Sunday 8 December 2019

Sinead Kissane: Clones set up for Kingdom to fail - which is why they have a chance

Kerry will need leaders like Kieran Donaghy to get the better of Monaghan in Clones tomorrow. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Kerry will need leaders like Kieran Donaghy to get the better of Monaghan in Clones tomorrow. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

Kieran Donaghy calls it the 'Oh, S**t' time in a game. Kerry reached this critical level when Galway scored a goal in the All-Ireland quarter-final clash last weekend which "brought the game into 'Oh, S**t' territory and that's a place I've always felt I can help the team through," Donaghy said in his autobiography 'What Do You Think Of That?'

When Eamonn Fitzmaurice looked up to the subs bench for fresh legs and said the name 'Kieran', Donaghy thought this call was for him before he saw his team-mate Kieran O'Leary run down the steps of the Hogan.

That was four years ago when Kerry went on to beat Galway. Last weekend, Donaghy was also left on the bench in the All Ireland not-so-Super 8s game against Galway. But this was different.

The handy advantage of hindsight wasn't required to appreciate Donaghy's threat as a player who could bring an element of chaos to try and unhinge Galway. But he was left stewing in his seat in the Hogan - what was Fitzmaurice thinking? The Kerry manager used to be second only to Jim Gavin in how he gave away as little emotion as possible on the sideline. However, cracks have started to appear in his demeanour and were caught on TV last Sunday.

In the 10th minute, Fitzmaurice was seen to shake his head, throw out his arms and mouth words to himself. Hard to blame him - Kevin McCarthy's kick-pass had just been easily intercepted by Galway.

Less than eight minutes later, RTé co-commentator Martin Carney remarked that "Fitzmaurice is cutting a pretty frustrated figure at the moment" after James O'Donoghue kicked Kerry's third wide. Where was this frustration - so early in the game - stemming from? It wasn't as if Kerry's mistakes were an example of repeat behaviour this summer - Kerry had strolled through Munster.

Surely if a manager is confident in the game-plan and in his team's form in training then that would give him belief that the team would settle into the game. But the manner in which Fitzmaurice responded to those early mistakes left the sense that Kerry were in 'Oh, S**t' territory as early as the 20th minute.

After Kerry lost to Mayo in last year's All Ireland semi-final replay, Fitzmaurice gave a drive-by description for the defeat. "What went wrong? Mayo were better, Mayo were hungrier," Fitzmaurice said last August. "In fairness, they have ferocious appetite because of the disappointments they have had over the last couple of years and because of how close they are."

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If you don't like what the small details tell you, then revert to the vagueness of the big picture. Giving Mayo's hunger as a reason for losing seemed convenient because surely folk would understand that there's no greater hunger than Mayo's.

But less than a year on, Fitzmaurice admitted Kerry "lost all the battles" and were "a yard off the pace" against Galway. No wonder he was frustrated on the sidelines; this was repeat behaviour from a year ago. Which brings into question another big word - culture - and what kind of standards are being set in Kerry training.

Besides the performances of newly-minted seniors like David Clifford, this defeat was a systems failure for Kerry. A systems failure is largely down to the collective mindset which is the ultimate responsibility of the manager.

When someone like Paul Murphy is uncharacteristically underperforming in an All-Ireland quarter-final then it just can't be conveniently written off as a bad day. Was there complete buy-in by the players to the game-plan against Galway? Why was their focus, which manifested itself through poor shooting and passing, so off?

The lack of leadership has been questioned this week. But who is the real leader and figurehead of this team? Kerry's current captain is goalkeeper Shane Murphy who only made his championship debut against Clare last month. Dr Crokes originally nominated Fionn Fitzgerald as skipper but he's not in the team (and Johnny Buckley opted out of the panel in May) so it falls to a rookie to captain the county. It doesn't make sense.

Tradition is a lovely thing but Kerry's persistence with giving county champions the right to nominate a player from their club to captain Kerry is so out-of-sync with the modern game and, also, it is unfair when it falls on a rookie to expect to handle the pressure being Kerry captain brings.

And the pressure will go to a new level tomorrow. A game against Monaghan in Clones is set up for Kerry to fail. Monaghan will try to squeeze them, suffocate them, neuter their skill and send them packing down the road with a free August to endure. Going to the home of an Ulster team fighting for their championship survival is everything Kerry don't need right now. Which is why Kerry have a chance.

Bill Clinton once said there's nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed by what's right with America. Kerry needs to channel its inner Kerry and rediscover its identity. Fitzmaurice shouldn't be expected to employ a naïve game-plan but having the likes Paul Geaney and Clifford waste energy making hopeless runs tracking back is self-defeating when they should stay up front where they need only half a chance to swing momentum.

Play Donaghy (what about at midfield?) - he is the team's spiritual leader and sets a defiant tone. And Kerry need a crash course in Leinster rugby senior coach Stuart Lancaster's comfortable in chaos approach because that's what they will also need to be tomorrow.

We cod ourselves in Kerry with this 'We Are Kerry' lark. There's more than a whiff of entitlement about it as if the answer to our problems are found in those words. If 'We Are Kerry' stands for confidence, it means absolutely nothing if it's not superseded by hard work and smart play. Too often in big games Kerry play as if there's an expectation games will fall for them because of the misguided notion that history is on their side.

Not tomorrow. Kerry go to Clones knowing they will have to fight for every single ball. How Kerry respond from the corner they've backed themselves into will tell us more about Kerry than 'We Are Kerry' call-to-arms ever will.

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