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Tomás Ó Sé: You cannot get preseason, league and championship into six months and not expect players to break

Ó Sé, in his second term as the Kerry under-20 boss, on senior management, the split season and more

Tomás Ó Sé is listing off some of the reasons why he wouldn’t fancy going into senior football management, then adds one reason why maybe he would. Never say never.

Now in his second term as Kerry under-20 football manager, Ó Sé has taken on a few back room roles since his intercounty retirement in 2013, including with the Offaly senior team in 2022. That experience gave him some sense of what lies in store.

“I do think it’s all-consuming, and you do need a lot of things to go your way,” Ó Sé says. “I don’t know how fellahs do it, to be honest. The 20s would be a huge step below, yet it’s all-consuming for us.

“And I understand now why fellahs have back room teams the size they do, because it is constant, the time you put in talking with players, communicating with players, analysing other teams and putting your own stuff together.


“You can do it, but can you do it right? And I’d hate to take on something that I couldn’t give 100 per cent to. It wouldn’t bother me now if this was the end of the road.

“But never say never. I enjoy it, no matter what’s going on inside in your head, I love being out on the pitch. But it would be a huge step up, there’s no comparison between 20s and senior.”

Ó Sé's appointment last year as principal at Gaelscoil de hÍde in Fermoy has also made any senior role somewhat less enticing: “If I was still teaching, maybe, but I can’t go out the gap at half-two any more. But I still agree, teaching is probably the best profession to be in, to be at any of that.”

Kerry have not won an All-Ireland under-20/21 title since 2008, and Ó Sé is looking to close that 16-year gap starting next month in the new Munster championship format which sees them play the runners-up of the first round-robin phase. Speaking at the announcement of EirGrid as sponsors for a 10th season, Ó Sé believes the timing of the competition also presents a challenge.

“They’re trying to do the best they can, trying to give teams matches, I think Cork and Kerry are the last two teams into it. But I think in general, I can’t see what they can’t run this competition in line with the senior competition,” Ó Sé says.

“I think it’s silly when it’s ran, early in the season, when you’re trying to get panels together, and you’ve college football. And it’s all played off in five or six weeks in a row. It’s a juggling act, and I think it would flow a lot better if they let if off in the middle of the summer, when exams are over.”

Ó Sé has no doubt the split season, which condenses all intercounty competitions into six months, is contributing to an increased rate of injuries. Kerry defender Jason Foley is just the latest example, sustaining an ankle sprain in Sunday’s penultimate round of the league against Roscommon.

“You’d have to be concerned, he’s the guy who puts out the fires at the back, and he’s vital to them. You don’t want to be heading into any championship without your key players, and he’s one of them.

“But look it, I don’t think you can get the preseason, full league, a provincial championship, an All-Ireland series, into six months, and not expect players to break, or get through all that and then go off and play club for whatever length of time. I think it’s madness, and when you have injuries or serious injuries like that, of course you have the possibility of fellahs missing even two competitions.

“That’s the nature of it now, the way it’s gone. And anybody you meet anywhere will say ‘if David Clifford gets injured, what will Kerry do?’ It’s a silly comment, but it’s the nature of it. But I think Kerry are strong enough to shoulder that, Jason Foley is an outstanding player, but if Kerry have any ambition of winning All-Irelands they’ve enough defenders in there to cover it up, and get him back.”

Another part of the problem, Ó Sé suggests, is the increased emphasis placed on strength and conditioning, which has changed so much of the under-20 game.

“There’s so much of it that is good, the players are a lot more skilful now, there’s a lot more preparation, but I think the level of injuries that are in the game are completely tied up with the amount of strength work that they are doing,” Ó Sé says.

“Young lads in particular will go off and do their own thing, the heavier they’re lifting the better. Inexperienced lads going on YouTube or whatever and getting this programmes, going at it themselves, and when I talk to physios it’s not just a hamstring, it’s a tendon on to a hamstring.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics