Five things I learned at the Kerry team’s press day
Adam Moynihan was at the Gleneagle Hotel as manager Jack O’Connor, selectors Mike Quirke and Diarmuid Murphy, and centre back Tadhg Morley spoke to the media ahead of the All-Ireland final. Here’s what he discovered.
1. Kerry returned to earth quickly after the Dublin game
You could forgive the players for lingering up in the clouds for a few days after that monumental win a fortnight ago. In fact, speaking post-match, manager Jack O’Connor admitted that it wouldn’t be easy to ground his players following that high.
Tadhg Morley feels the group managed to do just that, however. And quite quickly, too.
“There was the initial release of emotion at the final whistle the last day [against Dublin] but once we came into the dressing room then we calmed things down,” the Templenoe man said. “We spoke about Mayo beating the Dubs last year and then not finishing out the job.
“It was a quick turnaround but Jack and the lads spoke very well. Jack has so much experience. Straight after the match he knew what to say to bring us back down to earth.
“Us talking to Seánie more about his penalty than his free probably helped as well!”
Mike Quirke admitted that management were concerned that last Wednesday’s training session – the team’s first after the Dublin match – would be “a bit down”. It wasn’t.
“That’s a testament to the attitude the players are bringing,” Quirke said.
2. The third quarter is a concern
“We have plenty of holes to pick in the performance [in the semi-final],” O’Connor insisted. “Plenty of holes. Because our performance across the four quarters wasn’t even enough to give you confidence going into a final. I thought our third quarter was poor. We left Dublin back into it.”
Diarmuid Murphy agreed. “In some of the games we haven’t started the second half well. You try to get to the bottom of it, see are there any recurring themes that are emerging, tackle it, and see if we can do better the next day.”
3. The team has placed an emphasis on mental toughness
“When we got a few body blows in that Dublin game, it would have been very for us to capitulate,” O’Connor reflected. “But there was a grim determination to hang in there. I think a lot of that is probably down to the work Tony (Griffin) has done with the boys.”
Morley said that performance coach Griffin has made a “huge difference” since coming on board. “The last few years we never felt we were a million miles away from winning the All-Ireland, even though when you don’t win it, you are.
"We’re only looking for a couple of small percentages here and there. That was a big one, the mental side of the game. The mind is an amazing thing.
“A big thing Tony and Paddy (Tally) spoke about, and we spoke about it as a group ourselves: when the Dubs do have that purple patch or we’re coming down the stretch and it’s really hard, that you don’t shell up, that you don't shy away from it, that you're looking for the ball every single time.
“That was as big thing for us and you really saw it the last day. A few leaders really stood up and everybody followed through then.”
4. Jack has the human touch
After he stepped away from the fold, Kerry defender Shane Enright said he felt he had been left in the dark by Peter Keane. A perceived lack of communication over an unexpected positional change left him frustrated. It appears as though the current manager is taking a different approach.
“In fairness to Jack, he’s a very good man manager,” Morley said. “[When he was appointed] he went around and met all the players around Kerry, which is a really good touch I thought. It showed a good progression and good management skills.”
“One of his greatest strengths is that he’s constantly talking to players,” Quirke added.
“There are some managers who don’t do that. His communication with players is as good as I’ve ever come across. The players know that they can [talk to him]. He’s very open to that kind of stuff. That side of things is very important, that players understand that there’s a personal connection there.”
5. Kerry are trying to avoid ‘loose talk’
Unsurprisingly, some Kerry fans are anticipating an easy win. The Kerry squad are avoiding that kind of rhetoric like the plague.
“That’s why you have to insulate the players as much as possible from the public,” the manager explained.
“This is my eighth or ninth final. I know the pitfalls that are there. Players are in a totally different bubble to supporters. Supporters see All-Ireland finals as occasions with razzmatazz and a great atmosphere and all the rest of it, whereas the players have to divorce themselves, most of the time, from that. They have to understand this is about performing on the big day.”
“We just focus on ourselves and our own jobs and our own training,” Morley said. “Lads stay away from all that kind of talk - that loose kind of talk. We just focus in on what we're trying to do for the Galway game.”
Are Kerry really a one-man team? Let’s take a look at the numbers
Joe Brolly and others have described Kerry as a one-man team. Brolly recently said the All-Ireland champions are “mediocre” and “nothing” without David Clifford.
Let’s analyse the numbers to see just how reliant Kerry are on the reigning Footballer of the Year…
Since making his debut in 2018, Clifford has scored 24 goals and 234 points in his 57 league and championship appearances.
