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KERRY CRISIS Kerry didn't lack hunger, there are other issues which cost them victory against Tyrone

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 Cathal McShane celebrates after scoring his Tyrone's in the All-Ireland semi-final. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Cathal McShane celebrates after scoring his Tyrone's in the All-Ireland semi-final. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Darren McCurry of Tyrone celebrates kicking a late point during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match against Kerry. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Darren McCurry of Tyrone celebrates kicking a late point during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match against Kerry. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

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Cathal McShane celebrates after scoring his Tyrone's in the All-Ireland semi-final. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

WITH about three minutes of normal time remaining in last weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final I turned to a colleague in the Croke Park press box and remarked that it looked like Kerry had pulled off the perfect semi-final performance: played poorly but won.

Tom O’Sullivan 66th-minute point had given them a two-point lead. Though it was a precarious advantage they appeared to have done enough to fall over the line. What I didn’t factor in was the nine minutes of injury time or Tyrone’s indomitable spirit.

After Shane Ryan brilliantly saved from Darragh Canavan the rebound was a 70/30 ball in favour of Kerry but Cathal McShane beat the odds and hoofed it to the net. Suddenly all bets were off – it was game on again.

Those who argue that Kerry lacked hunger ought to reflect on the fact that despite falling five points behind in the first six minutes of extra time Kerry actually outscored Tyrone 5-1 for the remainder of the pulsating tie. By then their chief scorer David Clifford was watching from the Hogan Stand, holding an ice pack to his ankle.

So, ultimately, it was Tyrone that fell over the line.

It will be a winter of discontent in the Kingdom. Change is already in the air as the term of current County Board chairman Tim Murphy’s is up this year. A new face will be driving Kerry GAA in 2022.

Kerry have experienced worst famines than the current one which only stretches back to 2014. Don’t forget they failed to win an All-Ireland between 1986 and 1997.

But what will worry the aficionadas in the Kingdom – let’s by honest every third Kerry person falls into that category is that (a) they have only won one title between 2009 and 2022 and (b)their crop of outstanding minor footballer, who won a record five titles on the spin between 2014 and 2018, have not matured into senior All-Ireland winners.

I refuse to accept they lacked hunger. On the contrary, they must be ravenous at this stage.

With the exception of Paul Murphy, David Moran, Stephen O’Brien and Paul Geaney none of the rest of the squad have won an All-Ireland senior medals.

Kerry fans are not slow to vent their anger at players when things go wrong, and these players will face the wrath of the fans at every turn for the next few months.

But desire alone is not sufficient. Under Peter Keane Kerry have now fluffed their lines in three successive championship. Management are rapidly running out of excuses.

Granted the system militates against them – particularly in the last two years.

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In 2020 the absence of the back-door proved costly. In a normal year they would have dusted themselves down and refocused after their loss to Cork.

Don’t forget their All-Ireland wins in 2006 and 2009 were achieved via the backdoor.

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Darren McCurry of Tyrone celebrates kicking a late point during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match against Kerry. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Darren McCurry of Tyrone celebrates kicking a late point during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match against Kerry. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Darren McCurry of Tyrone celebrates kicking a late point during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match against Kerry. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

This year due to Covid-19 restrictions the Allianz League was rerestructured on a regional basis and Kerry played just three, rather than the usual seven games in the round-robin robin.

Their only clash against an Ulster side was the Division 1 semi-final against Tyrone.

The game was over after 25 minutes, by which time Tyrone had conceded five goals. I don’t believe Tyrone set out to deliberately lose the game by 16 points, but team bosses Brian Dooher and Fergal Logan were focused on other issues in Killarney.

It was a rare opportunity for a bonding weekend away and the squad did a gym session and a run on the morning of the game. Still, Kerry are long enough around not to be hoodwinked by that result.

They subsequently waltzed through a brutally uncompetitive Munster championship which left them totally unprepared for the frenzy of the Tyrone onslaught. In pre-Covid times Kerry would have got a chance to burn their so-called dirty petrol in a quarter-final.

But there is another issue at play here. It has long been recognised that Kerry’s defensive system is not up to scratch.

With that in mind the Kerry County Board insisted that when Keane got the manager’s job his fellow county man Donie Buckley was added to the back-room team as a defensive coach.

He is recognised as possibly the best in the business. But the partnership evidently did not work out and Buckley and Keane parted company just before the outbreak of Covid-19 last year.

Ultimately a lot of Kerry’s problems are self-inflicted. Aside from their defensive issues Keane’s quirky selection policies were hard to fathom at times.

Diarmuid O’Connor didn’t start the semi-final but was still deemed fit enough to come on, while Killian Spillane continued omission from the first 15 ultimately destroyed his confidence.

When choosing a manager perhaps Kerry focus too much on one personality and give him too much freedom to choose his team.

A change in culture in the way they pick their management team might be just as important as looking again at how their players are coached in the art of defending.

But the bottom line is they back at base camp again after losing their way when the air thinned out at the high-altitude point in the race for Sam.


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