Kerry midfield in safe hands again as Moran and Maher make their mark

Duo have been best pairing in championship – but they took while to find each other

Cusack Park in Ennis wouldn't exactly be the most obvious place for Kerry football to be striking oil yet it was there on a June Saturday night last year that they finally found the gusher they'd spent a full five years drilling for.

The performance wasn't convincing and the margin in the end was only four points over Clare but when archaeologists dig for clues on the 37th Kerry All-Ireland, the first championship pairing of David Moran and Anthony Maher at midfield will be squirrelled away for safe-keeping.

Nothing lays bare more starkly the struggles Kerry had in the years after Darragh Ó Sé’s 2009 retirement than the fact that it took so long for them to get Moran and Maher together in the same team.

Sweet time

Both of them joined the Kerry panel while Ó Sé was still around, both of them came up against him in training and were earmarked as possibilities to fill the Darragh-shaped hole in the team eventually. But eventually took its sweet time about coming.

Moran was 21 after the 2009 All-Ireland, Maher 22. They both made their Kerry senior debuts in the early skirmishes of the 2008 league.

Yet it took all the way to the summer of 2014 for them to be named as a midfield duo in the championship.

In fact, despite it generally being accepted that they make up the best midfield partnership in the country right now, tomorrow will only be the sixth championship game in which they’ve faced the throw-in beside each other.

Part of the delay – the bulk of it, arguably – has been down to the succession of injuries that has so curtailed Moran’s intercounty career.

Double figures

It would have been hard to believe that the 20-year-old who came off the bench in both the All-Ireland semi-final and final of 2008 would still be waiting seven years later to make it into double figures in terms of championship starts.

Two cruciate lay-offs and a freak retina injury meant that he all but lost three years between the ages of 22 and 25.

They cannibalised each other’s game time and others cannibalised theirs.

From 2010 to 2014, they found themselves edged out by a variety of faces.

Seamus Scanlon and Michael Quirke in the early days, Bryan Sheehan and Johnny Buckley latterly. Maher established himself from 2011 onwards, Moran finally found his way back in the latter stages of 2013 and won himself a restorative All Star last year.

“They’re established now,” says Weeshie Fogarty, observer of Kerry midfielders going back to the middle of the last century.

“They’re highly regarded in Kerry. They’re it. And everybody in Kerry – including myself – are still trying to figure out why and how Éamonn [Fitzmaurice] dropped Maher for the game against Cork the first day. He hasn’t come out and said that it was down to injury or discipline or a loss of form or what it was. We just don’t know.

“But I’ll tell you this – from where I stood, it was one of the most baffling decisions I have seen from a Kerry manager for many a long day.

“And most Kerry people would tell you the same thing. Between the pair of them, Maher and Moran have solved the Kerry midfield problem that had been there for a few years. Why you wouldn’t start them both when both are available is beyond me.”

Break the mould

If few things make a Kerry man more secure than knowing the county’s midfield is in good hands, Moran and Maher break the mould a little.

Neither is the other’s domestique, both are equally comfortable fielding ball and doing the fetching and carrying. Moran probably has a bit more football in him, Maher has marginally more dog.

Together, it’s hard to find a more formidable pairing in the championship.

With Kildare in their sights tomorrow, we could be in for an old-style duel in the sky.

Paul Cribbin and Tommy Moolick are the beating heart of the Kildare side and Jason Ryan would be giving too much away if he tried to excise Moran and Maher from the game by insisting on short kick-outs.

Cribbin and Moolick will give Kerry plenty of it. In Moran and Maher, they’ve finally settled on the right pair to give it back.

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