Spring in the step of Johnny Buckley and Kerry
Dr Crokes player relishing full run in a league campaign
High fielding has been one of the highlights of Johnny Buckley and his Kerry team-mates. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
If there is one thing freshly distinctive about Kerry’s early spring league run it’s the clear and present danger of Johnny Buckley. He’s been in the Kerry team a long time, from minor on up, although not normally at this time of year.
Buckley’s performance in Sunday’s win over Donegal was certainly outstanding – arguably the man-of-the-match – yet he admits himself he’s a bit of a stranger to early spring football with his county, given he’s normally tied up with his club.
“It’s true,” he says, “that for last three or four years, we would have been involved with Dr Crokes, up to the All-Ireland semi-final stage. You are coming back in, after that, and it is difficult to totally refocus the mind when the other players have been training since the start of the year.
“Personally I have really enjoyed being there since the start, since last December, and working along with the team. Before, you’d be coming back into a team that have been training solidly, have played their McGrath Cup matches, and a couple of national league games.
“So it’s only natural that you are going to be a bit behind in trying to get a place. You are going to be fighting for positions. No more than last year, fellas are trying to hold onto jerseys when others rejoin the panel. It is more beneficial and enjoyable to be in with Kerry from the start of the year.”
The other difference about Buckley this spring is that he has an All-Ireland medal in his back pocket. He had won an All-Ireland under-21 title, back in 2008, but like most of the current Kerry panel, was perhaps beginning to question would ever win the real thing.
Not that his ambitions end with the one: “While it was great to get the medal last year, I don’t think it has a huge effect on this year. I would like to think we are as hungry as ever to win an All-Ireland. I know it is very early days, but there is a huge hunger in the team, to get a good national league in, train hard for the bit of the break and then have a good go off the championship again.
“You certainly wouldn’t be thinking about winning another All-Ireland medal at this time of the year. There is a slightly different mentality. At the moment, the focus is on getting a good league campaign, so really the All-Ireland isn’t having a huge bearing on our motivation or mentality at the moment.”
What also set apart Buckley’s performance on Sunday – along with the likes of David Moran and Anthony Maher – was the classic old school display of high fielding, apparently a dying art in the modern game.
“Well, that’s still vital in order to win primary possession,” he says. “On days when there is a breeze blowing, it is great that Brendan (Kealy) can kick it out to the middle, and boys will do their job. But it is something we work on, it is something we target.”
What is also driving Buckley this spring, he says, is the clichéd competition for places, especially true with the likes of Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper and James O’Donoghue still to return to the forward line. After a two week break, Kerry finish up at home to Monaghan, then away to Tyrone, and Buckley intends to play as big a part in them.
“There is something about the league this year, teams going hammer and tongs, and if you’re one per cent off you get shown up, like we were last week against Cork. A lot of games are being played close to championship pace. So every fella gives it their all, because there are five or six players going for each place, that’s no exaggeration, and that’s the way it needs to be.”