Donnchadh Walsh confirms Kerry returns for Donaghy and Cooper
Stars will not be following intercounty retirement of Aidan O’Mahony and Marc Ó Sé
Donnchadh Walsh of Kerry: ‘The whole ethos in the dressing room ... is that it’s up to the players to be the leaders.’ Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
One more Kerry retirement is obviously enough for now as both Kieran Donaghy and Colm “Gooch” Cooper are “definitely back” for 2017, according to team-mate Donnchadh Walsh. Not that many expected otherwise.
“You don’t like that uncertainty, so it is a good boost, yeah,” says Walsh, who at 32 did briefly contemplate his own retirement before quickly realising “the mind made itself up”.
Still, news that Aidan O’Mahony, aged 36, had retired earlier in the day – following on from Marc Ó Sé’s retirement last October – means the Kerry dressing room now boasts two conspicuous absentees. Walsh doesn’t deny their loss, and yet Donaghy and Cooper’s decision to stay on, along with the reintroduction of a certain Maurice Fitzgerald, means it’s no less a confident place.
“The whole ethos in the dressing room, and the culture that Eamonn Fitzmaurice has grown over the number of years, is that it’s up to the players to be the leaders. So as good as Aidan or Marc were, we still have plenty of leaders, and I don’t think we’ll be found wanting in that regard.
“I am a little surprised by Aidan’s decision. I’ve met him in the gym the last couple of weeks and he’s still in incredible shape, and it looked like he was maintaining it to give it another year. I’m not too sure what his thinking process around it was but physically he could have given it another year. But obviously you need to be fully committed to it mentally as well then.”
Kerry’s mentality for 2017 is so far all about winning, as shown by Sunday’s McGrath Cup final win over Limerick (even it resulted in injuries for James O’Donoghue and Paul Murphy).
“Yeah, Eamonn has gone with the strongest team he can select from,” says Walsh. “He told us to come back in good shape on January 3rd, that we would be hitting the ground running this year, and I think fellas did.
“Team trips and things like that can often happen after the Christmas and go into the New Year and you can lose a week’s work. When you’re away on those holidays you mightn’t look after yourself as well as you should, so you’re losing a few weeks. This year, we had none of that distraction and it allowed us to get into good shape for this time of the year.”
Walsh says it’s a bit early to say what exact impact Fitzgerald’s addition is having in the dressing room, although his presence alone appears to speak for itself.
“Straightaway he’s definitely been a positive influence, from my point of view anyway, having him at training, and the few words he’s had with me. I’m sure he’s offering Eamonn tactical advice as well but a few words can mean an awful lot coming from someone like Maurice Fitzgerald.”
Kerry’s winning record against All-Ireland champions Dublin, meanwhile, has experienced a considerable slump in recent years. Defeats in last year’s Allianz League final and All-Ireland semi-final are still fresh in Walsh’s mind, and he expects Dublin will set the pace for 2017 as well. Kerry get their next shot on March 19th, when they host the All-Ireland champions in Killarney, but he sees other teams improving too, namely Mayo.
“I don’t think Dublin’s level is dropping. I think other teams are coming up. But they are the target, they are the milestone that other teams have to get to, and I think other teams are improving.
“Like, Mayo were phenomenal in those two games [drawn All-Ireland final and reply]. I felt that Dublin played almost a nine out of 10 to beat us, and then Mayo managed to pull them back. Dublin didn’t play as well in those two All-Ireland finals, and that was probably Mayo not allowing them to play as well as we allowed them to play.
“So I think there’s something in how Mayo were maybe able to match them for that physicality on both days. And if we had had that, that physicality, we might have brought their performance down a peg or two.
“But yeah, Dubin’s winning habit really is what they have over us at the moment. Just thinking back at the All-Ireland semi-final, just their ferocity in the tackle. I remember Paul Geaney was hit early from a tackle from Cian O’Sullivan, right under the Hill and it kind of set out their stall.
“They’re able to mix and match all their skills with just a ferocity with a strength in their tackle. And they kept that intensity up for the 70 minutes, so that’s maybe one thing that we absolutely need to match them at.
“It is very easy to become obsessed with Dublin. Every night you go out for training you could just totally focus on them. But we’ve the first round of the league against Donegal up in Letterkenny and if you’re not 100 per cent focused on that game you’ll be getting a hiding up there.”