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Saturday 21 September 2019

Keane has what it takes to marshal his troops in searing heat of All-Ireland final battle

Kerry manager Peter Keane
Kerry manager Peter Keane

"They'll be very, very hard to beat," said shell-shocked Roscommon boss Anthony Cunningham last month after Jim Gavin's men stuck 2-26 past his team.

Like all of Dublin's opponents for the last five years, Cunningham could itemise a checklist of Dublin's strengths.

"They have 26 or 28 players who can fit into any position," he said. "That and experience. I'm sure they have another gear."

On Sunday afternoon, Peter Keane will become the latest manager to test Dublin's credentials in the Championship.

No sooner was he ratified as Kerry manager last October than Peter was being asked, "How are you going to beat Dublin?"

Even before he knew which players would be on his squad, the Cahirsiveen man was being viewed as a manager who might halt Dublin's five-in-a-row ambitions.

Back then Peter dealt with the question with a lyrical flourish worthy of J.B. Keane saying, "That's like digging a field and you don't even have a shovel, we'll get the shovel first and then we'll start thinking about that one."

Before the League started in January, Keane was able to say he was focussed on "getting a structure to our team, concentrating on ourselves, getting ourselves right and seeing where that takes us."

His plan was simple in essence. "I want to see Kerry playing with the right tempo," he revealed. "The Kerry public want that. Yet, the Kerry public realise that this will take time."

While seasoned pundits will insist that this emerging Kerry team needs a bit more experience, Keane has guided them to the final.

After a debut Championship season that's seen his men dig their way past Clare, Cork, Mayo, Donegal, Meath and Tyrone, scoring a total of 6-107 along the way, Peter finds himself well and truly in the hot-seat.

As their League performances illustrated, Keane's players were quickly and diligently discovering their identity as a senior outfit.

Through the League and the Championship they've grown into the collective role and shown a sophistication and intelligence when meeting challenges presented by more experienced teams.

Sunday could well be their coming-of-age party.

But who is Peter Keane, the man who might inherit the mantle once worn so lightly by the late Eugene Magee?

On the face of it, Keane is markedly different from the Irish Aviation Authority executive and former military pilot who'll be leading Dublin into an All-Ireland final for a seventh time.

But never underestimate a shopkeeper.

The man who, with his wife, owns and runs a SuperValu in Killorglin knows there's a price on everything.

Having taken the Kerry minors and built on the two All-Ireland titles won under Jack O'Connor by adding another three on the trot to make it five-in-a-row, Keane has shown he can maximise potential.

He sings from a similar hymn sheet to Jim Gavin when talking about the players in his charge.

"Whether it's minor or senior, you are dealing with people," he's explained. "It's about man-management."

Having observed Keane closely while with the county minors' extended backroom team, Killarney GP Gary Stack rates the manager's skills highly.

"He has an ability to treat his panel like they're part of the family," he explains. "As a result, they trust him. And he trusts them to give their best to the system he devises."

Like all successful managers, Keane can be decisive when necessary.

"He possesses a businessman-like acumen to be ruthless when he needs to be," adds Gary. "And to identify changes that need to be made and be willing and able to make those changes "on the hoof."

When his side pipped Dublin by a point in the League in February, Keane wasn't crowing. "Whenever there's a wind going we'll take it, we won't say no to it," he commented. "We're just happy. We worked very hard."

There's enough football wisdom in the Kerry DNA to ensure that any team from the Kingdom that reaches Croke Park in September should be considered a serious threat.

And, in Peter Keane, Kerry have a manager capable of withstanding the big match pressure.

As Gary Stack says, "Like a cardiac surgeon, Peter can think and act incisively while the engine is running."

So far, Keane has shown he has the managerial smarts to make winning selection calls and deal with whatever a tempestuous match might throw at his side.

But this is no ordinary Championship match on Sunday. This is a final where history waits to be added to the scales.

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