Darragh Ó Sé: Strong mentality always comes to fore in replay
Cork and Kerry will be desperate to avoid the qualifiers with Dublin waiting to pounce
Darragh Ó Sé shadows Graham Canty in the Munster semi-final replay in 2009. It was a game in which Kerry failed to match Cork’s tempo – but they were to regain their momentum in the qualifiers. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan
Replays are all about the head. Kerry and Cork wouldn’t have been able to do a whole pile of innovation between the drawn game and this weekend. With a game of that pace, you’d have a recovery session, probably one decent session last week and a half a decent session this week and that’s about the size of it. You can’t stick fellas down into a bunker and say we’re going at this thing every night for two weeks. It’s far more important to work on getting their heads right.
Even though you’re still technically no further down the road than you were before the drawn game, there’s no point pretending that nothing has changed or that it’s the same game as it was two weeks ago. This is a different challenge now. The terms of reference are more defined. Before the drawn game, you were still a bit in the dark over what the other team was going to throw at you. Now you know.
On top of that, you have your own business to take care of. This is the third game of the year for all these lads and management are assessing each of them as they go along. It’s getting very close to the point where the guys picking the team start to make up their minds about you for the year.
Are you going well? If not, how much longer are you going to need? You’ve had two games – there really isn’t time to be giving you a third and a fourth and a fifth. Everybody wants to time their run so they’re peaking in August and September but you don’t go from being out-of-sorts to being an All Star in one game. You need to be showing something now. Otherwise, your place could be gone for the year.
This is really an individual project for each player now. The overall structure of the team isn’t going to change a whole lot this far into the summer. Éamonn Fitzmaurice and Brian Cuthbert can tweak things here and there but the long and short of it is that they’re looking for performances from their players.
Fatten a pig
They’ll be doing a lot of one-on-one stuff over the space of the fortnight. There’s no time to make any big tactical changes. You can’t fatten a pig in a week. You might change the odd thing here and there but mostly you’re going with what you have and putting it up to your players to give more of themselves than they did the first day.
Every player goes through dips in form. You can feel it coming. The things you did naturally last year aren’t coming as easy and you have to find a way out of it. You convince yourself you’re not far away. You start making little promises to yourself. You decide you’re going to surge forward and get a score early on in the replay. You’re going to be less predictable to the opposition and dictate the terms yourself. That’s the intention anyway.
If you’ve played well in the drawn game, you have a different challenge. You have to convince yourself that the same thing isn’t going to be good enough the next day. That’s a hard line to sell, especially if you were the underdogs and you came out of the game happy with what you achieved. The easiest thing in the world is to believe that you’re in good shape and that you have this crowd where you want them.
There’s a real skill in being able to step back and see the game for what it is. The big challenge with a replay is that you don’t get a minute to get off the merry-go-round. No matter whether Cork or Kerry had won the last day, each of them would have a clean slate and a new challenge once the final whistle went. With a draw, you stay stuck in the same spider web as you have been for weeks.
I played on Kerry teams that drew with Cork a load of times. My memory of it is that they nearly always beat us in the replay. That’s how it felt anyway. That’s why I was laughing at people going on about this great 20-year record Kerry have of not losing against Cork in Killarney – half the time they used draw with us and then beat us when they got us back to Cork.
I remember we played them in 2009 and even though we got a draw in Killarney, I knew coming off the pitch that we weren’t going to turn it around in six days. We weren’t going well. We were off the pace. I didn’t have the gears for a game of that tempo and I wasn’t picked to start and rightly so.
Cork were in better shape than us and it showed in the drawn game. Colm O’Neill kicked a 45 near the end for them and I was watching it going over the bar thinking we were done. We managed to get an equaliser when Bryan Sheehan kicked a free but we were like a boxer hanging on for dear life, hugging the other lad and listening out for the bell.
I knew our bigger players weren’t going as well as their bigger players and that we were a long way off what we’d need if we were going to beat them down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. We hadn’t caught fire yet and six days wasn’t going to be enough time to fix that. We weren’t going to lie down and die but we had too much ground to make up.
That’s how it worked out. We were labouring too hard to get our scores. I kicked a point at one stage after going on a run and on my way back out I was telling Declan O’Sullivan to go back and cover my man for the kick-out. I wasn’t where I needed to be and I wasn’t alone either.
We got a bit of luck in the qualifiers, we turned our season around in the end. Things started to come right for us and we ended the year with an All-Ireland. But I’m not sure that’s on the table for Kerry and Cork this time around.
This is a massive game for both teams. It wasn’t always 100 per cent do-or-die when I was playing in it because at the back of your mind, there was still a bit of you thinking, ‘Ah look, we’ll get it together in the qualifiers and we’ll be in business by the time we get to Croke Park.’ But that won’t wash this year because Dublin are waiting in the quarter-final. You want to win this and stay on the other side of the draw. Time enough meeting Dublin in September.
Too early to be certain
The problem is that this is too early in the year to be certain about anything. If you meet Dublin in an All-Ireland final, you know you’ve had to play well to get there. But neither Cork nor Kerry really know what they have under the bonnet going into this replay. They have their suspicions but they can’t be sure.
In a replay, you will know after the first 15, 20 minutes how the head work has gone since the drawn game. You’ll be looking around for your big players to stand up for you. Individual battles take on a greater importance than before because they all have a context now. Kerry will be looking to negate Alan O’Connor because he was the player who made the biggest splash the last day. Body language is so important. No backward step. No getting pushed around. No doubt.
Kerry got out of jail in the drawn game, everybody agrees on that. My instinct on the replay is that the prospect of meeting Dublin before they’re in the right form for it will concentrate Kerry’s minds for them. They let Cork bully them the last day and I can’t see them letting that happen again.
My gut feeling is that Kerry will have done enough head work over the two weeks to come through this. This game is too important not to win because the summer could be over pretty quickly if they leave it behind them.