Darragh Ó Sé: Kerry hurting because they lack the men to lead

David Moran, Paul Geaney and Paul Murphy need to stand up and be counted in Clones

Kerry’s David Moran and Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh of Galway at Croke Park last Sunday. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Kerry’s David Moran and Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh of Galway at Croke Park last Sunday. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

I’ve seen this movie before. I’ve been in the cast myself. I’ve heard all the lines. When things go wrong in Kerry football, they really go wrong. Nobody shrugs their shoulders and says we’ll get them next year. It causes a tear in the fabric of society down here. And when you’re stuck in the middle of it, I can promise you it’s no fun.

When I started playing for Kerry in the mid-1990s, Páidí Ó Sé was in exactly the same spot as Eamonn Fitzmaurice is now. Kerry were in a bad place and Páidí was the man on the gallows for it. There was a drought where All-Irelands were concerned and nobody expected rain any time soon.

I was only a young player at the time, the same as the likes of David Clifford and Jason Foley and Seán O’Shea and the rest of them are now. I knew that nobody blamed me for the state Kerry were in – they had the knives out for management. But I remember numerous times walking in on conversations that stopped suddenly as soon as people saw me. They knew who I was and who I was related to. I didn’t need to hear them to know what they’d been saying.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice would have had that all week since Sunday. Family walking on eggshells around him, rooms suddenly going quiet when he walks into them. He doesn’t need to be told what the mood is in Kerry – he knows better than anyone. Losing in such a limp way to Galway wasn’t acceptable on any level.

And look, I played with him, I went to college with him, I even lived with him for a while fadó, fadó. I was a selector under him with the Kerry under-21s before he took the senior job. I’ve said it before – if I shot somebody in the morning, Fitzmaurice would be the first call I’d make.

Hurting

So there’s no point in me letting on here that I’m completely detached from it all. I’m hurting as much as any Kerry person after Sunday, but I know too much about how it feels to be stuck in the middle of it all to lay the blame for everything at Fitzmaurice’s door. I’m not saying he and the rest of the management are blameless – I just know that when something goes this badly wrong for Kerry, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

The situation is fairly simple and straightforward. They came, they saw, they got battered. Galway gave them a three-point hiding. Sitting here in the middle of the week with the whole county giving them an absolute hosing behind their backs, they have a few days to turn it around. They’re facing the end of the line in Clones. Nothing too complicated about it – they have to stand up or go home.

I know a lot of talk about football these days is based on tactics and set-ups and all the small little ins and outs of the game. And I don’t want to make out that those things aren’t important. They are of course – at a certain level. The most worrying aspect of Sunday is that they didn’t reach a high enough basic level of performance for tactics and set-ups and all the rest of it to matter.

On any given day at the latter stage of the championship, you need 10 or 11 players playing well to win a game. The closer to the final you go, the more of them you need. On Sunday, Kerry had two, maybe three at a push. There isn’t a gameplan in the world that can survive that level of non-performance in an All-Ireland quarter-final.

It comes down to a simple question of leadership. Kerry had no leaders on Sunday. I hear people giving out about our kick-out strategy and I think, ‘Right, fine, yeah, it’s not great all right.’ But then I look at David Moran, the most experienced player in the team, the biggest man, the one the younger lads must be looking to. If he’s not stepping up, calling kick-outs down on himself, going around handing out a bit of punishment to the bigger Galway players, then what does the kick-out strategy matter?

Kick-out routines

Go back and watch the Dublin v Donegal game. We all know they have Stephen Cluxton. We all know they have kick-out routines that they’ve worked on and worked on for years at this stage. But they also have Brian Fenton.

For most of the first half, Fenton was getting horsed by Donegal players everywhere he went, bumped and hassled and knocked about the place. Donegal were keeping pace with the Dubs partly because they were knocking one of their main men off his game.

Can this team beat Dublin? Not on this evidence. Can they beat Monaghan? Well, things will have to change pretty quickly

But the reason Fenton is one of the best players in the country is more than just his skills and his athleticism and decision-making. It’s that he recognises that he is his team’s vital player in the engine room. If he doesn’t do it, Dublin are in trouble. He can’t go back into the dressing room and say, ‘Sorry lads, they’re belting me at every turn here – ye’ll have to take up the slack.’ It doesn’t work like that.