He has registered 20-139 from play, plus four penalties, 85 frees, and 10 marks. He is averaging 5.4 points per game.
So far in 2023 Clifford has scored 47 of Kerry’s 195 points (24.1%). This is slightly down on his percentage from last year (25.2%), although he has missed two games so far compared to one in 2022.
Here are the figures for the previous four years:
2021 Clifford got 63 out of Kerry’s 217 points (29%)
2020 42 out of 186 (28.8%)
2019 36 out of 285 (12.6%)
2018 51 out of 240 (21.3%)
Remarkably, Clifford has scored every single time he has taken to the field.
In recent weeks he has been sensational. He had 2-6 against Clare, 0-8 against Mayo and 1-5 against Cork. Against Mayo in particular, many of his teammates underperformed. This, to a large extent, is what has prompted the debate – although Brolly has called Kerry a one-man team in the past.
His numbers are certainly impressive and he is unquestionably Kerry’s most important player. But how do his stats stack up against those of his rivals, and his own teammates?
We would need to compare Clifford’s data against all the other top forwards to get a full picture but just by way of example, Dean Rock kicked (or fisted) 30.6% of Dublin’s points in 2022. Clifford’s highest ever percentage for a season is 29%.
Shane McGuigan has scored 37.1% of Derry’s points in the 2023 championship. Clifford has notched 34% of Kerry’s total. Does this make Derry a one-man team?
Clifford has scored 50% or more of Kerry’s points in just one of his 57 games. (He got 1-5 out of 1-10 against Galway in 2018.)
In the 2023 All-Ireland group stage alone, this feat has already been achieved by the aforementioned McGuigan, Darren McCurry (Tyrone), Cormac Costello (Dublin) and Oisín Gallen (Donegal).
Clifford has been Kerry’s top scorer in 23 of his 57 games, and joint top scorer in seven. Naturally enough, someone else has been top scorer the other 27 times.
Looking at campaigns as a whole, Clifford has been Kerry’s top marksman in the championship just once, in 2018. (He was also joint top scorer in 2020 as he and Killian Spillane both scored 0-4 in Kerry’s only match.)
Meanwhile, Seán O’Shea has been Kerry’s leading scorer in the championship three times (2019, 2021 and 2022).
Clifford and O’Shea made their debut together in 2018. Their scoring rate is almost identical. O’Shea has scored 338 points in 64 appearances (5.3 points per game) versus Clifford’s 306 points in 57 appearances (5.4 points per game).
O’Shea has scored 25% of Kerry’s points since January 2018. Clifford has scored 22.7%. Clifford is more prolific from play, granted, but if nothing else the percentages clearly show that more than one man is getting the points on the board.
All told, over three-quarters of Kerry’s points during Clifford’s career to date have been scored by his teammates.
Of course, putting the ball over the bar isn’t everything. Clifford also contributes via assists and by drawing defenders’ attention away from his fellow forwards. Unfortunately the assist data is not readily available and the amount of attention he attracts is not easily quantifiable.
Clifford also seems to strike for goals and points at important times. Again, this data is not readily available.
Kerry’s record in games in which David Clifford did not play is surprisingly good. He has missed 10 fixtures. Kerry have won eight of them and lost two.
The Fossa forward is a phenomenal player but several of his teammates are also legitimate stars in their own right. The likes of Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan, Seán O’Shea and Paudie Clifford are elite footballers who would start for most, if not all, other teams in the country.
Kerry’s captain is a generational talent, and he is standing out even more at the moment because a number of his teammates haven’t really been playing to their potential. Kerry have been depending on him more in recent weeks. That much is true.
But you have to question if a one-man team is even possible at this level. For example, as good as Clifford was against Cork, Kerry still needed O’Shea to kick his five points. Jason Foley had an excellent game in defence, keeping the dangerous Brian Hurley scoreless from play.
It’s never really just one guy, even if the highlight reel might suggest otherwise.
Would Kerry win the All-Ireland without Clifford? Probably not. Every team needs their best player, even more so if the player in question is a potential GOAT candidate.
However, when we look at the numbers, and also when we consider the calibre of some of the players around him, it seems unreasonable to say that Kerry would be “nothing” without him.
Kingdom hoping to lay some old ghosts to rest at Páirc Uí Chaoimh
by Adam Moynihan
All-Ireland SFC Group 1
Cork v Kerry
Saturday at 3pm
Páirc Uí Chaoimh
I was one of the unlucky few to have been present at the last Cork-Kerry clash in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in November of 2020. It was a truly awful night.
