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100 days of Jack O’Connor

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Our sports editor Adam Moynihan analyses the first 100 days of Jack O'Connor's third spell as Kerry manager.

The McGrath Cup isn’t exactly the acid test – it has been distinctly alkaline so far, truth be told – but Jack O’Connor’s feet are now firmly beneath his desk. It’s hard to believe but he has already put down his first 100 days as Kerry’s manager. I think that gives us the green light to start analysing the poor man to within an inch of his life, as is the custom in these parts.

Kerry have played just two preseason games during O’Connor’s third stint but there is still plenty to pore over. (And if there wasn’t we’d find something, says you.)

THE BEGINNING

Going back as far as Day 1, and even before that, there was significant controversy surrounding his appointment. O’Connor was officially ratified on October 4 but he appeared to publicly flirt with the idea of returning to The Kingdom on an Irish Examiner podcast in August. Some people felt that this was disrespectful to Peter Keane – Kerry had just been knocked out of the championship by Tyrone - and O’Connor later admitted that his comments were “naïve”.

However, I wouldn’t personally go along with this idea that Jack O’Connor ought to have been more mindful of Peter Keane in this situation. The two were competitors in a very competitive field and Keane was technically no longer the Kerry manager after the Tyrone defeat because his term was up. If a journalist asks Jack O’Connor if there is an “allure”, why should he lie and say there isn’t?

The interview process that followed drew sharp criticism in some quarters, particularly amongst Keane supporters, because there was a perception that O’Connor was the preferred candidate before he, Keane and Stephen Stack were interviewed. So what if he was? Complete impartiality is impossible in this kind of scenario. The candidates are known to the board, so some sort of bias is inevitable.

That doesn’t mean they were wrong to meet with Keane and Stack. If Keane was turfed out without getting the chance to make his case, his supporters would have been livid over that as well. There is no nice way to lose a job, particularly one that is as prestigious and coveted as the Kerry gig.

Off The Ball AM went one step further and, quoting an unnamed source, alleged that O’Connor had been hired even before the interview process had started. If true, that would have been a different story. That would be completely unfair and a real slap in the face for Keane and Stack and their respective teams. But the accusations were denied in the strongest terms by outgoing chair Tim Murphy, and OTB AM later apologised for their “groundless, false, and incorrect” claims.

The bottom line, when you sidestep all the politics and gossip, is that Keane was given a three-year term and Kerry were knocked out of the championship by underdogs in Years 2 and 3. No Kerry manager has ever survived such a sequence. There was appetite for change and the board acted.

Only time will tell if they made the right decision by opting for Jack O’Connor. He will be judged by his results, just like every Kerry bainisteoir before him.

LEAVING KILDARE

O’Connor faced some more understandable criticism over the manner in which he left his previous post in Kildare. From the outside looking in, it did appear as though he left them high and dry, but he subsequently explained that he hadn’t actually committed to The Lilywhites for 2022. In fact, he had “more or less” made his mind up that he would be standing aside.

“This thing that I left Kildare because I was asked to manage Kerry or that it was a done deal is absolute and total nonsense,” the Dromid man said. The commute was taking its toll and his management team had largely disbanded.

Even if he had another year with Kildare in the tank, the reality is that no Kerry-born intercounty manager is going to turn down Kerry if the opportunity arises.

CALL-UPS

Now, down to the real business of assembling a squad. Whereas previous regimes were condemned for sometimes overlooking players who were performing well for their clubs, O’Connor has taken a different approach.

Three Austin Stacks players – Dylan Casey, Jack O’Shea and Greg Horan – were drafted in on the back of the Rockies’ heroics in the County Championship. Two more of last season’s most eye-catching club players, Andrew Barry and Jack Savage, were also added to the panel.

Dan O’Donoghue and Darragh Roche both starred for East Kerry in their title-winning campaigns in 2019 and 2020. One could argue that they both might have been looked at sooner.

Elsewhere, goalkeeper Shane Murphy was recalled after being dropped by Peter Keane in 2018. Shane Ryan has done well over the past three seasons but there has been a nagging feeling in the county that Murphy and his unique attributes, particularly when kicking from the tee, might merit a recall. Clearly, Jack O’Connor is of the same mind.

There is also great excitement amongst Kerry fans surrounding the return of Stefan Okunbor. The former Geelong Cats player had made just a couple of appearances for Na Gaeil and St Brendan’s when O’Connor’s first panel was drawn up, but Okunbor was included anyway. He started at midfield in the first McGrath Cup game against Limerick and his eye-catching fetch from the throw-in left those of a green and gold persuasion rubbing their hands with glee.

THE KERRY WAY

There’s no denying that we consider ourselves to be the aristocrats of Gaelic football down here in Kerry. We demand that our senior footballers play the “Kerry way”. This “traditional” style of attack apparently includes plenty of kicking and catching, conveniently ignoring the fact that our best ever team was built around the handpass.

Nevertheless, we do enjoy a fast, direct game, and if the opening two matches in the McGrath Cup are anything to go by, Jack O’Connor intends to deliver on that front.

So far it has been an obvious tactic to get the ball into the hands of the team’s best passers – Paudie Clifford, Seán O’Shea and nominal corner back Tom O’Sullivan – and allow them to spray long, accurate passes into the full forward line.

