Maybe I’m letting my heart rule my head but I trust these Kerry players to beat Dublin
Throughout our history the Dubs were never a team to be feared so why start now?
Kerry’s Darragh Ó Sé and Ciaran Whelan of Dublin during the All-Ireland quarter-final in 2009. “You’d always believe you could beat Dublin.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
In Kerry this week they’re training behind closed doors, just as they have been for most of the summer. It’s a necessary evil and most people don’t really have a big problem with it. Everybody knows that it’s dangerous now because there are people around with notepads and camcorders and you’d be silly as a serious intercounty team to leave yourself open to visitors taking a little peak behind the curtain.
In other years if we wanted to have avoid the glare in the build-up to a big game, we’d head away to somewhere in Cork to train. But nowadays, it’s more than the glare that you’re avoiding. It’s prying eyes. That’s how it has to be and nobody really questions it. It’s actually amazing that it lasted this long without it being done.
Still, it feels like another small piece of the game is gone by the wayside. Take somebody like Johnny Culloty, who would probably have seen every Kerry team that left the county since 1950. Be it as player, a manager, a selector or a supporter, he would have watched every player to wear a Kerry jersey and would have made his own mind up about them.
Johnny is a very shrewd judge of a footballer and he always had his spot in the terrace, right on the 45 on the St Finian’s side of the pitch in Killarney. And very often when you’d be doing your warm down after a training session coming up to a big game, you’d notice whatever manager was in charge of Kerry at the time would drift over to Johnny for a chat. I saw Páidí do it, I saw Jack O’Connor do it, I saw Pat O’Shea do it.
And why wouldn’t they? If you’ve got a good horseman there, why not ask him what he thinks of the horse? And no better man than Johnny to give his opinion either. He was never a man to pull a punch. He’s a fierce gentleman but he’d be very forthright in his opinions.
I’d always have thrown a look over when whatever manager was talking to him, hoping to God he wasn’t looking at me. If a manager was asking Johnny how he thought I was going, then there was a good chance he wasn’t sure himself. And in fact I’d often duck Johnny coming up to games because he wouldn’t have any problem telling you you were going badly.
Too much at stake
But that world is gone now really. Johnny and his cohorts wouldn’t really get to see as much now – not just in Kerry but in every county. There’s too much as stake now. There’s too much work going on all the way through the year for teams to be taking the chance of something leaking out. The tactical battle that went on between Tyrone and Mayo on Sunday would have taken a huge amount of work to prepare. You can’t risk some of that getting around.
Mayo came through a tough test and fair play to them for it. Tyrone looked to me like a boxer who was trying to win the fight in the first two rounds because he knew he would run out of juice later on. There was no way it was going to last for 70 minutes. The pace and intensity of the tackling was unsustainable for a whole match. Football has become a young man’s game very quickly in the last couple of years.
And that is relevant this Sunday, no doubt about it. If Dublin win, a huge part of it will be because they have the advantage of being young and pacy and dynamic. Whereas if you look at this Kerry team and the one that beat Dublin in 2009, the main characters haven’t changed very much. The big men for Kerry that day were Colm Cooper, Tomás Ó Sé, Marc Ó Sé, Declan O’Sullivan and Paul Galvin. Four years on, they are still the players Kerry are turning to this Sunday.