All-Ireland final replay: Kerry trio appreciate second act more than most

Tommy Walsh, Jack Sherwood and Jonathan Lyne thought their intercounty careers over

 

A drawn All-Ireland final spins you around like Dorothy in the whirlwind. You see things fly past your eyes that you don’t have time to register. It’s only when things go from colour to black and white and you get to read it back the next day that you really catch the detail.

19 J Sherwood for White, 49 mins;

21 T Walsh (0-1) for Ó Beaglaoich, 58 mins;

18 J Lyne for Crowley, 68 mins

In the 65th minute, Tommy Walsh speared a diagonal ball into David Clifford, whose lay-off set Seán O’Shea up for the point that left the sides level at 1-15 apiece. In the 66th, Jack Sherwood met the on-running Ciarán Kilkenny with a not-today shoulder on the edge of the Kerry D, forcing Dublin back out of the scoring zone, for Brian Howard to eventually kick a pressure wide. Before the Kerry kick-out was launched, Jonathan Lyne came in off the bench to replace Gavin Crowley.

Walsh, Sherwood and Lyne. The ghosts of Kerry teams past, alive in the here and now. Never more alive, in fact. With the game in that volatile phase between liquid and gas, Peter Keane had gone looking for solids. Walsh (31), Sherwood (28) and Lyne (29) were second, third and fourth in off the bench.

And let’s just hold it there for now. Before any of the three of them touches a ball. Before Walsh sets up the Kerry goal, scores a point and has a hand in two more. Before Sherwood makes two strong runs out of defence in injury-time as Kerry try desperately to get up the pitch. Before Lyne handles the most ball of any outfield Kerry player in the endgame and before he’s fouled for a free he somehow doesn’t get, the last Kerry touch of the day in open play.

Ex-Kerry footballers

Let’s stop it and strip everything away. All the drama, all the noise, all the to-and-fro. And instead, let’s settle on just how unlikely it was that they were there at all. Each of them, at a certain point, woke up one morning as an ex-Kerry footballer. The distance from there to injury-time in a drawn All-Ireland final would have felt oceanic.

Nobody’s saying they were the best players on the pitch. But nobody ran them close for best story.

“It’s good for fellas in every county,” says Kieran Donaghy, who played with them all for Kerry over the years, on and off, and off and on. “It’s a reminder not to give up hope. If you’re not setting the world alight, if you’re not performing, if things aren’t working out for you, you can go away and reset and come back.

“It’s a tough world to be in. I had a small experience of it in 2014 and I had that game against Galway where I didn’t see a minute and I was thinking, ‘Jesus, maybe my time is up here’. For guys who spend a few years in that zone, it’s so hard. The biggest fear they carry around with them is that their Kerry career is done. That’s why it’s such an achievement for all three of these lads to go away and decide to keep going.”

The consensus ETA for a Kerry All-Ireland tilt under Keane was 2020 but sport always makes exceptions. Youth can sometimes find a trampoline where the more known quantities have hit hard ground. It wouldn’t have knocked anyone out of their standing 12 months ago to be told Keane would see his young team to a final.

Kerry’s Jack Sherwood in the drawn game. Photograph: Inpho/Morgan Treacy
Kerry’s Jack Sherwood in the drawn game. Photograph: Inpho/Morgan Treacy

But here’s a test nobody would have passed. Sit anyone down – Keane included – in September 2018 and get them to have a guess at the 21 players Kerry would use in said final. Life spins in fruity loops so allow for that and give everyone, say, 30 guesses. Or 35 even. They’d have had a decent stab at the lotto numbers before they had Walsh, Sherwood and Lyne coming off the bench with everything up for grabs.

Of the three, Walsh was probably the closest to a value bet. A year ago last weekend, he was put in a blunderbuss afternoon against Dr Crokes in the Kerry championship, running in 2-2 and leading a nine-point comeback for Kerins O’Rahilly’s. His last game for Kerry had come in the 2016 league, after which he took himself out of Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s squad. He’d given it 18 months after returning from Australia and it hadn’t gone well.

“Hindsight is great but at the time, it probably wasn’t the best thing for him to come straight back in with Kerry,” Donaghy says. “I was shouting the other way at the time. I was saying he didn’t need to play club football, he’d be fine, he’d been playing International Rules, all of that. I said it was like cycling a bike, he’d be fine, just get him in.

“But I think going back playing club football has done a lot for his confidence. He’s realised he can play it. That was better for him than going into training and having Marc Ó Sé hopping off him. I think it might have thrown his confidence levels back then. But you could see in the county championship last year that he was obviously somebody who could offer something to Kerry.

