Development gains a beacon
Expert analysis from All-Ireland winner Sean O’Sullivan
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.