Monday 20 November 2017

Sinead Kissane: Kerry cannot bank on tradition to bail them out against the class of this Dublin squad

Diarmuid Connolly, pictured here celebrating after last year’s All-Ireland final, will be hoping to pile on the agony for Kerry tomorrow. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Diarmuid Connolly, pictured here celebrating after last year’s All-Ireland final, will be hoping to pile on the agony for Kerry tomorrow. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

When Diarmuid Connolly finished his interview with RTE, I watched him as he walked down the pitch to where we were waiting to interview him at a media day in Abbotstown last month.

It was two days after he won his ninth Leinster medal in a final where he showed again that he's the best footballer around, with moves like his one-handed catch from a kick-out.

It was also a game in which he got a yellow card for pulling James Dolan to the ground after the Westmeath defender patted him on the head.

Afterwards, Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin said they were trying to "entice" him, aka, pull his tail.

Connolly rarely does media interviews. So as he walked towards us, I wondered if questions about that incident with Dolan and player provocation would bother him.

Would he have a ready-made answer for every question? Would he feel like he had to defend his reputation? Would he feel like his tail was being pulled, again?

"Do you regret what you did after (Dolan ruffled your hair) Diarmuid?"

"Looking back on it, yeah, it was probably a reaction rather than a response. I probably should have responded a little bit better to that."

Later that day, I saw he gave a different kind of response during his earlier interview with RTE. He said "No" when asked if he regretted the way he reacted.

I don't know Connolly. I can't presume to know which answer was more reflective of the way he truly felt.

Before last year's All-Ireland final, I twisted myself into assuming that Kerry couldn't lose to the Dubs for the third championship game in a row.

The questions felt rhetorical. How could Kerry lose another final to the Dubs after what happened in 2011? Surely this final will provoke a reaction? Surely Kerry will have a ready-made answer? Surely they will defend their reputation?

The answer?

Kerry were flat.

Kerry failed to fire.

Kieran Donaghy came on.

But it was too late.

One of the enduring images from that game was selector Diarmuid Murphy talking animatedly to Eamonn Fitzmaurice on the sideline as Kerry trailed by three points approaching half-time, but the gap felt much larger.

The gap felt larger again after the league final in April. The questions we asked about our county before that game became more desperate as the reaction seemed more important than the action.

Surely Kerry will have a lethal after-kick? Surely the hurt from last September will edge it? Right? Wrong.

Kerry lost by 11 points (no way am I using Kerry being reduced to 14 men as an excuse).

When we lost two All-Ireland finals to Tyrone in the noughties the worst thing about those defeats was the way they made us doubt ourselves. Tyrone played like they couldn't give a crap about Kerry tradition.

Leading up to tomorrow's All-Ireland semi-final, tradition has been used as an assurance that all is not lost for Kerry. Where's the evidence, though?

The way Kerry played in the Munster final win over Cork at the Pairc in 2014 suggested something special was happening, and it ended with the All-Ireland title that September.

Whatever about the opposition, Kerry have done little to suggest this summer will have a similar finish.

'Tradition' is always a back-up answer. When I interviewed former Kerry manager Jack O'Connor a few weeks ago he pointed out two occasions when Kerry turned it around unexpectedly against the Dubs: in the 1955 All-Ireland final when a Kevin Heffernan-skippered Dubs team were beaten, and in 2009 when an O'Connor-managed Kingdom beat the Dubs in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

"We couldn't find a spark in 2009 until we were drawn against Dublin and it really does bring out the best in Kerry," O'Connor added.

Tradition is important in Kerry. Tradition is talked about a lot.

Tradition is like a comfort blanket we fall back into when things go right but also hide under when questions are being asked that we don't really know the answers to.

Tradition is saying that Kerry have won 37 All-Irelands. Tradition rarely adds that we've also lost 22 All-Ireland finals.

Tradition is good when it gives players confidence because of the environment they grew up in. Tradition is not good when it comes in the guise of entitlement.

Tradition makes me nervous.

In last year's All-Ireland final, Kerry played like they were almost waiting for something to happen.

Sure, Dublin were the superior team. But Kerry looked like they were waiting for tradition to turn up and bail them out.

But tradition can also trip you up. When Kerry went four points up in the 2011 All-Ireland final with six minutes of normal time remaining, it felt like the game was over because our 'tradition' looked like it had triumphed again and we prematurely assumed that final was ours.

So what kind of reaction can we expect from Kerry tomorrow?

During the week I spoke to Connacht rugby captain John Muldoon about what will fire his team after their Pro12 success.

He said that frustration, anger and jealousy drove them last season and revealed that greed for more success is fuelling them now.

Kerry should be fired up with frustration, anger, jealousy and greed tomorrow. But will they?

Just because we're told that Dublin always will bring out the best in Kerry, will it do that tomorrow?

Kerry can't depend on tradition and assumptions. They can't bank on it to bail them out against the class of this Dublin team.

Kerry will need to a have number of different answers to the same question tomorrow. They must pull their own tail and see how they respond because tradition won't do that for them.

But tradition also suggests that no-one knows that better than Kerry.

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