Sunday 21 January 2018

Tomás Ó Sé: If I was still a Kerry player I'd be preparing for war against the Rebels

Eoin Cadogan beats Kieran Donaghy to a high ball during the drawn Munster final. Cadogan will be delighted if Kerry adopt the same tactics with Donaghy tomorrow
Eoin Cadogan beats Kieran Donaghy to a high ball during the drawn Munster final. Cadogan will be delighted if Kerry adopt the same tactics with Donaghy tomorrow
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice

Tomás Ó Sé

Back in Dingle at a friend's wedding last week I was left picking little shards of shrapnel from my skin after stepping on a landmine that I hadn't seen coming.

In fact, it had already detonated beneath me before I even realised what it was.

As we were congratulating the happy couple on the way out of the church, the groom, a Cork man who I hadn't met before, greeted me with a killer punchline.

"We found our rudder, Tomás," he declared with a smile, my mind a million miles away from Killarney at that moment.

I'd gone on a few steps before I caught on to what it was about. I laughed. Ouch!

It's been following me around a bit these last couple of weeks. Good-natured stuff. No scarcity of Cork folk sidling up with a reminder that they haven't gone away but adding the proviso that Kerry will surely have their ducks in a row the next day.

Frankly, it's a narrative that unnerves me even more than the script before the drawn game.

The line being peddled that Cork can't really improve much more and Kerry have all the scope for it just doesn't stack up. It's idle talk.

You can't underestimate what last week's performance will do for Cork too. I've been involved in too many replays with them to know what they source from a second chance.

To quote my friend in Dingle, they certainly have found their rudder.

They performed last week like the team we saw so often in the League, like the team I expected to show up in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last year, like the team I expected would learn from that defeat and show up against Dublin in the League final.

Once Donncha O'Connor, Colm O'Neill, Eoin Cadogan, Paul Kerrigan and Alan O'Connor put their shoulder to the wheel and the rest followed, it was always going to be a real contest.

They'll be content that they asked All-Ireland champions questions and didn't always get answers. They stood up when I thought they'd lie down. They hassled, harried, bullied.

At half-time I was happy, sensed Kerry would go quickly for the kill, rattle off a few early scores and watch them wilt, just as they had done in the three big games over the previous 18 months that I had based a particular opinion of them on.

But I was wrong again.

If I'm honest, I was never comfortable with replays against Cork. They almost always told us that we weren't right. Sometimes we got away with it, more often than not we didn't. Are Kerry right this time? If I was still a Kerry footballer I know I'd be preparing for absolute war the next day, a war that will go right down to those last few minutes again.

I'd imagine there'll have been a few forthright discussions on that front in the privacy of the dressing room over the two weeks.

I was never a huge talker in these situations, the need to get my own game right supplanting everything else in my head. But in a week like this, if asked, I'd be trying to touch the nerves of a few boys and get them thinking; be frank, be straight, lay it on the line for them, take them out of the comfort zone, fire a few shots across their bows, get them a little more nervous. Short and to the point.


In truth, it was probably what I wanted to hear myself and felt the conversation needed to be bended that way.

'As All-Ireland champions, are we going to allow Cork come down to Killarney and beat us in our back yard?

'Are we going to watch Barry and Brian Driscoll drive through us again from half-back?

Read more: Sinead Kissane: Breaking free of GAA stereotype harder than it looks in Kerry

'Are we going to let Alan O'Connor rip into us around the middle and upset our rhythm all day again?

'Are we going to be as tame around that 'middle eight' as we were the last day, get cleaned out and outfought, save for 15 minutes before half-time?

'Are we going to cough up three goals again?'

It's very simple. If you allow a team to dictate the terms of engagement, then that's what's going to happen.

There was an aggression there that, disappointingly, Kerry took and didn't respond to and that's the first thing that has to be fixed.

One thing we need to be is less predictable. A lot of good things came off Kieran Donaghy on the edge of the square the last day - Paul Geaney nearly had a goal and the 'penalty' came from a touch off him.

Now I know there's a view that the right ball didn't go into him but why not mix it up a lot more this time?

That's something Kerry have been good at under Eamonn Fitzmaurice, cutting the cloth to suit. James O'Donoghue switching out to half-forward for last year's All-Ireland final, Declan Sullivan's role in the Munster final.

By playing Donaghy in there all the time on Cadogan are Kerry playing into Cork's barrow? Cadogan will be delighted inside if it stays that way throughout, under the dropping ball beating it away all day. Job done.

Bring defenders where they don't want to go, move them around. I know, as a half-back who liked to attack, the last place I wanted to be was drawn back into my own full-back line.

Kerry are better, much better, than they were the last day. But it's not like flicking on a switch. If the attitude isn't right, any changes won't make a damn bit of difference. I feel we may have sub-consciously fallen into the old trap of believing we'll get better as the season goes on. Time enough in Croke Park to be showing a full hand.

As a player I know I would have bought into that a little bit myself.

There's no reason why a top-class performance can't be delivered for a full 70 minutes in Killarney, just as it was in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last year.

But we need someone like Declan pulling the strings like he did that day, we need fellas to step up to the plate again. And it's the players in the 'middle third' who really have to stand up and be counted most.

In some respects for Kerry it reminds me of the drawn game against Mayo last year. Should have been beaten, recovered and made the most of the opportunity in Limerick.

The players will have gone through over and over every single thing that I have said above. And more.

In today's game, if you are lucky enough to get the second chance you analyse the 'bejaysus' out of it, especially your weak points. That's where Eamonn Fitz really comes into his own. No better man to dissect a game. He'll have worn the buttons on the remote control, rewinding and fast-forwarding this one.

I was always guided by the belief that you were only as good as your last game since a college coach drilled it into me many years ago and I used it to motivate myself.

Simple stuff really but a player's memory doesn't have go any deeper, not in this case when you've been lucky to survive to a replay.

Cork will be ready. Their attitude will be 'let's have ye'. I've always found that about them in replays. I think the Kerry players will look hard at themselves, absorb the lessons from the drawn game, make the adjustments and win.

But it must be approached like there's no safety net and played with the fear of knockout football pulsing through the veins.

Above everything else, they must bring war.

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