Tuesday 12 December 2017

O'Mahony the symbol of Kerry's change of course

'Teak-tough' defender's 2004 introduction pivotal to makeover

Aidan O'Mahony of Kerry. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Aidan O'Mahony of Kerry. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Jack O'Connor was among those to lead the tributes to Aidan O'Mahony and there was something apt in that, given how O'Connor had introduced him 13 years ago as he sought to change the direction that Kerry football needed to take.

In the previous three years, Kerry's Championships had run aground against Meath (2001), Armagh (2002) and Tyrone (2003).

The Tyrone defeat was, arguably, the most galling with that snapshot of frantic hustling and harrying of Dara Ó Cinnéide, Darragh Ó Sé and Donal Daly in that striking passage of play in their All-Ireland semi-final beneath the Hogan Stand, remaining fixed in some minds.

In early 2004, having taken over from Páidí Ó Sé, O'Connor's trawl threw up three players of similar robustness: Paul Galvin, Brendan Guiney and O'Mahony, who was then 23 and had been overlooked by the previous regime.

Guiney didn't stay the distance but the other two most definitely did and, while their abrasiveness wasn't enough to loosen Tyrone's grip over them in two subsequent All-Ireland finals, they still won four of the next six - the dogs of war O'Connor unearthed playing pivotal parts.

"Kerry had been bullied by the likes of Tyrone, Armagh and Meath three years in a row so we needed a new harder edge if we were to compete at the top table," reflected O'Connor in a glowing tribute yesterday.

"Aidan fitted that bill perfectly. He was teak-tough and fearless. The tougher it was, the better he liked it. He often sailed close to the wind but that was the only way he knew how to play."

In particular, O'Connor recalled the contribution of O'Mahony and Galvin in the two Munster finals against Limerick that year. O'Connor liked O'Mahony's mentality, especially against big-name players, and his shadowing of Stephen O'Neill, future Player of the Year, in the 2005 All-Ireland final, was singled out.

"He had a great temperament for the big day and he marked some of the best forwards in the country over the years," recalled O'Connor. "His aggression and never-say-die attitude was an inspiration to those around him."

In more recent years his handling of Donegal captain Michael Murphy was the perfect example of what O'Connor had in mind for "sailing close to the wind" but his single-mindedness was so important to Kerry getting over the line that day.

His attitude and commitment to preparing properly for the game was a common denominator in any assessment of the Rathmore man's legacy to Kerry football.

He "understood what it means to be a Kerry footballer," said current manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice, who credited his influence over younger players in the squad.

That fearlessness was also touched upon by Fitzmaurice.

"He took pride in excelling at any physical work," said the Kerry boss. "Throughout his career he defied western medicine when returning from injury. He pushed himself to the limit and beyond to get back as quickly as possible. For the medical team, trying to hold him back as he fought to return to play was like trying to keep the tide out."

His best years were 2006 and 2007 when he won All-Stars and claimed an All-Ireland final man of the match award against Mayo in 2006 when scoring two points in a forceful performance.

His career veered off course briefly in the aftermath of controversy over a failed drugs test in 2008 that he escaped suspension for, despite having twice the permitted amount of Salbutamol in his system. It was ruled that he had only used his asthma inhaler for medical purposes.

His departure now leaves Colm Cooper as the only surviving member of the 2004 team, the first that O'Connor managed to ultimate glory.

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