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return of the kingdom Why I'll be happy to see Jack O'Connor back at the helm in Kerry

O'Connor knows that for all the negative statistics Kerry are not far away at all

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Jack O'Connor has stepped down from his role in Kildare and is set for a return to the Kingdom

Jack O'Connor has stepped down from his role in Kildare and is set for a return to the Kingdom

Jack O'Connor has stepped down from his role in Kildare and is set for a return to the Kingdom

So Jack is back. Jack O’Connor is about to be appointed manager of the Kerry senior football team for the third time, and I have no problem with that.

He will have to be ratified at a County Board meeting in eight days time. But that’s only a formality.

If the Kerry club delegates refuse to anoint him, the entire Kerry Officer Board would have to resign and that would leave Kerry football in turmoil. That’s not going to happen – it’s Jack’s job.

Jack has won the gig for two reasons: He assembled a strong management team with him, and his track record, which shows he won the All-Ireland with Kerry in 2004 and 2009, his other debut seasons as Kerry manager.

And that is massive. For winning an All-Ireland is what everyone in Kerry craves now. Look where the Kerry football team stands.

No All-Ireland this year, none since 2014, one title secured in 13 years in total – and just one All-Ireland final appearance in the last six seasons as we head for 2022.

So are we in crisis? Eh, no, Kerry were one point, in extra-time, away from playing Mayo in this year’s All-Ireland final.

A match for which they would have been overwhelming favourites with the bookies.

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Former Kerry manager Jack O'Connor is primed for a return to the Kingdom

Former Kerry manager Jack O'Connor is primed for a return to the Kingdom

Former Kerry manager Jack O'Connor is primed for a return to the Kingdom

That’s why Jack put his name forward - he knows that, for all the negative statistics I quoted above, actually Kerry are not far away at all.

And for Jack to give up the Kildare job a few weeks ago, meant someone had given him the nod that he was a real contender to get the post ahead of ‘one more year’ for Peter Keane or the ‘dream-team’ that former Kerry defender Stephen Stack put together and which came into the race late.

I would have had no issue had either Peter or Stephen got the job either.

Stephen had indeed put together a promising management team and Peter, well he made mistakes as manager, but he was so close to Sam as well.

Would Kerry have beaten Tyrone in extra-time last month if David Clifford had been able to play?

I suggest they would.

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On that one injury alone, Keane’s chance to lead the Kingdom to an All-Ireland may have been lost.

For his selectors, O’Connor has chosen Mike Quirke, a former Laois manager, and Diarmuid Murphy, who was with Eamonn Fitzmaurice for all his tenure as Kerry commander.

The word is that noted defence coach Paddy Tally from Tyrone is going to part of O’Connor’s crew as well.

That may have been a big part of Jack getting the job for it has been the defence that has been at the root of Kerry’s problems over the last few years.

There is even a rumour knocking around that Colm ‘the Gooch’ Cooper may yet be involved with the man who helped him win three of his All-Ireland medals.

Colm is now involved in the management team with Dr Crokes; they played my own Templenoe yesterday.

Getting him to help out would be a huge coup.

And the fact that Stephen Stack didn’t get the job seems to put an end to the Kerry County Board’s fixation with having noted defence coach Donie Buckley involved with the senior team.

The Board imposed Buckley on Keane in 2018, Keane let him go earlier this year.

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Kerry's Diarmuid O'Connor in action against Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final which the Kingdom lost

Kerry's Diarmuid O'Connor in action against Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final which the Kingdom lost

Kerry's Diarmuid O'Connor in action against Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final which the Kingdom lost

At least the word coming through last Friday night puts an end to the Kerry management shenanigans for another year.

Writing about the Kerry football team is the hardest and most difficult topic I have to write about on an annual basis.

Outside of the county I am seen as pro-Kerry and driving a Green and Gold agenda, that I’m a cheerleader for Kerry football.

That is pure bullshit. I wouldn’t be at this punditry game for as many years as I have been if all I did was plámás my native county.

And as for within the Kingdom, believe me, especially on social media in the last five or so years, I am seen as a traitor to the county and being anti-Kerry.

You can’t win.

The vitriol and bile that has been hurled at me, especially on social media platforms about Kerry Gaelic Football, has been far worse than that which I’ve received from Mayo, Cork, Tyrone and Dublin supporters. Or any other county you care to mention.

There were many hurtful, spiteful comments – mostly delivered by cowardly, anonymous people who I suspect hardly ever kicked a ball in anger in their lives and certainly didn’t devote the first 20 years of their adult life to the service of Kerry football.

The gas part about it is that I now know the identity of most of these people.

The odd critic of mine does put their name to what they say and I respect him or her for that – the game is all about opinions.

But little things alluded to over the years have allowed me to figure out who my anonymous critics are.

Look, I am a passionate Kerryman. “I loves me county,” as John Mullane famously said.

