Friday 24 November 2017

Ongoing blue riddle occupying Kingdom minds

Donnchadh Walsh in Croke Park yesterday to launch the Allianz Naltional Football Leagues. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Walsh in Croke Park yesterday to launch the Allianz Naltional Football Leagues. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Grappling with the dominance of Dublin and dealing with the stigma of defeat to them has become a greater challenge to Kerry football than Tyrone presented in the previous decade, their long-serving wing-forward Donnchadh Walsh has acknowledged.

Kerry have lost their last five big games - two All-Ireland semi-finals, two All-Ireland finals and a League final - to Dublin since 2011 and crucially have been cumulatively outscored by 24 points from the 60th minute on in those matches.

Donnchadh Walsh of Kerry. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Walsh of Kerry. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Walsh admits that something they are seeking to rectify as they turn attention to the new season.

"Because we have such a strong panel, we believe that we should have as strong a team finishing a game as starting it," he said.

"So it is something that we want to rectify, that we should be finishing the game a lot stronger. Dublin seem to have that. They're able to make changes, they're bringing on substitutes to impact more on the game than we've been able to do.

Moments

"There's so little between the top four or five counties in the country, that it does come down to those last few moments and that's when the game is decided. It's definitely a big talking point and definitely something we'll be working on throughout the year.

"Last year we played well in periods of the game but they're all pretty hard defeats to take. As time goes on each one probably gets a bit sorer."

Walsh was a debutant in 2008, when Kerry lost a third successive All-Ireland series match to Tyrone; those losses cut so deeply in the Kingdom, but the scale of the challenge is different for them now.

"It is tougher. Dublin have reached this level of consistency where maybe Tyrone hadn't," he said.

"Tyrone would come strong for a year and they wouldn't do so well the following year, whereas Dublin are consistently winning Leagues, winning All-Irelands now as well. So I think it's a bigger challenge for Kerry now."

The Dublin conundrum is something that is constantly at the back of the Kerry team's minds as they prepared for the challenges ahead.

"It is very easy to become obsessed with them. Every night you go out for training you could just totally focus on them.

"But we have the first round of the Allianz League against Donegal up in Letterkenny and if you're not 100pc focused on that game you'll be getting a hiding up there.

"They're (Dublin) always going to be at the back of our minds, 100pc. And they have been since we lost the semi-final to them last year. They can stay there at the back of our minds and until they need to be at the front of our minds, that's where they'll stay."

Walsh believes Mayo have informed Kerry how they might get closer to their nemeses.

"I felt that Dublin played almost a nine out of 10 game to beat us and then Mayo had managed to. . . was it the way they played or whatever. . . pull them back," he explained.

"They (Dublin) didn't play as well in those two All-Ireland finals and that was probably Mayo not allowing them to play as well as we allowed them to play.

"I think there's something in how Mayo were able to maybe match them for that physicality on both days. If we had that physicality we might have brought their performance down a peg or two. I don't think Dublin's levels are dropping, other teams are coming up a level or two."

Walsh has stayed the pace impressively as an inter-county footballer and his industry around the field has really endeared him to Kerry supporters and, crucially, the current management.

Regularly he can hit 12 kilometres in a match but believes there is the capacity for inter-county footballers to go even further.

"I know it looks like I'd be doing a lot of mileage but it's all about smart running now rather than trying to put up miles on the clock," noted the Cromane man, a physiotherapist by profession.

"You need to be running in the right areas and that's what I'm hoping to do rather than just running aimlessly around the place.

"It's around the 12/13 kilometre mark if I can actually manage to stay on the field for 70 minutes. Usually it's less than that.

"But fellas are getting fitter every year. The standard is going that way, it's only one direction.

"There's probably another half a kilometre or something next year."

On the morning that Aidan O'Mahony's retirement was confirmed by Kerry GAA, Walsh was on hand for the launch of the Allianz Football League in Croke Park and admitted he gave his own future some consideration.

"You'd give it a thought with everything but you just found yourself planning for football unknown to yourself so the mind made itself up almost," he said. "You say 'yeah, I feel good'. As long as the body feels good I'll keep going."

The competitive nature of the Division 1 games between the 'gang of four' - Dublin, Kerry, Mayo and Donegal - has really lit up the top flight in recent years, and Tyrone's return will only add to that.

Walsh feels the benefits are huge.

"I think it is just the importance that each county has been putting on the Allianz Leagues," he said. "Getting to a League final and playing up in Croke Park is a big goal for us and it has been for the last few years.

"You can't really afford to lose many games in the League, especially this year now with only two teams getting to the final.

"We're training so hard and so often, you only get very few chances to play Mayo, Dublin, Donegal. We might only meet some of these teams once in the year; every chance you get to pit yourself up against the best in the country, you get a chance to show off all the work you're doing in the gym and all the work you have been doing at training and in meetings.

"You just have to leave it all out there. There is no point in holding anything back. Maybe that has added to the heat of it."

This year, Allianz celebrates 25 years of sponsoring the Allianz Leagues. For more details see www.allianz.ie

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