O’Sullivan in particular appears to be operating as a free man and playmaker, taking advantage of the fact that most opponents drop an extra player back in defence.

This tactic has worked so far with Paul Geaney and Killian Spillane reaping the rewards in the opening preseason fixtures. That has certainly been encouraging. Whether or not the approach will continue to function as well when things get serious remains to be seen.

PLAYER WELFARE

One of the biggest talking points from O’Connor’s first 100 days arrived on the 100th day itself. Last Wednesday night up in Templetuohy, Co. Tipperary, Tony Brosnan and Jack Savage entered the fray as second-half substitutes. The problem? They had lined out earlier that same day for MTU Kerry in their Sigerson Cup victory over UCD. Another MTU Kerry player, Paul O’Shea, was also named on the Kerry panel, but he did not feature against Tipp.

O’Connor’s decision to play Brosnan and Savage just hours after they had finished another match in a different county was rightly called into question. After all, player welfare is a hot button topic and surely there is no shortage of footballers in the county who would be delighted to receive a call-up.

There were mitigating factors, though. Kerry were missing 14 players due to club and college commitments. Without the MTU Kerry trio, they would have travelled to Tipperary with just 20 players. While it should be possible to find replacements, even at short notice, perhaps O’Connor was keen to keep the circle small, so to speak. Particularly with Covid so rampant.

The Kerry boss also indicated that the players were left to decide for themselves if they wanted to play. You might say, well, a fella scrapping to get on the Kerry team is hardly going to say “no”, and that’s a fair enough point to make. Who knows, maybe O’Connor was testing the players to see if they were willing to go above and beyond?

Either way, it’s not something I’d like to see happening again, although in this instance there was no harm done.

GOOD VIBES

By and large, O’Connor has made popular choices up to this point and the mood on the street is positive. Victory over Cork on Saturday in front of a healthy home crowd will add to those good vibes, and with that in mind he is likely to name a strong starting lineup.

But, as the man himself knows all too well, the temperature will gradually increase over the next 100 days or so. O’Connor’s third coming will ultimately be judged in the boiling heat of championship action.

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Lough Lein anglers enjoy annual charity day 

It’s always a popular event, and Sunday was no different for the members of the Lough Lein Anglers Association. The Killarney club, one of the longest established fishing clubs in Ireland, […]

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It’s always a popular event, and Sunday was no different for the members of the Lough Lein Anglers Association.

The Killarney club, one of the longest established fishing clubs in Ireland, held their 34th annual charity open fly fishing competition known simply as ‘The Charity’.

It’s part of the angling tradition in the club and is always the most popular event on the fly fishing calendar in Ireland.

Spearheaded by Timo O’Sullivan, to date the anglers have raised in excess of €229,000 for deserving charities in Kerry and Cork. The main sponsor of the event is Lee Strand Co-op, Tralee.

This year’s deserving beneficiaries are the Kerry Hospice Foundation and The Saoirse Foundation – BUMBLEance.

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‘What Louise said was bang on’ – Kerry ladies back Ní Mhuircheartaigh in facilities row

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by Adam Moynihan

The Kerry ladies are “100%” behind Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh following her comments about the team’s limited access to Kerry GAA’s Centre of Excellence in Currans.

Ní Mhuircheartaigh caused a stir late last week when she revealed that she and her teammates have not been allowed to train at the state-of-the-art facility, which is owned and operated by the men’s county board.

Kerry’s star forward described the lack of access as “annoying”, especially considering the fact that a large photograph of her adorns the entrance to the facility.

Speaking exclusively to this journalist on The Kerry Football Podcast, Ní Mhuircheartaigh’s teammate Kayleigh Cronin confirmed that the whole team are on the same page on this issue.

“I think what Louise said was bang on and we all 100% agree with it,” Cronin said.

“She was put in a bit of a tough position being asked about it, but what she got off her chest is 100% what the team feels. And I can say with certainty that I can speak on behalf of not only all the girls in the dressing room but the backroom team and management as well in saying that what Louise has said is all of our opinions.

“What’s said is said now. We’ll leave it out there for everyone else to be thinking about and to be talking about. Hopefully the county boards can sort it out between themselves. As far as we’re concerned, that’s us done with it.”

In the wake of Ní Mhuircheartaigh’s comments, Kerry GAA released a statement via Balls.ie:

“Kerry GAA have been in discussions with the Kerry LGFA in relation to their use of the Centre of Excellence facilities in Currans and the future development of one of the two undeveloped pitches in the complex for specific use by the Kerry LGFA and Kerry Camogie

“The Kerry LGFA have been accommodated with training facilities at the Centre of Excellence over the past number of years and this will continue to be the case.

“We look forward to working in close collaboration with Kerry LGFA to bring our collective future development plans to fruition.”

Dr Crokes star Cronin says she and her teammates are “absolutely” keen to see that happen.

“We had the pleasure of being in there prior to COVID. It’s an unbelievable facility. It’s obviously very central as well. So hopefully, fingers crossed, the county boards can work together and get the pitch in good nick, so that not only we can use it but the underage teams as well.

“It would be great to have a base to go from in the future.”

Cronin added that team are now focussing on Saturday’s Munster final against Cork, which takes place before the men’s final at 12.15pm in the Fitzgerald Stadium.

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