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Friday 13 December 2019

Kerry trying to do their best against 'the team of the ages' - Keane

Kerry manager Peter Keane poses for a portrait during a Kerry Football All-Ireland Final press conference at Kerry GAA Centre of Excellence in Currans, Co Kerry. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Kerry manager Peter Keane poses for a portrait during a Kerry Football All-Ireland Final press conference at Kerry GAA Centre of Excellence in Currans, Co Kerry. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Peter Keane likes his motoring metaphors, which couldn't be more apt given that he now faces the ultimate challenge for any inter-county manager: trying to stop the Dublin juggernaut in the home straight of the fabled Drive for Five.

Where Jim Gavin is closing in on a sixth All-Ireland SFC title in seven staggering seasons, Keane is in his maiden campaign at the Kerry senior coalface.

He does enjoy one statistical head-start, however: he was in charge when Kerry achieved a different version of the five-in-a-row last September.

Taking over from Jack O'Connor ahead of the 2016 season, Keane successfully steered his county's gilded youth to the third, fourth and fifth legs of their All-Ireland minor quintet. A case of been there, done that?

"I wouldn't say it's the same," the Cahirciveen native counters in a flash, "because your minor teams are new every year. So that changes and changes and changes. He (Gavin) is getting into the same car, pretty much for the last five years, where we're changing cars every year.

"And not alone that, but the car knows him as well as he knows the car. Fellas are very, very experienced in doing that.

"Look, as I said, there's been teams that have come up against them over the last four years and they haven't knocked any smoke out of them."

Therein lies the challenge: Keane may be road-testing the ultimate electric car of the future, but Gavin is already at the diamond-encrusted wheel of Gaelic football's Rolls Royce.

"The big thing we wanted to do was put experience into the team," the Kerry boss outlines.

"If you look at our team … was it 14 or 15 or 16 players have got debuts in Kerry over the last 15 months?

Walked

"A lot of fellas retired and fellas had walked away the previous year. Added to that, you had Jonathan Lyne who came back in; Jack Sherwood who came back in; and Tommy Walsh who came back in.

"So, like, there's been a huge transformation in the personnel in the group. While it mightn't be huge from my perspective because I wasn't with them before, there is still a lot of learning gone on there.

"We're going in with a team who don't have a whole pile of experience. And I know there's fellas trying to say that we do - we don't," he insists. "You've some guys who have only four or five or six (championship) games played for Kerry. Adrian Spillane, Gavin Crowley, Shane Ryan ... David Clifford must be only around nine or ten, is he?"

And then he draws the inevitable comparison to Stephen Cluxton. "Is he 110 or 115 games played for Dublin?" he asks. (A slight exaggeration: the all-time record holder has 104 SFC caps).

"That's the type of experience that you're up against. And this was the whole thing, to try and get experience into players. Get fellas used to each other; get them used to us, and us getting used to them.

"The one thing I've learned about this is that the longer you're at it, the easier it probably becomes because the players know you better, and you know them better and you know what you can trust and don't trust.

"So, we're on a fast track here and, do you know, we're hoping that we won't fall off the track."

You won't be surprised that Gavin has a different take on the readiness of Kerry's young guns. The Dublin manager's All-Ireland press day mantra could be summed up by the following message: "Their time is right now, it's not next year."

"For God's sake, what do you think he's going to say?" Keane retorts, sounding almost amused by the gullibility of anyone who bought the line.

"Of course, he's saying that. Sure, he's going for five-in-a-row. Sure, we haven't been in a final since '15, with a team that has no resemblance to this year’s team. Sure, what else is he going to (say) … for God’s sake, ye’re not that naïve!”

Psyche

Next question: does that mean Kerry, as 4/1 underdogs, are now in bonus territory? "You've a lot of guys who've won minor All-Irelands," he demurs. "Look, they're not thinking that they're in bonus territory - that's not the way their psyche is."

On the day of their semi-final against Tyrone, Keane had yet to catch Dublin's second half masterclass against Mayo. By the time of this conversation, that had changed.

"I thought they were hugely impressive," he affirms. "Come here, these are guys who are going for five-in-a-row.

"And unlucky the previous year, in 2014, beaten by Donegal and they were up five or six points 20 minutes into the game.

"Sure, this is probably the team of the ages - and we are here trying to do our best to go up against them."

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