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Versatile O'Brien is enjoying his new role in Kingdom

Paul Geaney has set the standard for other Kerry players to follow according to Stephen O’Brien. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Paul Geaney has set the standard for other Kerry players to follow according to Stephen O’Brien. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

While the seven championship debutants in the Kerry team that swept past Clare last Sunday were always going to dominate the agenda, there was added satisfaction for Eamonn Fitzmaurice in the performance of the versatile Stephen O'Brien.

O'Brien has operated effectively as both a wing and inside forward for Fitzmaurice since coming on the scene in 2014 but with David Clifford, Paul Geaney and James O'Donoghue occupying the three full-forward positions at the weekend, the Kenmare man's immediate future looks set to be in the half-forward line, something that requires an adjustment in terms of mindset.

He put in an industrious shift on Sunday, tracking diligently and making tackles, something Kerry sorely needed in the absence of their usual captain of industry Donnchadh Walsh.

O'Brien also chipped in with three points thanks in part to the lethal sidestep in his armoury. It's not necessairly the kind of role that he envisaged himself playing but one that he's learned to appreciate over time.

"It's a different role all right but I do enjoy it," O'Brien said of his move to half-forward. "It's great when you are working on things in the gym, trying to get stronger and you bring that on to the field and dispossess a fella. It's a nice buzz.

"It's different from when I started playing when I was probably too light to be able to do that."

Stephen O'Brien. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Stephen O'Brien. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

It is the less celebrated side of the game but something, O'Brien revealed, Fitzmaurice places a premium on in his video sessions.

"Eamonn and the management do a good job of highlighting say if you get a tackle or a block down in the video and we get a score off that. He does a good job of highlighting the block as opposed to the score.

Shoot

"It's more fellas you meet on the street saying, 'Jesus, you should take on your man more or you should shoot more' and stuff like that but it's not something that comes from management or players."

Others have led the way too. Paul Geaney top-scored from play in the win over the Banner with six points from a range of angles and distances, but O'Brien insists the Dingle man is excellent in the tackle too.

Geaney has set the standard by which the rest of the Kerry forwards measure themselves.

"It's a mentality, a switch you have to make. You see the likes of Paul Geaney as well maybe he didn't have that and wasn't that… but now if you look at him and some of the turnovers he gets.

"So he has switched his mentality and has been an inspiration for the rest of us to try and get there.

"We still have a lot to go to get to the level he is at at tackling, but it is definitely a switch because before I would have judged myself on trying to get scores and assists and stuff like that.

"So it's another aspect of the game I'm trying to work on."

After hitting 32 points against the Banner, Kerry look in rude health. All seven of the new faces showed up well. After a spring where their defence looked leaky, they conceded just 10 points and didn't allow Clare to create a goal chance.

Veterans Kieran Donaghy, Darran O'Sullivan and Anthony Maher came off the bench. Barry John Keane made his usual point-scoring cameo when landing 0-3.

Fitzmaurice also revealed that he expects to have a full squad to pick from when they head for Cork to tackle the Rebels on June 23, meaning the likes of Killian Young and Shane Enright will come back into the mix.

"There is huge competition there and that's (something) every good team has to have.

"When you are on the pitch and you have the jersey you just want to run yourself into the ground.

"And if you come off you want to make it as easy for the finisher coming on to win the game for us.

"Maybe before I might have been guilty of it myself in the past that if you got a starting jersey because it's so hard you kind of relax and sit back and you have to be cautious of that too.

"It's actually the match that counts not the (training) game the weekend before... that's one thing I'm trying to work on, bringing those performances to the game."

Kerry will go into the Munster final with Cork in just under three weeks' time as clear favourites but O'Brien has been on the wrong side of results against the Leesiders enough times to ensure there will be nothing take for granted as they prepare for a trip to Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

"I'm living above there (in Cork). I'm working (there) so I'll be getting plenty of abuse now going in for the next few weeks, I'll have to watch my lunchbox!" he joked.

"I suppose I played with a lot of the current Cork team in UCC there under Billy Morgan .

"They beat us enough times underage so there is no way my generation will be looking at them lightly."

Irish Independent

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