Keane will be judged by win­ning All-Ire­lands

Paul Brennan con­sid­ers the ap­point­ment of Peter Keane as Kerry foot­ball man­ager and says he will be judged by just one thing: All-Ire­land ti­tles

The Kerryman (Tralee Edition) - - SPORT -

Iwas asked last Thurs­day if the Kerry County Com­mit­tee had got the right man in Peter Keane. My re­ply was that they had got a man­ager, but only time would tell if they got the right man­ager. And there is only one cri­te­rion by which that will be judged: All-Ire­land ti­tles.

Like ev­ery other man­ager of the Kerry se­nior foot­ball team be­fore him, and those to come af­ter, Peter Keane will be deemed a suc­cess if he wins All-Ire­land Cham­pi­onship and he’ll be con­sid­ered a fail­ure if he doesn’t. That might seem harsh, but such is the height­ened level of ex­pec­ta­tion in Kerry - rightly or wrongly - that de­liv­er­ing the Sam Maguire Cup to the King­dom is the only met­ric that mat­ters.

Keane, the 47-year busi­ness­man from Ca­her­siveen, will know this bet­ter than most, and what­ever num­ber of sea­sons he stays in the po­si­tion he will be un­der pres­sure to main­tain the un­bro­ken chain of All-Ire­land win­ning man­agers stretch­ing back from his im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor, Ea­monn Fitz­mau­rice, through Jack O’Con­nor and Pat O’Shea to Páidí Ó Sé.

That pres­sure to de­liver will be fur­ther height­ened by the ex­pec­ta­tion that five All-Ire­land win­ning mi­nor teams should be build­ing to­ward in­evitable suc­cess at se­nior level, not­with­stand­ing the gen­eral ac­cep­tance that Kerry have con­sid­er­able ground to make up on a five-in-a-row chas­ing Dublin team that shows lit­tle sign of slow­ing down.

Fitz­mau­rice will be the first man to give a wry smile when it is sug­gested that Keane must be af­forded some time and lat­i­tude to bed into the po­si­tion, but the hon­ey­moon pe­riod will be short, and the learn­ing curve steep for the St Marys man who hasn’t been in­volved in any way in a se­nior in­ter-county man­age­ment team.

In sim­ple em­pir­i­cal terms, the Kerry se­nior team is start­ing the 2019 sea­son a long way off the top level. A fifth place fin­ish in Divi­sion One of the Na­tional League was fol­lowed by a dis­ap­point­ing Cham­pi­onship, which ended with a medi­ocre ‘Su­per-8’ run. That the four teams that headed Kerry in the fi­nal League stand­ings were the same four teams that made the All-Ire­land semi-fi­nals sug­gests that Kerry are firmly back in the gen­eral pack of chal­lengers to Dublin. And yet it is still widely felt that Kerry is the team that seems best equipped to de­throne Dublin: whether or not that can be in 2019 is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter al­to­gether.

For good or ill, also, there will be an im­plicit pres­sure on all con­cerned to try to stop Dublin from achiev­ing that five-in-a-row. While there is a gen­eral ac­cep­tance - even re­spect - in Kerry that Dublin are op­er­at­ing on a dif­fer­ent and en­chant­ing level al­to­gether - it would go deep and hard on the Kerry psy­che if Dublin do next Septem­ber what Kerry failed to do back in 1982.

Keane will be aware of that ap­palling vista too, but they de­sire to de­throne Dublin shouldn’t de­rail this new man­age­ment team from the longer game. In­so­far as it can be palat­able, a 2020 tar­get for an All-Ire­land ti­tle might be more rea­son­able than next year, although that’s not to say Kerry can­not go out and cap­ture the Sam Maguire in 11 months time.

Nev­er­the­less, pa­tience will be pleaded for - by Keane and by the County Board ex­ec­u­tive - but as Fitz­mau­rice found out to his cost, that’s a virtue in short sup­ply in this county. And yet ev­ery­one con­cerned - Keane and his man­age­ment, the ex­ec­u­tive and clubs, and, per­haps most im­por­tantly, the sup­port­ers - will have to de­cide sooner rather than lat­ter what can be deemed a ‘suc­cess­ful’ 2019.

