, one that Jim Gavin won't have missed.

He knows that while Dublin appear to hold all the aces the opposition have a DNA that makes them very dangerous.

More optimistic Kerry supporters believe it will bridge many of the gaps that appear in the squad's CV by comparison with Dublin, for whom there aren't enough boxes to tick.

Gavin has pointed out that there are quite a few experienced players on the Kerry team, but he is probably more worried by the newcomers, young players who know no fear.

As for Keane, he knows that the first year of a manager's term isn't always about merely putting a foundation in place.

Gavin (2013), Pat O'Shea (Kerry 2007), Jack O'Connor (Kerry 2004), Mickey Harte (Tyrone 2003), Joe Kernan (2002) and John O'Mahony (Galway 1998) won All-Irelands in their first seasons over the last 21 years.

Can he do likewise in such a historic final? It would be some coup for the Caherciveen man.

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