But if I have to expose failings in Kerry football, I will do it as easily and as readily as I would in any other county. I make no apologies for doing so.

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Kerry manager Peter Keane

Kerry manager Peter Keane

Kerry manager Peter Keane

So Peter Keane is gone and yes he is, of course, the convenient whipping boy.

But it is time the Kerry players started to look in the mirror too.

The Kerry forwards scored enough points to win that semi-final against Tyrone, if only the defence had not conceded three goals.

Sorry, a winning All-Ireland team is a collective of good work by the County Board, the players and the management.

When a Kerry team loses, each must take a cut of the criticism too.

The Kerry County Board is a well-run, forward-thinking organisation that does a fine job.

Every year it gets a huge fixture programme completed without much hassle.

They also let whoever is in charge of their various county teams to get on with their jobs. They don’t micro-manage.

Yet maybe that’s a failing. Too often in Kerry football of late, the County Board has given jobs to managers of the different teams, Minor, Under-21/20 and Senior, and let them get on with filling their own back-room teams.

Sadly, this has led to friends or former playing colleagues of the successful choice coming in without any special leadership qualities and being promoted way above their abilities.

And that brings me to the players.

While the other two legs of the stool are huge factors in winning an All-Ireland, no County Board official has ever made a match-winning block in an All-Ireland final, no manager has ever kicked the winning point for a ‘Sam.’

The current Kerry squad has had three bad days in three years, firstly the drawn All-Ireland Final of 2019 – that match ought to have been won.

Secondly, there was Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the last minute goal last November and lastly there was the loss to Tyrone last month.

In all three matches, there was a lack of composure, a lack of leadership and poor decision-making when the game was there to be won.

They may have lost only by a point after extra-tme to Tyrone, but so many Kerry players were poor that day that it was almost beyond belief.

Earlier in the year, when Buckley, a man hugely respected by the Kerry players, was jettisoned by Keane as manager, there wasn’t a peep out of them, they accepted his expulsion far too easily.

Ought they have made a stand? It would have shown a bit of fight.

We have talented players, but some need to have a hard look at themselves in the mirror and say ‘where and how can we improve in order to win an All-Ireland?’

I know one place, and it is not actually down to those players.

If the Kerry County Board is asking its under-age development squad bosses to win a Minor All-Ireland each year, they are doing fine.

If what Kerry want of their development squad leaders is to produce top-notch senior players further down the line – no, not so good.

None of Kerry’s five successive All-Ireland minor winners of 2014-18 went on to even contest an All-Ireland Under 21/20 final, never mind win one, three years later.

It’s clear now that to win an All-Ireland, the footballers you need are between 5ft 11in and 6ft 2 in in height, with athletic engines that would allow them to run for Ireland in the 2024 Olympics over 800m if they had trained for that sport – but, crucially, with the football skills to go with it.

Think of Brian Fenton and Brian Howard (Dublin), Conn Kilpatrick and Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone), or Paddy Durcan and Matthew Ruane (Mayo).

Where are their counterparts on the Kerry senior team?

Kerry’s under-age system is producing way too many good, small, tight-marking corner-backs and knacky, score-taking, forwards at minor.

Trouble is, these guys are being blown away four and five years later when they try to mix it with said 6’ft 2in guys at senior.

For a county that has won five All-Ireland minor crowns in recent times, we’ve sent few enough ‘sure things’ forward to the senior manager. Think David Clifford and Seán O’Shea.

From the Dublin minor team of 2014 alone, that didn’t even get to their All-Ireland final, they’ve got Evan Comerford, Eoin Murchan, Howard and Con O’Callaghan.

And finally, in the trio, there is the manager, yes, of course, a huge figure in the county.

Kerry were hobbled a bit before they went looking for a boss.

First off, we have to say that the best pure football coach in Kerry, Pat O’Shea, was not available because he is employed by the Munster Council.

The shrewdest football brain in the county is Eamonn Fitzmaurice and he didn’t want the job.

And when I look around at the managers of the top club sides in Kerry, did I see an inter-county boss. No, sorry, I didn’t.

That may have counted against Stephen Stack in the end. He’s been a club boss, but never an inter-county one.

However, I want to say now what I believe Jack O’Connor manager must be.

He has to be the CEO of a strong, highly-qualified, management team.

Think Jim Gavin with Dublin or John Kiely now with the Limerick hurlers.

The new boss must take communications with the outside world seriously.

Peter Keane’s ‘cute-hoorism’, ‘if you took the goals out of it there was nothing in it’ did not reflect well on himself or the county.

And lastly, I hope that Jack has insisted on a motion going to the Kerry County Board AGM next January, with the full backing of all the officers, allowing him to find his own Stephen Cluxton, Declan Hannon or Brendan Maher, his leader, his captain.

Yet again this year, Kerry’s club-picked captain of 2021, Paul Murphy, was not chosen by management to start the Munster final. It happens way too often – it has to stop.

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