Saturday 17 February 2018

Tomás Ó Sé: Fear of humiliation will focus Kerry minds

Eamonn Fitzmaurice watches Kerry concede 17 points against Clare last month. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Eamonn Fitzmaurice watches Kerry concede 17 points against Clare last month. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Tomás Ó Sé

I see the bookies have Kerry nailed on to win our fourth Munster title in a row tomorrow.

The odds of 1/25 on them beating Tipperary in Killarney are probably much the same as what they're offering on night following day. Eamonn Fitzmaurice will hate the sight of those figures because he'll know what they imply. They're saying that Tipp will be lambs to the slaughter here.

Now Eamonn and I were schooled in the same way as Kerry footballers. It was relentlessly drilled into us that the more people presumed you were going to win a game, the more ruthlessly you focused on preparation. In my 18 years playing county football, Kerry never lost a Munster Championship game to anybody other than Cork.

Over time, that record came to mean a lot to us. We felt it represented proof that we never became too big for our boots.

I certainly had an early warning as to how treacherous these games can be. People still talk about our 1999 Munster Championship clash with Tipp in Tralee when Kerry, famously, were awarded a goal that was never a goal at all. And I can tell you here in all God's honesty, if we hadn't been, Tipp would have beaten us.

The awarding of the goal was a disgrace, given so many people in Austin Stack Park saw clearly that Gerry Murphy's first shot was half a foot outside the post, bouncing back into play off a stanchion. But Gerry finished the rebound to the net and, incredibly, the umpires allowed the goal stand.


Now I never liked playing Championship football in Tralee and, that day, gave me another good reason. We underestimated Tipp. Why? I don't know. They were a decent team and a bunch of us, myself, Aodhan MacGearailt, Tommy Griffin and Tom Sullivan, had just been bounced out of an All-Ireland U-21 final defeat against Westmeath.

Our heads were down. The four of us were walking around like ghosts and, that day, we were absolutely steeped to survive. Put it this way, Kerry won by six points in the end, but out-scored Tipp 0-5 to 0-1 in the last eight minutes.

The 'goal' went in after only eight minutes but we never subsequently got flowing. There's no doubt in my mind that Tipp should have beaten us. I remember their defenders roaring at the referee and umpires and, in the dressing-room at half-time, some of our own lads saying 'Nah, t'wasn't a goal at all!'.

But the Munster Council subsequently threw out their appeal for a replay even though the chairman, Kerryman and future GAA President Sean Kelly, apologised to Tipp for what he called "human error".

So Tipp still haven't beaten Kerry in senior Championship since 1928, but you have to wonder if justice was served that day in Tralee 17 years ago just what it might have triggered for their football.

For Kerry, the mental side of things tomorrow is massive. Look at Mayo against Galway. Now in my mind, Mayo are a better team than Galway, more experienced, bigger players, more talented, but they didn't show up on the night.

Read more: Dublin's anxiety a midsummer night's theme

I go back to '92 when Kerry lost the Munster final to Clare, a day Seamus Moynihan would always say was his worst ever in the jersey.

The reason Kerry avoided that kind of thing recurring since was pure fear. We possibly tuned in more for teams like Clare and Limerick and Tipperary than we did for Cork, because to lose to them would have been a kind of humiliation. I mean I often talk about the hosing I got one day early in my career against Wicklow in Killarney from Trevor Doyle. I knew nothing about him before that game, but he was a serious footballer. That taught me a lesson.

Look at the Gary Brennans and Michael Quinlivans of this world now, they're as good as there are in the country.

By the way, I noted Liam Kearns saying that my brother Darragh and Micheal Quirke obviously see this game as a foregone conclusion. Now, if Liam honestly thinks that's the way Kerry will approach this game, he has another thing coming.

All of the Tipp players who showed up the last day against Cork, particularly the likes of Fox, Quinlivan and Sweeney ... you can rest assured that Kerry will have them analysed to a tee. Because Eamonn Fitz will have Kerry nervous going out tomorrow. And rightly so.

Tipp are capable of causing a shock, I don't doubt that. But what Kearns seemed to mistake as arrogance from Darragh and Quirke was actually just an understanding of how it would have been hammered home to these Kerry players that this is a treacherous game.

Which is why, in my opinion, it's unlikely to produce a shock.

I mean it will have been thrashed out in that dressing-room what the consequences of losing tomorrow will be. For the rest of your life, you'll be reading newspapers recycling the story of the day Tipp turned you over in Killarney. And you'll be heading in the back-door knowing that every other county now sees weaknesses in you.

You'll have basically opened up a can of worms you didn't want to open.

The older fellas will have been driving that home this week because they'll have had their frights down the years. Like Kearns had a serious Limerick team in 2004 and they should have beaten us in the drawn Munster final, probably would have done only Darragh caught a couple of balls above our crossbar.

Kearns is a clever manager, I'll hand him that. He turned Cork over when he was with Limerick too, but Tipp will have to hope Kerry have an off-day for them to win this. Liam Kearns knows that.

Because Kerry will see this as a day for minding their own patch. There'll be no question of under-estimating Tipp.

I mean it jumped out at me before the Mayo-Galway game that so many Mayo people just could not see any possibility of defeat. And that seeps through to players. Stephen Rochford will have learnt a lot from that. There's been a lot of rumours that things aren't right in the camp, but we were the subject of similar stories over the years when we'd lose a big game too.

You might go down to Cork and, next thing, it'd be 'Oh sure the O Ses aren't talking to Jack O'Connor...'

There'd be no such thing happening at all and we were tough enough to take energy from that.

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Fitzmaurice would have learned a lot from Paidi who was absolutely brilliant after Cork beat us in '02 (only to be taken to a replay by Tipp in the Munster final). And he would have learned from Jack for whom he subsequently did the video analysis. So Eamonn knows better than anyone how these days work.

Paidi especially drove it into us that you took nobody lightly. That you had to be so tuned in. I mean I remember going to Killarney one year to play Tipp and this fella Peter Acheson, who played for Billy Morgan at UCC, a serious player, just running straight at me. He wasn't remotely afraid, I could tell that straight away.

He's still there today and these fellas don't care about Kerry reputations. They will just rip into you, because they know Kerry are on a hiding to nothing.

But if Tipp think a Kerry team trained by Fitzmaurice will underestimate them, they're headed for a stone wall. It's the rock they'll perish on. Paidi had this saying, 'Where they think we are weakest is where we will f*****g attack them!'

Kerry know they don't have a divine right to win this game and I've no doubt Iceland's win over England this week will be getting referenced. If there's one fella in the Kerry camp showing the remotest disrespect to Tipp this week, he'll be bounced back into his box fair lively.

Bear in mind too that Clare scored 17 points against Kerry three weeks ago. Podge Collins caused problems running at the Kerry defence, which Tipp have to see as a positive. Kerry looked very open at the back at times, so I don't doubt Tipp will plan on running at Kerry tomorrow and, in Greg Hanningan, they have a midfielder who won't bow an inch to the likes of Maher and Moran or Donaghy.

Now, in saying that, there's a chance that this game will fizzle out after maybe 50 minutes and Kerry might ease home. If that happens and Dublin hammer Westmeath in the Leinster final, there'll be an element of farce to those two provincial championships.

That said, Kerry don't want a scare here. If, say, they get a bad fright, the danger is the players might start thinking 'Jesus if we can barely handle Tipp, what chance have we further down the line?' That can eat into your confidence. So, in my view, Kerry need to win this without being questioned. With Eamonn Fitz setting the psychological temperature all week, I think that's exactly what we'll see.

Irish Independent

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