Monday 21 May 2018

Tomás Ó Sé: Watching game with Micko made me feel I missed out

Cork’s Michael Shields tussles with Kerry’s Paul Geaney during the drawn Munster final
Cork’s Michael Shields tussles with Kerry’s Paul Geaney during the drawn Munster final

Tomás Ó Sé

You don't appreciate the power of the flashing blue lights of the motorbike outriders flattening a path for a team bus into a stadium until you've hit some of the grid-locked arteries into Killarney on Munster final day.

You couldn't have docked early enough last Sunday morning. I gave myself plenty of time coming over from Cork but with traffic slowing to a crawl, I still had to dodge up through one of the estates for a short-cut I know of old to take me back into town.

The diversion put me on a chance meeting with a great friend and was the preface for a special day.

Eddie 'Tatler' O'Sullivan is one of the great personalities around Killarney. The family have 'Tatler Jack's' pub in the town and his son is the Kerry chairman, Pat 'The Bag'.

Eddie spent years working in America and is a huge GAA man, Crokes and Kerry to the bone. Above all, he's a gent.

He was a selector under Mick O'Dwyer and Páidí. Páidí spoke reverentially about him, loved his wise counsel. His loyalty.

So I picked him up and we spun down to the stadium, a sense of anticipation tinged with a little apprehension for what lay ahead.

Inside, our party grew when we sat in beside the great Micko himself. Funny, in all my years playing for Kerry I never came across him much.

The performances of Cork footballer Alan O’Connor, right, and hurler Brian Murphy haven’t been affected by their long absences from the gruelling requirements of being part of a senior inter-county squad
The performances of Cork footballer Alan O’Connor, right, and hurler Brian Murphy haven’t been affected by their long absences from the gruelling requirements of being part of a senior inter-county squad

By the time I was in, he was off to work his magic across Leinster. Our meetings in the past have been all too fleeting. But he's a great hero of mine, the greatest football manager ever and a wonderful Kerry player -which is sometimes forgotten.

To sit down in the company of himself and Tatler and shoot the breeze in the build-up to a Munster final was a real treat. The perfect calm before the inevitable storm.

If you stopped to think how many Munster final days these two great men have experienced between them, your head could fry.

The yarns flowed about the old days and the training with the great team. I absolutely love all that. I was nourished on those stories; I'm a great respecter of tradition, and in Kerry that tradition runs deep.

Micko recalled the extra training he used to serve up to the 'heavies' to get them right: 'Horse', Bomber, PO, Paudie Lynch, Seanie Walsh.

The more he threw at them, the more they wanted just to show him that he couldn't break them!

I don't know if I have come across a more infectious, positive man. Not a breath of cynicism. I feel I have missed something by never having had him as a manager, just to hang on his words in a dressing-room.

You didn't require scanning equipment to detect the special place in his heart he had for those men.

Kerry's Mick O'Dwyer and Jack O'Shea after beating Tyrone in 1986
Kerry's Mick O'Dwyer and Jack O'Shea after beating Tyrone in 1986

You got the sense he'd love to turn the clock back and go at it all over again, with Eddie in tow.

From one Kerry managerial giant to another, Jack O'Connor's minor team were set up perfectly. You have to hand it to him: he knows how to coach a team.

You imagine he'd be in some demand up the country, so Kerry have done a right bit of business by securing him as U-21 manager again, and I wouldn't be one bit surprised if he steps back in for a third tour of duty with the seniors some time in the future.

You don't get the full picture on TV of a team system but many senior managers could learn from the lay-out of the Kerry minors.

Tipperary pulled everyone back to defend but when they broke, their options were limited.

Kerry ensured they kept two extra defenders 'at home' - they weren't sweepers, they just didn't follow their men forward - when they pushed up and that gave them solid defensive structure at all times.

The key was that Kerry always had three players inside the opposing '45' to give options and make runs for quick, direct ball. Tipp didn't have that.

Between the two 45s then there was the usual army of workers making the ground to support and retreat.

Solid defence, hard-working middle third, permanent options up front. If only it was that simple.

The tone for the main event was set before a ball was even kicked. Brian O'Driscoll laid into Donnchadh Walsh. It was happening all over the field. Skelping everywhere from Cork men. No surprise in that, they were fired up. They had to be.

But that it continued for 70 minutes was something I didn't expect. Nor did I expect that Kerry wouldn't address it.

They were shunted back and dictated to from the word go, and that shouldn't be. Alan O'Connor was like a nightclub bouncer in zero tolerance mood. He dictated things for too long, and that concerned me.

I don't like doing the old soldier routine but in the past you'd have had an intervention from someone like Declan Sullivan, Galvin, Darragh. I'd probably have got stuck in somewhere myself just to make a statement, and it was needed here.

It's like marking territory. 'You're not getting away with that on my patch.'

But Kerry were too passive to it, and, if I'm honest, it wasn't easy to sit back and watch. Nothing stirs the juices quite like this game when it's on edge.

I spoke last week about questions over Kerry's drive and hunger being missing against Tipperary and I wasn't comforted by how they were wired here either.

Hats off to Brian Cuthbert and Cork for what they brought to Killarney. They deserved to win. The penalty was the game-changer. Cork would have been out the gap but for that.

Paul Kerrigan's placement as sweeper was surprising but very effective until his black card. They closed the space down much better than Kerry, who were being stretched all day.

Kerry did get a grip at midfield in the second quarter, took a five-point lead and this is where I was critical of Cork some weeks ago. I'd still stand over what I said based on what we've seen from them on the days that have mattered most.

They've let it get away from them at this point. In the three key games I talked about this is the period where they lay down. They've accepted defeat too easily in the past.

So you can't put a value on Donncha O'Connor's score just before half-time. The lead clipped back to four and just something to rattle around in Kerry heads as they trooped off, a reminder that they hadn't gone away.

That was leadership from Donncha. What Alan O'Connor did was leadership, Eoin Cadogan, the west Cork O'Driscolls, Barry O'Driscoll. They stood up. They brought their 'A' game. They hurt Kerry when they ran at them.

Kerry will take a few positives too but there are more questions and little uncertainties there now that I'll discuss next week.

On the way out the banter with a few Cork boyos was good. With a performance like that I was never going to escape scot-free. 'Whaddya think of that Tomás Ó Sé!'

It was nothing more than what I expected and I said that liberally beforehand.

This Cork team had to stand up, they had to answer questions, not for me or anyone else but for themselves.

No matter what I or anyone else said beforehand, it was imperative that they took that mindset to Killarney and that they made it such a battle.

They'll take confidence from it, especially the expression of leadership. That's the thing that grated most for those who appreciate there is so much more in them. But they have set a standard for themselves that they have to match now.

The best game of the Championship so far, with the promise of more to come.

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