As ever, stay­ing up in Divi­sion One is a given, while a League fi­nal or even a League ti­tle would be a bonus, and would give Keane some early cur­rency with which to sell his big­ger vi­sion. Be­yond that a Mun­ster Cham­pi­onship ti­tle should be very achiev­able, if for no other rea­son that there’s hardly a se­ri­ous chal­lenger among the other five coun­ties. But it’s July and Au­gust that will de­fine Keane’s first sea­son and an All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal will be the min­i­mum re­quire­ment to keep the na­tives from get­ting rest­less.

Per­haps what will qual­ify Keane’s first year as a suc­cess more than sil­ver­ware and raw re­sults, how­ever, will be the way Kerry are set up, how the team plays, and how as­sured the new man­age­ment team look in what they are do­ing and try­ing to achieve. To that end the ad­di­tion of Donie Buck­ley in a coach­ing role seems a key ap­point­ment, and while Keane and Tommy Grif­fin can jus­ti­fi­ably say they know a thing or two about set­ting up their teams in the right way, Buck­ley, cru­cially, brings se­nior in­ter-county nous to the ta­ble.

James Fo­ley trans­fer­ring across from the Mi­nor team man­age­ment strength­ens Keane’s hand fur­ther, and that trio of Keane, Grif­fin and Fo­ley will have to have ut­ter con­vic­tion in ev­ery­thing they at­tempt to do.

Mau­rice Fitzger­ald is on board too, and in ev­ery sense it makes sense. Keane is go­ing to have to win and im­press the dress­ing-room from day one and Fitzger­ald - a St Marys club mate - will be a good ally in that re­gard.

If, in year one, Keane can sta­bilise the de­fence - which by any met­ric per­formed well be­low what would be ex­pected from a Kerry team - and show that a well-con­di­tioned and coached team and squad is be­ing built for the fu­ture it would prob­a­bly be con­sid­ered a good year’s work.

Of course, there is and will be much more to do than just that. When us­ing Dublin as the barom­e­ter it might be ar­gued that the Kerry play­ers weren’t as fit and as well con­di­tioned as they needed to be, and that early S&C work and gym work - win­ter train­ing, es­sen­tially - will be cru­cial to how the team per­forms next sea­son and in sub­se­quent years. The im­mi­nent ap­point­ment of an S&C prac­ti­tioner will be a cru­cial one.

In terms of style of play Keane will have to marry the prag­matic and the ro­man­tic. There’s a gen­eral ac­cep­tance now that any no­tion of Kerry teams play­ing some ro­man­tic ver­sion of ‘catch and kick’ is long gone, and it won’t be lost on Keane that Kerry’s last All-Ire­land ti­tle win came on the back of a most un-Kerry 70 min­utes of foot­ball in the 2014 fi­nal against Done­gal.

In this brave new world of Gaelic foot­ball prag­ma­tism is win­ning out. Even this Dublin team un­der Gavin has mor­phed and adapted and shape-shifted year on year to stay ahead of the pack.

What those last three Mi­nor Cham­pi­onship have shown is that Keane can pre­pare a team very well, set them up to play at­trac­tive and open, yet prag­matic and struc­ture foot­ball.

He has also shown to be a shrewd man­ager on the side­line, and that was never more in ev­i­dence that in this year’s All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal and fi­nal against Mon­aghan and Gal­way re­spec­tively when Kerry fell be­hind and the man­age­ment and play­ers had to re­act ac­cord­ingly.

Of course, who Keane brings for­ward from those last five mi­nor teams will be cru­cial to his and the county’s suc­cess over the next few years, even though there’s no guar­an­tee that five Tommy Markham Cups can be melted down to fash­ion a Sam Maguire in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture.

