Kerry’s new defensive leaders assert their credentials
Marc Ó Sé and O’Mahony are gone but phrase ‘team in transition’ is not used in Kingdom
Killian Young: “We’ve done a lot of hard running and are in good shape. It stood to us.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Only the names change. When Marc Ó Sé and Aidan O’Mahony announced that they were bowing out of a Kerry back division in which they had operated for more than a decade, they knew better than anyone. The myth of Kerry football is epic and romantic, but on the ground life is about as rose-tinted as the French Foreign Legion. The two senior most defenders were gone. New leaders had to identify themselves.
In Donegal on Sunday, the new order wasn’t long in asserting itself. Firstly, Shane Enright came out worst in an honest race for the ball with Michael Murphy. The Tarbert man spent eight minutes on the field before the medical team removed him to hospital. Kerry shuffled their back line and sent Killian Young in to cover Patrick McBrearty. The Kilcar man had opened the match as if intent on having one of those days. As it turned out, he didn’t score again as Young, Mark Griffin and Peter Crowley acted as ring masters in a Kerry defence which ranged from six to 15 defenders, as the occasion demanded.
“You have to expect the unexpected,” was Young’s summary afterwards. “I was in the half-back line and it’s a different type of game all of a sudden when Shane got that injury, which was a bad one. Thankfully it went well. I was happy with the team performance for long spells and, okay, the last 10 or 15 minutes we had a bit of work to do but it’s a platform that we have and we can work on that throughout the week.”
Donegal looked young on Sunday and are currently stamped as one of those teams “in transition”. That phrase is a luxury not really permitted in Kerry. Éamonn Fitzmaurice handed out starts to the next generation on Sunday: the agreement is that he will have the under-21 players for the first two games before they return to Jack O’Connor’s fold. Young made his debut in the league against Mayo in 2006 when he was just out of minor.
“That’s the way you learn. You have to be playing games, you can’t be just training for two or three years in the camp. You need to get out there and experience National League games and build towards the championship. It’s good experience for those guys and they did very well today. I’m sure Éamonn and Jack O’Connor will be happy with their run-out.”
There were periods when Kerry were sparkling. They were bouncing with creativity up front, moved the balls sharply and mixed a running game with a few sublime scores involving precise, long-range foot passes.
“I think there was very good movement inside. I think our kicking was very good as well at times and we moved the ball at pace and we really moved Donegal across and around the field as well. And we got one-on-one inside in spells which was exactly what we were looking for. We were very happy with the boys inside, their movement was excellent and they were clinical as well.”
They coughed up a first-half goal from a penalty to Murphy after Marty O’Reilly was brought down following a thrilling run. But after that, they kept their goal-area so crowded that the Donegal men couldn’t even get a clear sightline.
“Yeah, we showed good spells, we really wanted to get off to a fast start in the league and it’s exciting as a player. It’s a lot tighter: there are a lot of games. You’re only waiting one week or two weeks and as players you want to play games. And it’s nice to be building on a performance like that as well. We’re looking forward to getting out on Saturday night in Tralee. You want to put more pressure on yourself. It’s something that puts more pressure on yourself for each performance. It’s like playing championship, you have to go out and win every game.”
Kerry got together on January 3rd but had spent a lot of December concentrating on individual work. Their crisp start is in marked contrast to recent Februarys, when the Kingdom kind of yawned their way into the season. Rumours of relegation amounted to nothing but this opening 70 minutes seemed like a statement of intent.
“It’s nothing out of the ordinary,” says Young. “We just went back on January 3rd, it’s not like we went back in November and started doing runs around the place just to get ahead of everyone else. It was standard enough – no team holidays. As you can see from other years, it is a distraction. And it was good that we were able to get back in January and work from there. We’ve done a lot of hard running and are in good shape. It stood to us.”