pat's view | 

It looks like Kerry are stuck with it, because the clubs refuse to budge on changing the rule

Kingdom showpiece failed to unearth forward talent
Kerry senior football manager Jack O'Connor. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Kerry senior football manager Jack O'Connor. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Pat Spillane

THREE weeks before Christmas the last county final of 2020 was wrapped up in Tralee.

That sentence alone says much about the GAA's fixtures calendar. However, let's not dwell on the negative.

The clash between Tralee rivals Austin Stacks and Kerins O'Rahilly's - their first final meeting in 85 years - was one of the most enjoyable Kerry deciders I've seen for many years.

Austin Stack Park was virtually full. In fact, it was half full an hour before throw-in. Everybody wanted to have a decent vantage point.

It was the best atmosphere I've ever experienced at a Kerry final. Better still, it was probably the best game in this year's Kerry Championship.

I need to add a rider to that statement - it was the best match in a largely mediocre championship, in which the overall standard of football was worryingly low.

The game was still stop/start in nature; it was niggly at times, and the attacking play from both teams left much to be desired.

Austin Stacks never looked like losing. They are a superbly-organised and well-coached side.

They set up defensively and excel on the counter-attack.

They don't score much - averaging just 13 points a game this year in Kerry.

I imagine had they known that statistic before the campaign they wouldn't have dreamed of winning the Bishop Moynihan trophy.

The key to their success was their defensive play - they conceded an average of nine points in their four county championship games.

They have an abundance of physically powerful, strong running players, as well as a decent bench.

I can see them winning Munster, but I don't think they have the forward line to secure an All-Ireland club title.

Kerins O'Rahilly's just couldn't buy an ounce of luck. They lost Gavin O'Brien, a former Kerry panellist, during the warm-up.

Worse still, their best player and on-field leader, David Moran, went off injured after just five minutes.

His exit meant their game plan was in tatters.

They left Tommy Walsh in at full-forward, but he got no supply of the ball in the first half.

He switched to midfield in the second half and helped them win a lot more ball.

But then they had no target man on the edge of the square.

In a final throw of the dice he moved back to full-forward in the final ten minutes, where he did get on some ball and looked dangerous. But Austin Stacks held out.

Credit to Kerins O'Rahilly's, their heads never dropped. But when Moran was forced out of the game it was a massive blow to their cause.

For the neutrals the result was largely irrelevant.

They were more interested in seeing whether there were any players on show who might make the grade for new Kerry boss Jack O'Connor.

However, I'm afraid the final followed the same pattern as the rest of the Kerry championship.

Very few wannabes did enough to convince Jack they could make a difference in 2022.

Here's a few reality checks. The best midfielder in the competition was 33-year-old David Moran.

Radio Kerry's Player of the championship was another 33-year-old - Tommy Walsh, who has announced his retirement from inter-county football.

The most influential player in the series was Kieran Donaghy. The 38-year-old hung up his Kerry boots three years ago.

The other forward who shone was Paul Geaney. His best days as an inter-county player are behind him, and he struggles against counter-attacking sides, like Tyrone.

Moran and Geaney have been fantastic servants for the Kingdom.

But I doubt if they still have the legs to last 70 minutes plus against the likes of Tyrone and Dublin in Croke Park.

For decades there was a well-worn cliché trotted out to explain the county's success in football.

It was said that North Kerry provided the defensive brawn, while the scoring forwards were all 'townies' from Tralee or Killarney.

Well, all I know is that neither Austin Stacks nor Kerins O'Rahilly's will be providing any forwards for Kerry in 2022. They are simply not good enough.

The county side still lacks the archetypal box-to-box player who can dictate the exchanges in the middle third of the field, but it's not all bad news.

Austin Stack's captain Dylan Casey looks a prospect and the 21-year-old has all the attributes to make it on the county scene in the full-back line.

His club colleague Joe O'Connor, who has been on the periphery of the Kerry squad for the last two seasons, could also make the breakthrough in 2022.

The big plus for Kerry is the return from Australia of Stefan Okunbor. He had featured for the Kerry minor and U-20 sides before signing with Geelong.

He featured for Na Gaeil in their Kerry Intermediate championship final win earlier this month and has the physicality, athleticism and engine needed to make an impact on the big stage.

Right now, Kerry have an abundance of what I would classify as middling players, who were worryingly anonymous during the club championship.

We have a plethora of contenders for the full-forward line with David Clifford, Paul Geaney, Killian Spillane, Tony Brosnan, David Shaw and Sean O'Shea - who was used in this role by Peter Keane this season - vying for slots.

Against that there is a scarcity of physically imposing wing forwards

The other headache for Jack O'Connor is the team captaincy.

It will probably be Dylan Casey or Joe O'Connor - neither first-choice county players.

So, we're back to the farcical situation where a newbie in his first season will have the added burden of being captain.

It makes absolutely no sense. But it looks like Kerry are stuck with it, because the clubs refuse to budge on changing the rule.

By and large, Jack O'Connor inherits the same bunch of players that Peter Keane had.

He is going to have to earn his corn to turn the Kerry ship around.

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