The match was played behind closed doors which made for an eerie, unsettling atmosphere, and the rain came down harder than I ever remember seeing first-hand.
Unfortunately, Kerry came down hard too. Mark Keane’s last-ditch goal clinched an unexpected victory for the hosts and, just like that, Kerry’s year was over.
It always hurts when your team loses but that one completely floored us all. It was such a horrible way to lose a game and I felt so bad for the players as they trudged off the field, soaked to the bone and shaken to the core.
They got some form of payback the following year when they won by 21 in the Munster final, and again last year when they ran out 11-point winners in the semi-final. But something tells me that it would mean a lot more to return to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and do the business there.
It won’t be easy. The final scorelines in the last two games suggest that it was all one-way traffic but that simply wasn’t the case. In 2021, Cork led by 1-5 to 0-4 at the water break (remember those?) and they pushed Kerry hard 12 months ago too. There was nothing in that match right up until the 50th minute, at which point Kerry brought on David Moran and Paul Geaney and ultimately pulled away.
You can never really read too much into the McGrath Cup but Cork demolished Kerry in January. Their form since has been spotty but they did well to see off Louth last week, with the returning Brian Hurley (shoulder) kicking eight points in a two-point win. Hurley has proved to be a handful for Kerry full back Jason Foley in the past.
Significantly, John Cleary’s side are strong in a key area where Kerry struggled against Mayo: midfield. Ian Maguire and Colm O’Callaghan scored 0-2 each in Navan (and the latter scored 2-4 in that aforementioned McGrath Cup game at the start of the year).
Jack O’Connor named his team last night with Adrian Spillane replacing Tony Brosnan and Paul Murphy coming in for Dylan Casey. Spillane will add some extra brawn and energy around the middle third. Going by the last outing, Kerry need it.
It is also worth noting that David Clifford has never really shot the lights out against Cork. He has been well minded by Maurice Shanley, Seán Meehan and Kevin Flahive in the past three championship meetings, with the retreating Seán Powter also getting stuck in when needed.
Flahive suffered a cruciate injury late in last year’s game but he could potentially be in line for a comeback tomorrow; he has been added to Cork’s 26 for the first time in over 12 months.
Meehan has been ruled out with a hamstring injury so Shanley may be asked to track the Footballer of the Year this time around.
Clifford was one of the few bright sparks against Mayo and he would love to bring that form to the Páirc on Saturday. With vital points on the line, there would be no better time to lay some ghosts to rest.
From a Kerry perspective, you would hope – and perhaps expect – that Clifford and his teammates can do exactly that and get the show back on the road.
1. Shane Ryan
2. Graham O’Sullivan
3. Jason Foley
4. Tom O’Sullivan
5. Paul Murphy
6. Tadhg Morley
7. Gavin White
8. Diarmuid O’Connor
9. Jack Barry
10. Dara Moynihan
11. Seánie O’Shea
12. Adrian Spillane
13. Paudie Clifford
14. David Clifford
15. Paul Geaney
Subs: S Murphy, T Brosnan, D Casey, BD O’Sullivan, R Murphy, M Burns, M Breen, S O’Brien, D O’Sullivan, C O’Donoghue, S O’Brien.
1. Micheál Aodh Martin
2. Maurice Shanley
3. Rory Maguire
4. Kevin O’Donovan
5. Luke Fahy
6. Daniel O’Mahony
7. Matty Taylor
8. Colm O’Callaghan
9. Ian Maguire
10. Brian O’Driscoll
11. Ruairí Deane
12. Killian O’Hanlon
13. Seán Powter
14. Brian Hurley
15. Chris Óg Jones
Subs: P Doyle, C Kiely, T Clancy, K Flahive, P Walsh, E McSweeney, B Murphy, J O’Rourke , M Cronin, S Sherlock, F Herlihy.
New bio-energy therapy clinic open on Beech Road
Have you ever wondered what happens when you deal with an emotionally charged situation or experience high levels of stress...
Spotted an otter lately?
Users of Killarney National Park are being asked to keep an eye out for otters – one of the country’s...
Kerry International Film Festival presents Youth Filmmakers Showcase in Killarney
Kerry International Film Festival (KIFF) will collaborate with SONAR, a Killarney-based youth film group, and ELF (Emerging Limerick Filmmakers) to...
Listry Community Counci honoured Local resident Tony Darmody with the presentation of the O’Shea Award at its recent Annual General...
Killeen House Hotel changes hands
The Killeen House Hotel, an award-winning 23-bedroom hotel in Aghadoe, Killarney, has announced its sale to Killarney businessman Patrick Eviston,...