Saturday 16 February 2019

O'Brien says players not burdened by Kerry demand for 'excellence'

O’Brien: Backing young guns. Photo: Sportsfile
O’Brien: Backing young guns. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

And just like that, Kerry's Stephen O'Brien finds himself as one of the older heads in the dressing room.

There are still players who have put down more seasons with the Kingdom. The likes of David Moran, Killian Young and Paul Geaney have been around longer than the Kenmare man. But at 27 and with five seasons under his belt, O'Brien is suddenly a senior man.

That's down to the changing of the guard the winter has seen. Gone are the likes of Donnchadh Walsh, Anthony Maher, Kieran Donaghy and Darran O'Sullivan, while regulars like Fionn Fitzgerald and Barry John Keane have also moved on meaning it is a very different dressing room this time around.

"It's a big change definitely," he says.

"It happens gradually. You'd be kind of used to it from the club as well. It's a very a young team as well. The young lads are coming in now and they're so good.

"We want them to do as well, even from a personal point of view, you want to look after them because we know we need them if we want to go to where we want to go to."

Even though he feels Kerry weren't as far away in 2018 as most people seem to think, O'Brien knows that inexperience won't be accepted as an excuse if things go wrong this year.

"The damage was done (in the defeat to Galway in the 'Super 8s'). Obviously if we had beaten Monaghan away (we'd still be in it), but that's a tough draw the week after. Then there was obviously just a very surreal feeling after that game against Kildare.

"We were still in the balance if the other result had gone our way. Tom O'Sullivan told me when I was coming up the pitch … and he told me that.

"I was just thinking, 'Would you not have given me five minutes? I'd have found out anyway!'

"So it was hard to play the last five minutes of that game. Everyone refers to it as 'when Kerry lost to Kildare' or like a defeat to Kildare because it felt like a loss. And the Eamonn stepped down that day."

When Fitzmaurice confirmed he was walking away, he revealed that they had received poison pen letters where a number of players were told to jump off a cliff. It was a reminder that Kerry expects, regardless of the circumstances.

"When you see about the letters and all of that, you know where you're from. You know that Kerry demand excellence," O'Brien said. "That's not a new phenomenon for us. It was the same with Páidí Ó Sé and his infamous or famous…being from Kerry and playing Kerry football, there's a demand for success."

However, he denies there's any extra pressure on Kerry to prevent Dublin from completing the five-in-a-row that famously eluded the Kingdom.

"Obviously there's the historic thing with 1982, that's why it's talked about. And the Kerry-Dublin rivalry in general. But it's not any extra pressure on us. No matter what, you have only so many years in your career, so you just want to get the most out of them. This year is no different. Obviously we'd like to stop that. But we'd like to stop it by winning the All-Ireland - like any other year."

Kerry are yet to play under new manager Peter Keane but O'Brien doesn't foresee huge changes in terms of tactics from the Fitzmaurice regime.

"You can definitely see how he has been successful with other teams. He's very business-like. He's a big business man outside of football as well. He's definitely a sharp cookie. Very professional set-up. Eamonn was the very same. Some of the backroom team are the same - Maurice Fitz is still there."

And he's hoping the addition of renowned coach Donie Buckley can help their work in the tackle.

"That's definitely something we need to work on. To see the work he's done with Mayo. To see their tackling and their foul count, it's way down. That's something we have to look at. In some of the big games, we've conceded way too many frees. So definitely it's a big focus for us."

Irish Independent

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