Donie Buckley’s return to Kerry had been ill-starred from the start
GAA News: Renowned coach’s addition to management ticket was a forced marriage
Kerry selector Donie Buckley at the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final between Kerry and Tyrone at Croke Park on August 11th, 2019. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The announcement at the weekend that Kerry football coach Donie Buckley was to leave the county’s management came as a surprise for many, especially outside the county, but there had been rumours that all wasn’t well between him and team manager Peter Keane, as subsequent reports that the departure wasn’t voluntary indicate.
As a combination, theirs had an ill-starred beginning in that Buckley hadn’t been Keane’s choice, but the feeling in Kerry was that the manager and his selectors from All-Ireland winning minor teams, Tommy Griffin and James Foley, lacked senior experience.
They would be supplemented by a member of the previous management team, Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s selector Maurice Fitzgerald, who had played club football with Keane at St Mary’s Cahirciveen.
It’s an irony that despite his high-profile reputation, he has never courted publicity nor given interviews
Buckley arrived with a very high profile. His work in Mayo and Limerick previously had secured widespread recognition, as the county came within a whisker of the All-Ireland title on a number of occasions.
His previous involvement with his own county hadn’t ended harmoniously and he left the management of Jack O’Connor in 2012 after less than two years.
The testimonials he has received from players with whom he worked are impressive and his innovative methods have improved teams as well as players, but forced marriages rarely work out as the happiest. Keane was known to be frustrated that he couldn’t have his own backroom team, particularly as Buckley’s status makes him a very strong presence within management.
It’s an irony that despite his high-profile reputation, he has never courted publicity nor given interviews.
His annual hibernation in Florida means that he tends to join teams after the league has started – with others doing the coaching during the close season.
That, however, is well known, and there is sympathy for Buckley that, after one difficult experience in Kerry management and when he had accepted the invitation to become involved again, this should happen in the wake of plenty of rumours that he was being distanced in the management set-up.
To date this season, Kerry’s average concession in the league has risen again, from 13 last year to 17.6 per match
Kerry tightened up at the back in last year’s league – by an average of over five a match in the divisional stages – and if the championship concession worsened, the team did better in 2019, which meant playing better teams. Having failed to qualify from the All-Ireland quarter-final round-robin in 2018, they did last year and played an extra three matches, including the replayed final against Dublin.
To date this season, Kerry’s average concession in the league has risen again, from 13 last year to 17.6 per match. There remains a focus on the team’s defence, which in the past has struggled with its lack of a system and difficulty in man-marking.
In the drawn All-Ireland final last year, those problems looked resolved, but they were playing 14 men for most of the match, and Dublin won the replay comfortably enough.
In terms of management dynamics the departure may lessen friction, but it intensifies pressure on Keane every time Kerry cough up soft scores. And, for Buckley, there’ll be no shortage of offers from elsewhere.