When Kerry were defeated by Down in last seasons All Ireland Senior Football Quarter Final, many within the game felt that we were witnessing the end of an era for one of the greatest teams that ever played the sport. The subsequent success of Cork in the final appeared to suggest that the pendulum had swung in favour of their Munster neighbours. However, twelve months on, Kerry were back in the decider and the natural order looked to have been restored. With yesterday’s defeat to Dublin, pundits are once again questioning this Kerry side.
At first glance, the 2011 defeat appears to spell the end of this great Kingdom team. The warning signs have been present for a couple of seasons and the loss to the Dubs envokes memories of the 1986 final against Tyrone. On that occasion, a wily old Kerry outfit were outplayed by a young and hungry Red Hand side,and were fortunate to claim the spoils. A lack of confidence from the Ulster champions and two moments of genius from Spillane and Sheehy were enough to see the men in green and gold take the honours. A year later, Cork won Munster after a replay and Kerry spent the next decade in the football wilderness.
Had Kerry beaten Dublin in yesterday’s decider a number of players would have most likely called it a day. Worryingly for Jack O’Connor and his management team, the bulk of these footballers are defenders. Tom O’Sullivan and Tommy Griffin were late returning to the panel this year and must surely have played their final games in the Kerry jersey. Both have been tremendous servants to the green and gold over the years and owe their county nothing. Tomas O’ Se is another who has most of his football played and the former Player of the Year could be another casualty. He will not be easily replaced and would be a huge loss should he hang up his boots. Aidan O’Mahony and Eoin Brosnan are two others that must also be on the brink of retirement.
Midfield and forwards appear to be safe, with no player looking likely to retire from the game. However, football is a professional sport in all but name nowadays and the commitment required to compete at the top level is huge. With the future looking a little bleaker for Kerry,it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that an unexpected retirement or two may be announced.
As in the 1980’s, Kerry have failed to find sufficient new players to break into the senior side over the last couple of seasons. The minors and Under-21’s have offered little to the county and the former have failed to claim an All Ireland crown since 1995. The appointment of Micky Ned O’Sullivan to mentor this group is certainly a masterstroke by the county board. However, it is a long term project and could take some years to bear fruit.
Looking at the Kerry bench against Dublin, only Paul Galvin offered any real option for O’Connor and those on the sideline. It was disappointing that management did not feel that they could place their trust in any of the others as the game wore on. Instead, they were forced to reintroduce the substituted Kieran O’Leary as a blood sub. Barry John Keane is perhaps an option,and he did reasonably well when he came on. However, the half forward line of Galvin and the two O’Sullivans look likely to stay for at least another season. Inside them, Cooper and Donaghy have plenty more football to play. O’Leary is the only forward under pressure as things stand.
At midfield, Maher and Sheehan did well in patches on Sunday. Both men have more to offer Kerry and seem certain to remain in 2012. Dr Crokes man Johnny Crowley is a definite alternative for a centre field spot, as is former All Star Seamus Scanlon. Both men have struggled with injury over the last two years, and are high class footballers at their best.
Peter Crowley, Daniel Bohan and Shane Enright lead the charge for places in defence. Crowley has had a difficult year personally but looks a decent prospect and must surely stake a claim during the league. Bohan has been around the panel for the last number of years but has struggled with a back injury. Should he overcome this problem,he is good enough to make the starting fifteen. Enright had a decent league campaign and is close receiving the call-up.
The Geaney brothers from Dingle showed their class in the league last season and are forwards of immense potential. Daithi Casey is another prospect from the Dr Crokes club that can make an impact. David Moran was a huge loss to Kerry in 2011 and will certainly form part of Jack O’Connors long term plans for the Kingdom’s return to power. And what of Tadhg Kennelly? The former Sydney Swan has retired from the Aussie Rules game and while he has decided to remain Down Under, one wouldn’t bet against one last hurrah in the green and gold jersey.
Once the dust has settled on the All Ireland defeat, suddenly the future of Kerry football does not look as bleak as at 5.00 yesterday afternoon. Jack O’Connor may have more options at his disposal than seems the case and the kings of gaelic football may still have one hand on their holy grail.