Young Kerry team facing fresh test of maturity
In the opposite corner stand Tyrone – and their vastly experienced manager Harte
Kerry’s Shane Enright in action against Donegal’s Michael Murphy. “If you are going to live with the likes of Tyrone you have to play for 80 minutes.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. That’s one view of the Kerry football team coming to Croke Park on Sunday, many of whom are recently familiar with GAA headquarters from their minor All-Ireland winning days.
Yet for all the fresh harvesting of that five-in-a-row golden run – 17 players from which have now tasted senior football, between the league and championship – manager Peter Keane is still spreading his net a little wider.
Keane took over as senior manager last October, fresh from guiding the Kerry minors to a fifth successive minor All-Ireland in 2018, in what was his third season in that role.
Having successfully negotiated the Super 8s, Keane now faces an All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone, last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists, and still under the longest-serving football manager in the game, Mickey Harte who has been there since 2003. A Tyrone team, in other words, that speaks loudly of maturity.
Ten of those Kerry minors have also made their championship debut in the last two seasons, only Keane still knows the role of the mature player such as 31-year-old Shane Enright, the 2014 All Star from Tarbet, part of the Kerry senior set-up since 2011.
If you’re still good enough, you’re never too old.
Enright also knows exactly what those younger players have brought. He didn’t start last Saturday’s win over Meath, replacing Gavin White early in the second half, but did start the previous game against Donegal, that versatility also what sets the younger player apart.
“Well they’ve brought energy, and they’re winners as well, with so many All-Ireland minor medals between them, which is brilliant,” says Enright. “That leaves the likes of myself, David Moran, Tommy Walsh I suppose, they’re kind of feeding off us as well, we’re giving them a bit of info.
“And of course, when you have all those young fellas there, you feel that pressure! I played in the last three Super 8s games so I’m happy to be playing and any time you are playing with Kerry it’s great.
“Obviously I was disappointed not to start but Peter wants to give other fellas runs as well and Brian Ó Beaglaoich came in and did brilliantly so it’s horses for courses. And it will be the same next week; he will pick a team to suit who we are playing so that’s the way it is.
“Everyone is buying in to it, we have 36 in training and the 26 change every week as well so fellas know that they mightn’t be in it one week but playing the next week.”
Part of Kerry’s winning edge this summer has came from elsewhere too. Tommy Walsh, their 2008 All-Ireland winner back after a three-year gap, also came on against Meath; full back Jack Sherwood was also recalled by Keane this season to throw some further experience behind his youthful lines, and also came on against Meath.
Still that emerging minor talent is unmistakable, beginning with 2016 All-Ireland-winning minor captain Seán O’Shea, who hit 1-8 against Meath on Saturday evening, bringing his championship tally so far to 1-32.
Including O’Shea, those 17 All-Ireland minor winners over the last five years to have now played senior for Kerry are goalkeeper Shane Ryan, plus Diarmuid O’Connor, Dara Moynihan, Conor Geaney, Jason Foley, Gavin White, Killian Spillane, Matthew Flaherty, Barry O’Sullivan, Andrew Barry, Brian Begley, Brian Ó Seanacháin, Michael Burns, Tom O’Sullivan and Cormac Coffey.
And of course David Clifford, only 20, their 2018 All Star sitting out Saturday’s win over Meath with a minor back complaint, but set to start against Tyrone on Sunday.
Enright’s 2018 season was derailed by an ankle injury, his return this season also marked by a more versatile role.
“Playing out in the half-back line, which I probably haven’t done much of before, you are playing a lot more ball and you are probably not under the same sort of pressure as you are in the full back line.
“In other years we might have faded off towards the end of games but this year we’ve done a lot of hard work and that’s where the physical training comes in so you can last 75 or 80 minutes because that’s the way it is. And if you are going to live with the likes of Tyrone you have to play for 80 minutes.”