Fenton just knuckled down, kept looking for the ball, kept pushing on. There was no ducking or diving. He didn’t let it bother him. He just got on with it. He moulded the game to suit him. Not every player has that ability but those who have are duty-bound to make use of it. This is the gig. Did you think it was something different?

Every team is led by the nose by certain players. Who was leading Kerry by the nose on Sunday? That can’t be David Clifford’s job yet. They can’t expect Seán O’Shea or Gavin White to be doing it. Kerry needed it from David Moran, Paul Murphy, Peter Crowley, Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue. If they’re all anonymous, then the tactics are irrelevant.

Can this team beat Dublin? Not on this evidence. Can they beat Monaghan? Well, things will have to change pretty quickly. Somewhere along the line this week, they have to remember who they are and what they’re about. Kerry were never afraid of playing Monaghan – now would not be a good time to start.

That probably sounds like arrogance but I don’t mean it that way. What I mean is that any player in a Kerry jersey has responsibilities. The culture of Kerry has made it what it is – the upside of that is the chance to win All-Irelands most years, the downside of it is what they’re experiencing this week. All the backbiting, all the dirty looks, all the pressure. That all goes with the territory.

Responsibilities

If you’re a Kerry player this week, you have to embrace that and grow yourself into it. It’s not about being arrogant, it’s about reminding yourself of those responsibilities. The only thing that will win in Clones is standing up and being a man. Kerry had no men in Croke Park.

That was why I couldn’t understand Kieran Donaghy being left on the bench. It was clear from early on in the second half that Kerry needed someone who could make a wet ball stick and someone who could go around and put manners on a few of the Galway fellas. Nobody is saying Donaghy would have won that game on his own but he would surely have changed the direction of the Kerry performance.

That was one fairly glaring error. Another one came earlier in the day when the late replacement for Tadhg Morley was Killian Young. No disrespect to Killian but he was never going to be the answer for that role. You were losing a tough, tigerish defender in Morley and bringing in a more ball-playing one in Killian Young. This wasn’t the day for him.

Who is going to stand up on Sunday, far from home with a small Kerry following in the crowd, and be the leader their team needs?

This was a day for men. I know that sounds overly simplistic but trust me, when a situation calls for men and you don’t have them, it becomes complicated very suddenly. There was a situation in the first half when David Clifford went out to collect a ball near the corner and he got knocked over not once but twice before managing to fiddle a 45 out of it.

Clifford is a big lad and he can handle himself but he’s still the youngest player on the team at the back of it all – where was his help? Who was coming in to take his lumps for him? Why is he having to fight those battles? Where were his leaders?

That’s my biggest worry for Kerry. Not the tactical plan, not the kick-outs, not their ability to break down a blanket defence. It’s plain and simple: who is going to stand up on Sunday, far from home with a small Kerry following in the crowd, and be the leader their team needs?

Learning from defeats

The reason I worry is that in my experience, that’s not something you can develop in seven days. It takes most players years to do it. Years of learning from defeats, of seeing how the people they most respect react.

I used to make sure that on the nights of Kerry defeats, I never strayed too far from Seamus Moynihan’s side. I wanted to be around him to see how he dealt with it. The more I was, the more I came to realise what real hurt was. Nobody hurt more after a Kerry defeat than Seamus Moynihan. And nobody made more pure and honest promises to himself that whatever happened when we got to that point again, he was going to make sure he did everything in his power not to feel that hurt.

At this point in the week, I can’t say Kerry have that in them. We won’t know until Sunday afternoon

Watching from the stands on Sunday, I had to question whether or not that hurt exists in this Kerry panel. Are there enough fellas who have spent the days since it happened promising themselves that when the time comes on Sunday, they are going to be the one who does it?

That’s what the situation needs now. It needs David Moran, Paul Murphy, Paul Geaney and these guys going around saying, ‘Give me the ball, I’ll do it.’ It needs a level of controlled recklessness, lads imposing themselves on Monaghan with lawless abandon but doing it with clear heads at the same time. Take them on physically, make it obvious that Kerry have brought men with them this week.

At this point in the week, I can’t say Kerry have that in them. We won’t know until Sunday afternoon. The reality is that you don’t identify leaders – they show up themselves. At a time of need, you don’t anoint them from the outside. They announce themselves through their own actions and discover for themselves in the heat of battle what they are capable of. If they want to be men, this week is the time to find it out about themselves.

The evidence so far isn’t promising. For that reason alone, I am going to Clones more in hope than expectation.

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