In the second part of his championship preview, JPM is back in the guest slot to assess Kerry’s chances for the forthcoming summer campaign.
If you were to compile a list every year of the top three teams likely to win the All-Ireland then realistically Kerry would nearly always be in it. Their current squad almost all possess Celtic Crosses at Senior Level and they have experience, flair, leadership, and the will to win. Bottom line – Kerry has talent in abundance.
They rely heavily on outmaneuvering teams especially around the middle third. They defend in depth and counter attack on opportunity. And they always go for the kill when the opportunity arises. Possession of the ball is crucial to Kerry and if they can win the middle third they have the platform with Galvin and co to deliver the killer balls into the Gooch to let him slice and dice at will.
But unfortunately Kerry football is in a little conundrum. Two questions spring to mind. Why are they losing key matches? And why are they losing them when they are in total control? And while the answer to the first is rather obvious in that the other team outscores them, the answer to the second is a puzzle for those in the know in the Kingdom.
After the debacle of last year’s All-Ireland defeat Kerry folk left the stadium wondering what happened. Mutterings were heard and fingers were pointed. Also there’s not much room to hide in Kerry. Talk there is not that cheap, not in a county with 36 All-Irelands. In accordance, so it seemed, over winter these players chewed over it and came to a conclusion that they were going to rectify it in 2012, starting with the League.
And they began with venom. First back to Croke Park and against the Dubs, where they put them firmly back in their box with a comprehensive six-point win. Subsequent victories emerged and Kerry eased comfortably into the semis with two games left in the League season. However this all went haywire when they arrived back in Croker and once more the same major malfunction re-occurred – this time against us.
Twice they contrived to let the match slip whilst having it within their grasp. Old failings that arose in the All Ireland final seemed to re-emerge. So the question re-arises, is there something mentally wrong with this team? Jack O’Connor tried to pass it off as just one of those days and in truth he may be quite correct. Nothing did seem to go right for Kerry that day, especially when you consider Donaghy’s suicide pass and Colm Boyle’s wonder goal. But there remains a sneaky suspicion that when push comes to shove, this Kerry team (even with all their All-Ireland glory), are liable to misfire when serious pressure is applied.
Could it be that age is finally catching up with these guys? Jack O’Connor has introduced youth to the side with the likes of Barry John Keane, Shane Enright and Peter Crowley. However when it really matters you know in your head that Tomás Ó Sé will always get the nod before Daniel Bohane. Likewise, Brosnan, Marc Ó Sé, O’Mahony, Galvin – they will realistically all be in the mix. All are now in their thirties. Can they keep pulling the oars on the Kerry liner steering her towards Sam or have the years of toil finally taken their toll?
Another iceberg to consider for this Kerry team is that they meet Cork (presumably) in a Munster semi-final to be played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The likelihood of losing this and then going into the hat with a possible shootout against a top team will not unduly bother the Kingdom. But it may have consequences for them in their overall season.
The championship pace now is frightening, and beating the likes of Cork and Dublin will severely test the mettle and stamina of any team. But doing it whilst possibly having had to travel the back roads and overcome three other pitfalls along the way makes it very difficult indeed. Furthermore as it’s an open draw any of these could be on foreign ground. So Jack O’Connor and the rest of his boys still do have plenty to chew on before this season heats up.
Overall there is still a question mark surrounding Kerry this year. Their exit in the League may have aggravated this but generally Kerry teams don’t look back. It’s always about moving forward. And it’s far better to blunder in April rather than August. The only problem is that Kerry might not survive until August. Kerry’s All-Ireland Final may very well come two months earlier, when they face Cork by the banks of the Lee.