Time for a period of reflection as the Kingdom assess their options
NOWHERE IS the pressure to produce a successful football team more intense than in Kerry.
Former manager Páidí Ó Sé got into a world of trouble for describing the county’s supporters as “the roughest type of animals”, but, if the imagery was indelicately phrased, the underlying characterisation was easy to understand.
There is an unsentimental constituency in the county that views past performance as no guarantee of future approval.
The county’s massive tradition can be a curse as well as a blessing in that there are expectations every year, regardless of what stage of the development cycle the team has reached.
Even the most successful teams can’t last forever and there is a developing consensus that there will be no more Sam Maguires until the team has had an extensive refit.
In the immediate aftermath of a defeat like Sunday’s by Ulster champions Donegal, there is a danger of disproportion. Despite having been well beaten during the match, Kerry hit back at the end and came within an ace of at least forcing a replay, however fortunate that might have been.
Cork, the favourites to win the All-Ireland, beat Kerry in Munster but only copper-fastened that success at the end and in a match for which Kerry’s place-kicker Bryan Sheehan was injured.
But the overall trend is against the team. Key players are ageing and there hasn’t been the throughput of younger contenders that suggests the county can evolve and win trophies as they go.
Of the team that won the 2009 All-Ireland, no fewer than eight are gone. Five departed immediately after that success and the others incrementally since. It’s a shortfall that even in Kerry isn’t easily addressed.
The defence has been most frequently identified as needing a revamp, but there has been a shortage of new players deemed ready for the step-up and twice manager Jack O’Connor has persuaded retired players to return to action. Half of the backs who started on Sunday also lined out in the All-Ireland final 10 years ago. Tomás Ó Sé won his first All-Ireland in 2000.
Yet, of the county’s most recent underage All-Ireland-winning defence, the under-21s in 2008, only Killian Young made an immediate transition to senior duties, although Shane Enright has begun to feature this season and started on Sunday.
Pádraig Reidy, who played minor with Young in 2004, played on the All-Ireland-winning team of 2007 and in the following year’s final, but is no longer on the panel.
Mileage has been most critical in the forwards where former Footballers of the Year and All Stars have been struggling for their best form. Kieran Donaghy, Colm Cooper and Declan O’Sullivan are not old, but in terms of mileage the latter two have been around for 11 and 10 seasons respectively.