Saturday 20 January 2018

Páidí-style in-house intensity gives Kingdom the edge, says Nelligan

Former Kerry and Dublin stars Charlie Nelligan, left, and Robbie Kelleher at the launch of the FBD7s Senior All Ireland Football 7s at Kilmacud Crokes
Former Kerry and Dublin stars Charlie Nelligan, left, and Robbie Kelleher at the launch of the FBD7s Senior All Ireland Football 7s at Kilmacud Crokes

Michael Verney

Kerry great Charlie Nelligan expects the strength in depth at Eamonn Fitzmaurice's disposal to tip the balance in favour of the reigning champions in Sunday's eagerly-awaited football final.

Nelligan believes Fitzmaurice can afford to exhibit a ruthless streak with 30 top-class players vying for selection, and he places huge emphasis on the quality of Kerry's in-house games.

The former Kingdom goalkeeper has likened the talent available to Fitzmaurice to that of his legendary manager Mick O'Dwyer, and he even crosses codes to draw comparisons with Kilkenny hurling boss Brian Cody.

"It's like Kilkenny in the hurling, Eamonn has 30 players down there and he doesn't need to go anywhere for challenge matches," he said.

"We had 28 or 30 players and we'd head into Killarney and Micko would ref the challenge match and he'd only blow the whistle at the start and the finish.

"Eamonn is able to do the same because he has that quality of player. Some players will tell you they feel under pressure because they are looking over their shoulder. And that's why Kerry are up there."

The 58-year-old agrees with his late team-mate Páidí Ó Sé's approach to internal games. Ó Sé believed that training matches could be the perfect preparation for the dry heat of championship battle if played in the right manner, something Nelligan feels still holds true today.

"Páidí used always ask Mick O'Dwyer to 'put me on Spillane'. He used always want to be marking Pat Spillane in training and in practice matches because he reckoned that Pat Spillane was the best footballer in the country," the Castleisland native noted.

"And if Páidí could keep Pat Spillane at bay, then he was beating the best, and every other player would be second to Pat Spillane. It is a great attitude to have."

Nelligan is unsure if he would be able to deal with the demands of modern goalkeeping, with the role is no longer just concerned with preventing goals.

He heaped praised on Kerry No 1 Brendan Kealy, who has been a revelation this season having coming in to replace Brian Kelly, and believes that such intense competition for places helps drive the team forward.

"He has come on leaps and bounds in the last two years. He was under pressure last year but he has improved. It's like when Paudie O'Mahony and myself were playing against each other," he noted.

"I was watching him, he was watching me, Micko was playing the two of us off against each other and the team was benefitting as a result. If there's competition for places, you're going to maintain your standards."

After being immersed in the famous Kerry/Dublin rivalry during the '70s and '80s, the seven-time All-Ireland winner has huge respect for the challenge that Dublin pose this weekend.

If Dublin were to win they would equal their great predecessors of the '70s on three All-Irelands, and Nelligan feels they deserve the same attention. He admits to feeling the same nervous excitement when he watches Jim Gavin's current crop but again wise words from Ó Sé spring to mind.

"I get the same auld buzz out of watching these guys as I did back in the day. I'll never forget Páidí Ó Sé in 1985, we were watching the Dubs up at the far end of the field. I remember Páidí calling all the backs in together and he said, 'jaysus lads, these fellas look big'," he recalls.

"They had these big tight jerseys on them and they looked massive strong and were flying all over the place. He said, 'they look very big but if they haven't the f***ing ball, they can do f*** all with it'. It was true. Simple stuff."

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