But that’s the thing: the last time the Sam Maguire win­tered in Kerry was the first year the Tom Markham Cup came back to the King­dom in 20 years. ‘Baby Sam’ has been a per­ma­nent fix­ture here since, with Keane guid­ing the county to the last three of those All-Ire­land Mi­nor ti­tles. Now Kerry folk are get­ting be­yond rest­less for Baby Sam to grow up and come back to the county in its big form.

Peter Keane’s cre­den­tials are good and he has gath­ered good foot­ball men around him but noth­ing less than the de­liv­ery of ‘the can­nis­ter’ will be of any use.

WITH only three coun­ties - and not Kerry - tak­ing part in the 2018 McGrath Cup it re­mains to be seen if the in­ter­est is still there for the pre-League Mun­ster com­pe­ti­tion to go ahead in 2019.

With the Na­tional League now start­ing in late Jan­uary the win­dow for the McGrath Cup has tight­ened con­sid­er­ably, but Peter Keane will have to give some thought as to whether or not it would be ben­e­fi­cial for Kerry to take part.

Keane will have his pre-sea­son fit­ness pro­gramme well un­der­way by Christ­mas, but will he want to run the rule over his play­ers in some sort of com­pet­i­tive match en­vi­ron­ment or keep his early work in-house at Cur­rans with maybe a chal­lenge match or two?

The McGrath Cup isn’t the best hot-house but it would give new play­ers an early chance to wear the jer­sey in a more for­giv­ing en­vi­ron­ment that the Na­tional League. DONAGHY, Walsh and Maher might have done Keane a huge favour in step­ping away from the panel be­fore the new man­age­ment had to push them. It would have been un­for­tu­nate if Keane had to cut such re­spected fig­ures from the pic­ture, but if he feels the time has passed for cer­tain play­ers then he has to feel he can cull some peo­ple from the panel with­out a pub­lic back­lash.

As with any new man­ager, Keane will have his own ideas about bring­ing in new play­ers who weren’t in­volved last year and that in­vari­ably means let­ting oth­ers go.

Even if the fi­nances al­lowed for an ever ex­pand­ing panel of play­ers, from the man­age­ment’s point of view they will want to keep the group rea­son­ably tight and man­age­able.

It’s likely that by the end of the League a few more fa­mil­iar faces will be gone, as will be Keane’s right. HAV­ING man­aged the last three All-Ire­land win­ning mi­nor teams there will be an ex­pec­ta­tion on Keane to bring through sev­eral of those younger play­ers. It should be re­alised, how­ever, that it will be, for the most part, the 2014, 2015 and 2016 mi­nor teams that will be feed­ing into the se­nior squad in 2019.

David Clif­ford, Sean O’Shea, Gavin White, Ja­son Fo­ley and Micheal Burns have al­ready come off that par­tic­u­lar pro­duc­tion line, and Keane will surely have strong ideas on who else has the po­ten­tial to step up to se­nior level, even though they won’t be the fin­ished prod­uct.

As­sim­i­lat­ing the next batch of those mi­nors will be a cor­ner­stone of Keane’s time in charge, and ir­re­spec­tive of how much or lit­tle they con­trib­uted this year, re­plac­ing Donaghy, Walsh, Maher and oth­ers will be no easy task. WE re­cently wrote about the pros and cons of the way the Kerry team cap­tain is se­lected in this county, and while tra­di­tion is all well and good it pos­si­bly won’t serve Peter Keane as well as it should go­ing into his first year.

Din­gle and Kerins O’Rahillys will like to think they will have a say in the mat­ter, but the like­li­hood is the county cham­pi­ons will be Dr Crokes or East Kerry. That means the cap­tain will prob­a­bly be one of Fionn Fitzger­ald, Shane Mur­phy, Micheal Burns or David Clif­ford. (Johnny Buck­ley may or may not be a Kerry player next year.) All fine play­ers but all in­ex­pe­ri­enced (bar Fitzger­ald), when Keane would want a strong voice to cap­tain the team.

Lead­ers will al­ways come to the fore, but the op­tics of hav­ing the right man as cap­tain and the way of do­ing so is some­thing Keane might want see changed on his watch.

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