De­vel­op­ment gains a beacon

Ex­pert anal­y­sis from All-Ire­land win­ner Sean O’Sul­li­van

The Kerryman (North Kerry) - - SPORT - Twit­ter: @SeanTheBawn

IN 2014, when Kerry ended a 20year wait for All Ire­land glory at mi­nor level, the feel­ing around the county was that this was only the be­gin­ning of a pe­riod of dom­i­nance the likes of which would be the envy of the coun­try.

It’s typ­i­cal of Kerry foot­ball peo­ple in a way. Young Liam Kear­ney from Spa had hardly lifted the Tom Markham Cup above his head when we started ask­ing what next year’s mi­nors were like?!

Hav­ing just started coach­ing with the county de­vel­op­ment squads I knew the an­swer to that. The an­swer was that it would take a very good team to stop Kerry not only the fol­low­ing year but, in­deed, for a few years to come.

I had no doubt hav­ing seen up close the tal­ent com­ing through that we would be the county to beat, and it is no sur­prise that on Sun­day Kerry aim to make it four All Ire­lands on-the-trot.

What makes it even more re­mark­able is the turnover of play­ers each year. Yes, of course, there will al­ways be a hand­ful of young men who play two years mi­nor, but it still means that the man­age­ment have to build and gel a new side to­gether each sea­son, and for Jack O’Con­nor and Peter Keane to do that so suc­cess­fully is tes­ta­ment to them, their man­age­ment teams and, of course, the play­ers.

On that same Sun­day in 2014, our se­nior team claimed the big­gest prize of all. The feel good fac­tor walk­ing out of Croke Park that day was some­thing I hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced since my play­ing days.

Ev­ery con­ver­sa­tion I had with a Kerry sup­porter for the rest of that bril­liant evening in Dublin al­ways ended the same way.

“And our mi­nors won too! There is no stop­ping us now.”

Maybe we have been caught up in this wave of mi­nor suc­cess that we now can’t see the woods from the trees. Maybe we are be­ing too im­pa­tient.

The mi­nor teams that have tasted glory in 2014, 2015 and 2016 have been lit­tered with tal­ent and with those years be­ing dis­ap­point­ing from a se­nior level per­spec­tive we have tended to cling on to the dream that th­ese young guys will be the next crop of le­gends to lead us to se­nior All Ire­lands. Now be­lieve that they will….in time.

Re­mem­ber, that win­ning team from 2014 back-boned by the likes of Brian Ó Beaglaioch, Barry O’Sul­li­van, Micheál Burns and Kil­lian Spil­lane are all now still only 20 or 21 years of age.

They may have a lot of foot­ball ex­pe­ri­ence, but they are still young men. Many of them are still de­vel­op­ing phys­i­cally, but this is def­i­nitely an area where Kerry must look at as I feel we are fall­ing be­hind other coun­ties.

I re­ally feel that we need to take a closer look at what hap­pens with th­ese play­ers when they move from mi­nor to Un­der 20 in terms of their strength and con­di­tion­ing. Our sys­tem seems to be fall­ing down some­where and un­less it is cor­rected now it will con­tinue to hin­der us go­ing for­ward.

Th­ese young play­ers are be­ing called into Kerry se­nior train­ing or in for prac­tice games and even though they are qual­ity play­ers they are se­verely lack­ing

Iwhen it comes to the level of strength and fit­ness needed to firstly com­pete and then to pros­per in a se­nior squad en­vi­ron­ment. I know peo­ple will be read­ing this think­ing that I want us to turn into a team of mon­strous men who can’t kick the ball 30 yards. That’s not the case, but just look at the de­mands now of the mod­ern game in terms of fit­ness lev­els, the stamina re­quired to not only per­form run af­ter run and the strength needed to tackle or to hold off a marker when you are go­ing to get a ball.

We are fall­ing be­hind I’m afraid and it’s hurt­ing us at the top level. Th­ese young play­ers come out of mi­nor and most of them head to col­lege where a coach might give them a pro­gram to fol­low while their county coach is hand­ing them an­other one.

Are they fall­ing be­tween two stools try­ing to serve too many mas­ters and end­ing up do­ing noth­ing or worse, do­ing too much? It’s an area of con­cern that I hope will be looked at and rec­ti­fied. Right now, how­ever, that is no con­cern of Peter Keane and his charges as they head off to do bat­tle on Sun­day with Derry. There is no doubt that the cur­rent crop of mi­nors are as good if not bet­ter than what has gone be­fore them, but I also feel that in Derry, this is the tough­est op­po­si­tion any of our win­ning sides will have faced.

They put in an out­stand­ing de­fen­sive dis­play against a much fan­cied Dublin team in their semi-fi­nal and cou­pled with a hard run­ning game when go­ing for­ward and the Ul­ster cham­pi­ons make for one tough propo­si­tion.

One area of their play that re­ally im­pressed me was their ac­cu­racy from frees. Lor­can McWil­liams, Pa­trick Quigg and Ben McCar­ron are all ex­cel­lent dead ball tak­ers so I’m sure Kerry will have worked on lim­it­ing the amount of frees they give away in the fi­nal third.

An­other as­pect that Kerry will have to be aware of is the strength of this Derry panel. They in­tro­duced all six subs against Dublin and to a man they all played their part in get­ting this team to their first mi­nor fi­nal since 2007.

Kerry, though, must feel that if they can pro­duce the level of foot­ball that we know they can then it will take a real top drawer dis­play from Derry to beat them. I have had the plea­sure of work­ing with a lot of th­ese young men and the one thing I can say about them is that they al­ways de­liver on the big day.

They will need to and they know they will. The stand-out per­former, of course, has been David Clif­ford. His per­for­mances speak for them­selves but you can be sure he will be in for some close at­ten­tion from the Derry backs.

That’s when other guys need to step up and be the hero and there are plenty on this team who can do that.

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