Sunday 17 December 2017

Strength in depth underpins old rivalry

Kerry football is in a much healthier state than it was when Dublin last stormed into Killarney

IT Carlow manager DJ Carey and his Limerick IT counterpart Davy Fitzgerald exchange a handshake after their Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final
IT Carlow manager DJ Carey and his Limerick IT counterpart Davy Fitzgerald exchange a handshake after their Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Patrick Curtin has moved to the periphery in the last 12 months but one of the most important things he did during his time as a Kerry footballer was to break a most unlikely deadlock that was beginning to reach embarrassing proportions for the game's most celebrated county.

Dublin head south to Killarney for this weekend's Allianz League Division 1 showpiece against the All-Ireland champions but their hosts won't have fond memories of their last visit when Curtin's 21st-minute point brought a 64-minute scoreless spell, during the early days of Eamonn Fitzmaurice's management, to an end.

It had incorporated the entire second half of the Mayo game in Castlebar seven days earlier and the agony looked like prolonging until Curtin's intervention.

They eventually added a second before half-time and doubled it before the end but the defeat still amounted to their worst since Dublin again beat them by 12 points in a 1998 league match and their lowest score since 1989 when they matched the four point tally in a league semi-final against Cork.

For Fitzmaurice it wasn't a weekend to remember. As a player he was involved in Finuge's All-Ireland intermediate club final defeat the night before in Croke Park. Then the response he sought from his Kerry players in the wake of the Castlebar collapse just wasn't there.

Out of those dark days for Kerry football, illumination has come quickly however.

Dublin return to a Kingdom laden with riches, the All-Ireland senior and minor titles, All-Ireland club junior and intermediate titles, a Hogan Cup success for a school that wasn't mapped on the scene a few years earlier.


The committee charged with examining the structures of the local championships to see what improvement needs to be made are left scratching their heads wondering should they touch anything at all for fear of upsetting something that is clearly working again!

For the county's former midfielder-full-forward Micheal Quirke things were never as bad as they looked two years ago and probably aren't as good as they are now either.

"It's somewhere in the middle," he reasoned. "There is a tendency to judge young players in the 18 to 21-year-old bracket by what they win at that level and if they haven't won anything they are too easily written off. We do it ourselves in Kerry, so much talk about 20 years since the last All-Ireland minor title, only one All-Ireland U-21 title in the 2000s.

"But nine players used in the All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo in Limerick last August had also featured against Cork in that Munster U-21 final in 2011 that Kerry lost by 22 points," he pointed out.

"I was speaking at the GAA's coaching conference last month and I mentioned it was an obsolete way to look at things now. In Kerry there is an onus on developing the player first and the athlete after that and I think it is working again," said Quirke.

What Quirke doesn't dispute is the strength in depth that Kerry have been acquiring over the last 18 months.

"In the past it's been the likes of Cork who have been spoken of in terms of the strong squads. Kerry have always been looked on for the individuals. But the squad is really strong now."

Dublin's former wing-back Paul Curran is more reluctant to say that the best two teams are in action on Sunday in Killarney than he is to say that the best two squads are there.

"There was a lot of rubbish talked about how strong Dublin were last year and how it could be years before they were beaten. Well, they were beaten by an unlikely source. In terms of depth I'd still see the two best squads in Dublin and Kerry, but not by much."

For Curran Sunday is important for Dublin in seeking to nail down the three positions that he feels are up for grabs at corner-back, centre-back and midfield.

John Small, who he managed at Ballymun for a few years, is the current incumbent at centre-back but Curran feels Ger Brennan's earlier-than-expected return, courtesy of St Vincent's All-Ireland club semi-final elimination, will precipitate his restoration to No 6.

"If everything is okay with Ger he should play there. Dublin really missed him last year. John (Small) has done well. His confidence probably suffered a few years back when he came on to the Dublin squad and was then let go. He didn't make the U-21s, he didn't make the club team for a spell. He took a few knocks but he has recovered very well. He's a brave lad, big and strong and a great listener. He'll make it there if Ger doesn't.

"At midfield Denis Bastick missed a lot of football last year and isn't as young as you would want him to be."

As for Kerry he is convinced that winning this year's All-Ireland is even more important than last year. "This is the one they want to win. It's easier to win when you are written off but they look much stronger even than last year and that presents a different challenge."

Irish Independent

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