Young players need to learn that Babs was right – a pat on the back means nothing

Kerry and Galway both have a bunch of footballers with potential but that’s all it is so far

I always liked the old Babs Keating saying that a pat on the back is only ever a couple of inches away from a kick in the arse. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, that’s true for everybody. You can be a footballer, a hurler, a commentator or a pundit. Babs won’t be far wrong regardless.

I was in Ennis on Sunday doing a bit for Newstalk at the Kerry v Clare game. The best fun to be had was in the half an hour after it when we were breaking down what had happened but kept throwing over to Daithí Regan who was in Tullamore for the Kilkenny v Offaly game. If ever there was a case of sport making a fool of us all, this was it.

Like everybody else, Daithí assumed the game was over with 10 minutes to go. He was praising Brian Cody to the hilt and he wasn't sparing the rod on Galway. But Galway must be a curse for any pundit to talk about. Here's what they do to you . . . "Everything Kilkenny do is just so much better . . . in saying that Conor Cooney has just got a goal for Galway."

“Cody doesn’t even look at his players as they’re coming off. There’s no need to. They’re Kilkenny players, they know what their job is . . . There’s another goal for Galway.”

“Thanks be to God for Galway hurling. I watched Galway people 10 minutes ago walk out in droves from this game. I’d say some of them are in Kilbeggan and Moate already.”

We were in Ennis listening to this and chuckling away. Kilkenny were mighty and then Kilkenny were naive. Cody was a giant of a manager and then Cody would want to look at himself. Joe Canning was in a comfort zone and then he was one of the greatest exponents of the game. I'd say Babs was smiling to himself. But that's the great thing about sport. You can't predict it. I didn't think heading up to Ennis on Sunday Clare would have enough to challenge Kerry. Even though it was a young Kerry team, I presumed they would come through it without fuss. But in the end, they had to knuckle down and get it done.

Game plan

Clare came with belief, which shouldn’t have been a surprise. We should have known that a hurler of Podge Collins’s quality wasn’t going to throw his lot in with the footballers if he didn’t think they were going to achieve anything. He was excellent on Sunday, a really clever, energetic footballer who made a difference any time he got on the ball.

They had a game plan that was well thought-out. They didn’t kick ball out into the middle of the field but instead kept it short and held onto possession. They worked it through the lines from there, usually getting a corner-back bursting onto ball and making 40 or 50 yards with it before dishing off to one of the Collinses. With their pace then, they were able to burst though the Kerry defence.

It was a testament to Colm Collins as a coach. They bypassed Kerry in midfield. They had the tools to do it in their pacy players and they got their structure spot on. In the end, they just hadn’t the quality of some of the Kerry forwards but there was no disgrace in their performance at all.

Clare probably smelt blood a little bit as well. That was a young Kerry team with five debutants. The young lads coming in wouldn’t have had a lot of winning experience at underage either so it wasn’t like they were strolling into Ennis fully confident. And Clare would have been looking at them thinking, ‘Why should we be genuflecting to these fellas?’

In fairness, I thought the younger Kerry players did their job. If anything, it was the older ones who didn’t hit the level they needed to. You could see the effect of having no football for three months – Kerry made a lot of handling errors whereas Clare were much sharper.

Smelling salts

Mind you, the Kerry players weren’t the only ones who weren’t sharp. A couple of the umpires looked like they needed smelling salts as well at times. You could see one lad get totally caught up in watching the game down behind the goal Kerry were shooting into in the second half.

A Kerry shot came in and it was nearly in danger of taking the head off him. I swear I saw him actually duck a bit. But then he went for his flag and gave Kerry a point! It wasn’t a point at all. But it went up on the board anyway.

Then you had the one above in Portlaoise on Saturday during the Laois v Fermanagh match. Fermanagh were messing about in front of their own goal, not 15 yards away from the posts. One of the Fermanagh defenders played the ball back to his goalkeeper, missed by a mile and watch the ball trickle past the post. The umpire was watching all of this and ran to his line to wave it wide. Hilarious stuff.

But back to Kerry. What they brought against Clare won’t be good enough against Cork, just like Cork’s carelessness on Saturday night won’t be good enough against Kerry. That game will take on a life of its own. As the stakes go up, so do the nerves, so does the tension.

Not all the young players will keep their place but that’s just how it goes. You have to start somewhere. Séamus Moynihan’s first game for Kerry was against Clare in 1992. It wasn’t a day any Kerryman will remember fondly but he went on to be one of the greatest players ever to wear the jersey. These lads have started now. Where they go from here is up to them.

That's the beauty of having a team of young players. There's so much potential and no matter how much a manager does for them, it's up to them to find their way now. You look at Galway, a fresh and exciting looking young team full of pace. Shane Walsh looks a terrific player, well able to kick off both legs. Danny Cummins is very sharp as well and they have a couple of midfielders who look the business.

Where do they go now? Is it pats on the back from here on out? Or will it be kicks in the arses all round? Tomás Flynn and Fiontán Ó Curraoin have the look of a pairing who could be there for Galway for the next decade. Big, tall, high-catching midfielders of the type that just aren’t common in the game anymore.

What is the one aspect of the game that Dublin aren’t strong in? Catching the ball in midfield. We’ve said time and again that Stephen Cluxton is so important but the reason he’s become such a factor is partly because his midfielders don’t catch a lot of ball above their heads. You didn’t hear a lot about Dublin’s kick-out strategy when Cluxton had Ciarán Whelan to aim at.

Really mobile

If you were trying to beat Dublin, a couple of high-fielding lads like Flynn and Ó Curraoin isn’t a bad place to start. Get those really mobile Galway forwards to push up on Cluxton’s kick-outs and make him hit it long. Meath did it last year, Laois did it a few weeks ago. Dublin came through both times – they’re not the best team in the country for nothing – but there’s a weakness there for teams to work on.

Galway are a long way away from being one of those teams. Mayo will be ready for them the next day, the O’Shea brothers will have a few years more conditioning on them and that bit more know-how as well. I don’t see Galway beating Mayo in the Connacht final. Next year, though. They definitely have that potential.

And in somebody like Shane Walsh, you have something that can’t be coached. Natural ability off both sides. Pace and directness. Everything there for him to go and make a career out of. What they need now is for him and the rest of these young guys to develop that sense of responsibility. To take Galway onwards now.

It goes back to Shefflin and Canning at the end of the game on Sunday. Often when a game is really on the line, fellas turn into the man who finds himself first to the bar in an expensive hotel. He knows he’s the one who has to get the wallet out but he knows as well that if he delays enough, someone else will probably offer. Shefflin and Canning got their wallets out without a second thought. Money down, bill paid. Didn’t give a curse for the pat on the back. The only way to be.