Monday 21 January 2019

Jack: 'Star' ace in pack

BACK in February, the day after Colm Cooper's absence from that part of the year in which he annually stars was confirmed, Jack O'Connor found himself in contrastingly optimistic form in an interview with Raidió na Gaeltachta.

To paraphrase the last man to land Sam Maguire in the Kingdom, O'Connor theorised that in a preserve sort of way, some of those lesser-spotted species within the Kerry squad might now find room to flourish in the absence of such a domineering figure.

Furthermore, O'Connor argued the loss of Kerry's prince so soon after Galvin, Tomás and Brosnan's retirements would diminish the intensity of expectation so much, it may allow those who have grazed on the lower slopes of their own form in these past few lean years to relocate their true form.


By way of adding beef to this particular stew, O'Connor name-checked Kieran Donaghy.

"I think something like that has happened," he says now.

"Kerry have managed to fly under the radar all the year, give the impression they're rebuilding and yet be a very serious team and have grown as the season has gone on.

"Expectation is an amazing thing," O'Connor adds. "The expectation in Kerry was low this year. You can work very well then in that environment.

For contrast, he cites the very obvious example of Dublin.

"I think expectation got to Dublin (in their semi-final defeat by Donegal). No question. When you're touted that highly and you're hot favourites, I don't care what way you approach the game, it can be very difficult to get the mind properly focused.

"Even Cluxton was missing kicks he'd normally put over, Bernard Brogan missed two scoreable frees that he'd put over. So the point I'm making is expectation is an amazing thing.

"It can be very hard to cope with it whereas lack of expectation helps people to play under the radar."

Even aside the fact that he's managing the county's minors in Sunday's aperitif, you'd forgive Jack O'Connor for feeling something of a paternal sensation.

He made Eamonn Fitzmaurice a senior selector in 2009 and, famously, reinvented Kieran Donaghy as a full-forward in 2006.

There might not be two more important men to the Kerry cause this Sunday.

"He's still a very awkward person to handle," says O'Connor of Donaghy.

"Donegal in 2012, for example, he got the goal there that brought us into it near the very end.

"He's certainly given Kerry another dimension. Kerry's forwards were lively but small. He's just another option. It's important that you've more than one way of playing."

"He burst on the scene, won Player of the Year in '06 and maybe lost a bit of hunger for a while," O'Connor points out.

"But certainly he's hungry now. That's good news for Fitzmaurice going into the final."


Still, it would be a fair feat of management were Kerry to win this All-Ireland given the level of upheaval with which Fitzmaurice has had to contend this year.

Although as O'Connor points out: "There's no such thing as rebuilding in Kerry. You've to try to go out to win the All-Ireland every year. There's no such thing as transition.

"Certainly it's great to see all the new blood on the team. There's still a hardcore of established fellas on the team. There's a right good mix there.

"In general, you'd have to say those two games (against Mayo) will really stand to Kerry going into the final."

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