Monday 21 January 2019

Sam before style for Kerry

"THE only thing that is frowned upon in Kerry is when you lose games. Once you are winning they don't mind how you're playing."

So said Declan O'Sullivan at the recent Kerry All-Ireland final press day at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney.

An event which, to be totally fair about it, proved far more enlightening than the heretofore annual blood from stone excavations of yore.

The question was about his positioning for the Munster final against Cork which, when Kerry had possession, took on the appearance of a classic link man but when they didn't, bore all the traits of a, yes, sweeper.



He wasn't the only one congesting that space either and if you were to take a footballing karameter to measure the purity of how either team set about their task in Páirc Uí Chaoimh that day, Cork possessed a far more elemental likeness with the driven snow than their opponents.

And Kerry won by 12 points.

"As players all you want to do is win," says O'Sullivan, taking up the point.

"You'd be foolish if you only had one philosophy on playing football, you wouldn't last, you have to evolve. And when you have a turnover of players you have to find a system that suits the players you have.

"From the lads point of view you have to prepare whatever way you can to win the game. And we have done that this year.

"We have played differently nearly every day we have gone out based on the opposition and how we are playing ourselves."

It's true. They have.

No one blames them for denying their half-back line license to maraud while everyone appreciates how much more effective James O'Donoghue is with 40 metres of blank space in front of him that he would be with a close lingering half-forward line.

It's just that once, and not so long ago either, Kerry seemed so vehement against all that.

And it wasn't just Pat Spillane and his 'puke football.'

There was then chairman Seán Walsh's proclaiment back in 2004 after Sam Maguire had been safely wrestled back from the Northern philistines that "the team restored the faith in Kerry football and indeed in football in general.

And largely, what made Jack O'Connor's often-quoted autobiography Keys to the Kingdom so compelling was his post Tyrone 2005 strife and the inner battle against pragmatism.

"Of course there is tradition in Kerry of playing football and kick passing and playing good football," O'Sullivan syas. "But I didn't mind as long as we won."

It's not that Kerry have sacrificed their virtue. They've just learned to blend their native banquet of talent into a game plan more robust in opposition to the systems designed orgionally to shut them down.

"You have to marry that with the players you have, the opposition," O'Sullivan insists.

"I think you'd be very naive if you thought this is the way we play and this is the only way we are going to play."


Still, one imagines dead Kerry football nobility whirring in their caskets at Donegal's 2011 All-Ireland semi-final with Dublin.

"I was fascinated by it," O'Sullivan says. "It showed what a tight group they were that they bought into the system.

"In 2011 they probably went too far, they would probably admit that themselves.

"Yes, you can limit a team but you have to go and kick enough scores too. they learned that lesson in 2011. They rectified that since."

Equally, Kerry have learned the old ways aren't strictly wining ways any more.

Thus Sunday wont quite be the culture clash it once might.

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