Darragh Ó Sé: Kerry’s pessimism about Dublin is surprising
Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s men may not have found their groove but there’s still time
“Dublin’s Brian Fenton has ruled the roost in the last two games against Kerry so he’s an obvious target for David Moran to fix his sights on.” Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Even in a week when Kerry won a Munster final, there is no doubt about the elephant in the room. All the talk is still about Dublin. I know both teams have a bit to go before they can meet each other but that doesn’t matter to people down here. The Dubs are A, B and C when it comes to topics of conversation.
If you were a Kerry player in Tralee or Killarney on Monday and you were chatting to a man in the street, you wouldn’t have been kept long with talk of how great you were in beating Tipperary. That’s not how it works.
I’m actually a bit taken aback by how much pessimism there is in Kerry at the minute. When you talk to people about how they think the team is going, it’s hard to find too many who’ll talk up their chances. I haven’t seen it this quiet after winning a Munster title in a long time.
Obviously, that is partly down to the fact that they haven’t had a test yet. Beating Clare and Tipperary to get to Croke Park wouldn’t exactly get the pulse racing, especially when the last serious game Kerry played was the defeat to Dublin in the league final. So from that point of view, it wouldn’t matter if they’d won both games by 20 points; neither of them got you any closer to judging where Kerry stand.
Not having a game against Cork in the middle of the summer means you’re in limbo a bit. On Kerry’s worst day and Cork’s best, the two teams would still serve up a game. And vice versa too. So now Kerry people are left wondering: are we going to be ready for the Dubs if and when an All-Ireland semi-final comes around? How will we know, one way or the other?
That’s the major advantage Kerry have always had over the Ulster teams. I’ve often had people ask me would I not have preferred a few good, hard games early in the summer to prepare us for Croke Park. I’d sometimes nod along and agree that it was a good point they were making but in all honesty, I was usually trying very hard to keep a straight face through it all.
You want the truth? We couldn’t have cared less how we got to Croke Park. The handier the route, the better. The system has always been stacked against the Ulster teams but you would never find us crying too many tears for them. We took our good luck and ran with it.
I was thinking of this while watching the draw between Donegal and Monaghan the weekend before last. Some of the hits in that game were ferocious, especially the one Michael Murphy put on Drew Wylie. It was great stuff to watch, serious and tough football. But it was on June 25th, three months to the day before the All-Ireland final. You think anyone will be talking about it in Croke Park that afternoon?
It has always been a great luxury for Kerry teams to have. You get to this point of the summer and now you knuckle down and start driving on for the All-Ireland. And believe me, an All-Ireland is an All-Ireland. You don’t get an extra medal for beating five Division One teams along the way.
I was at a dinner one time where I was sitting beside an Armagh woman. The chat was grand between us – or so I thought for most of the night anyway – but I could sense a small bit of rattiness underneath it all with her. Eventually, she spat it out. “Youse keep winning these All-Irelands,” she said, “but youse only ever beat Mayo in the final. Youse never beat a Northern team.”
She seemed to think she was insulting me. I couldn’t stop laughing (which probably only made it worse). “Listen,” I said. “It wouldn’t matter to me if we only beat Kilkenny in the final. They still give you the same cup to bring home with you.”
So what if people in Kerry don’t fancy this team or don’t think they are world beaters? What a great place to be if you’re inside in Killarney togging out for training. You have a full summer ahead of you now, decent weather, feeling fit. This is the time you’re bouncing into the stadium, full of enthusiasm, killing for your place.
I always felt that July and August were where the new lads found out who their friends were. When a young guy comes on to a panel early on, everyone tries to make them comfortable in their environment. The odd bit of advice here and there, claps on the back, good loud encouragement in the training games for all to hear. A lift to training and a spin home after, that kind of thing.
Sorry, young fella. Delighted you’ve made such progress and all, but this is serious stuff and they won’t be putting 16 men on the field so one of us is going to miss out. Also, you might have to get your mam to collect you after training.
From this point on, there’s no shadow-boxing. You go to training each night ready to play out of your skin. And there’s no getting away from it: for these Kerry players, Dublin will be in their heads.
Take someone like David Moran. I’d say Brian Fenton is haunting him. At least, I hope he is. Fenton has ruled the roost in the last two games against Kerry so he’s an obvious target for Moran to fix his sights on. I know the modern game is different to when I played and it’s more about systems than purely man on man. But there’s still a place for match-ups and this is one of them.
Watching Kerry last Sunday, I got the feeling they could have been playing against a club side and still not won by more than 10 points. They look to be setting themselves up to build from the back, to make things solid around that area of the pitch first of all and take it from there. Again, this is payback for the scores Dublin ran up in the league final, so I would say it’s a reasonable enough way to go.
But definitely, when it comes to the forward play, they’re not clicking as a unit. Paul Geaney was very good on Sunday but it’s all isolated incidents. One guy plays well one day, another guy shoots the lights out the next, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of coherence between the forwards.
Contrast that with, say, Donegal. The angles of running off Michael Murphy when he has the ball are a sight to behold. There’s always at least one guy offering himself as a dummy option, with no notion of getting the ball off Murphy but enough to move the opposition defence around to let his best option find space.
Kerry aren’t there yet. They’re constantly a pass away from being very good. But three or four times a game, you’ll see one of them looking to take his score instead of finding the next pass. Sometimes they ignore a runner, at other times there’s no runner to ignore. That to me is a sign of a team of players who haven’t yet found their groove with each other.
But this can all be salvaged. Of course, it can. This is what I mean by the real business starting now. Kerry have a goal in mind and it’s wearing a blue jersey. Dublin are the best team in the country and there’s a lot of negativity down here. But I don’t for a minute think they’re unbeatable.
If I were a Kerry player now, I’d be saying bring it on.