Sherwood went a more scenic route. He won a junior All-Ireland at centre-back in 2012 and bobbled around the senior panel in 2013

“Once he got more football under him, you had to have him around. I felt when Tommy came back in 2015, he was a different guy. He left Ireland as a 19-year-old kid who I had under my wing for a couple of years. He went away as young player of the year and nearly man of the match in the All-Ireland final. I would have seen him at International Rules and would have seen his development as a person.

“But I was blown away by him when he came back, just by how he would command the room when he spoke. When he spoke in team meetings, he would look everybody in the eye. There was none of this looking vaguely at the floor or at a spot on the wall. He never broke eye contact. I learned from him. I have always been a fella that would talk in a dressing room but I could be very easily just looking at the floor or up in the air or whatever. Being around Tommy that year, I said, ‘Jesus, this fella is some leader. That’s the way I should be.’”

In full cry, Walsh is a match-winner. Sherwood and Lyne were never that but not everyone can be. Or needs to be, for that matter. On the day Walsh was corner forward on the senior team that drew with Cork in the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final, Lyne and Sherwood played in the curtain-raiser for the minors and also drew, this time against Mayo. By the time they graduated to play senior, Walsh had been spirited away in the night by the AFL fairies.

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly attempts to dispossess Jonathan Lyne in the drawn game. dit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly attempts to dispossess Jonathan Lyne in the drawn game. dit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Lyne made his senior debut in the 2011 league and got a run against Clare in Munster the following year. He played plenty of league games but it took until 2015 for him to string successive championship starts together. His biggest contribution across those years was a couple of points out of the clear blue sky in extra-time against Mayo is the cinematic 2014 semi-final replay. He didn’t see action in the final against Donegal but those two scores meant he earned his All-Ireland medal and then some.

Scenic route

Sherwood went a more scenic route. He won a junior All-Ireland at centre-back in 2012 and bobbled around the senior panel in 2013. He made his championship debut in the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin, coming off the bench to chase after Kevin McManamon. It was a huge job to hand a player in his first ever game and it didn’t pay off. Michael Darragh Macauley got a desperate hand to a loose ball in the 69th minute and McManamon torched Kerry yet again.

By 2015, Walsh was back in the fold, with Lyne and Sherwood still on the scene. Kerry were defending an All-Ireland title and all three of them threw into the pot as the year went by. Lyne cemented himself in the team, taking over the number five shirt and wearing it all the way to the All-Ireland final.

Walsh came off the bench right the way through the league but soon found himself as a kind of afterthought, digging away on Donaghy’s shadow without really threatening him. And though Sherwood was the nailed-on centre back for much of the league, hamstring issues held him back and by summertime, Peter Crowley had taken over. He came on in the drawn Munster final against Cork but that was the long and short of it. Kerry got back to the All-Ireland final but for the second year in a row, Sherwood didn’t make the matchday 26.

One by one, they left the stage. Sherwood slipped away after 2015, Walsh after the 2016 league. Lyne wasn’t asked back after 2017, collateral damage as Fitzmaurice looked to go a different way and promote some of the underage bucks. Come the 2018 league, Kerry football was something all three used to do.

There was no shame in that, either. Plenty gave it a go and never got near to where they did. The air is thin in inter-county football, thinner again in Kerry. They hadn’t failed. By any reasonable measure, they had achieved. Now they were free to get on with the rest of their lives.

“The norm is for fellas who’ve been let go from the county squad to let their standards slip,” says Donaghy. “I’ve seen it loads of times. It’s not that they throw in the towel, they just basically give in to the inevitable. They presume there’s no way back so they don’t see any point killing themselves.

One way or another, all three were back in with Kerry as winter turned. Careers exhumed long after the dirt had been tramped down

“What’s your options? They’re simple enough. You take the foot off the gas and get on with your life and be a good club player. Or you go even harder and decide that there’s a way back. And it all comes down to whether you want it or not. The question is how bad do you want it.

“That’s what it has to be. You have change it up, up your gym, get more explosive, whatever it is. Go and add something to your game. But to do that, you have to convince yourself that it’s not gone. If you’re good enough, you’re going to find a way to make it. But you’ll only do that by keeping your standards high and keeping your training high and targeting the shop window of the county championship.”

In that sphere, Walsh and Sherwood were terrific last year, with the Rahillys and East Kerry respectively, both of whom fell at the semi-final stage. Lyne had a good run with Killarney Legion too and had credit in the bank with already from Keane’s years over the club. One way or another, all three were back in with Kerry as winter turned. Careers exhumed long after the dirt had been tramped down.

And now more than that again. A fortnight ago, they were living. Fighting. Bracing themselves for the Dubs onslaught as injury-time ticked down. None of it was easy and in the end, they weren’t able to see it out.

But from where they started, just being on the pitch was an upset. Having achieved that, they’re the last ones who’ll need convincing they can go one better tonight.

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