Joe Kernan: Fallen Kerry in need of young blood
Time waits for no man. In many aspects of life, we often tend to postpone the inevitable, sometimes with distressing results.
So it is in sport. Too many birthdays both on an individual and collective basis can often prove a stumbling block to progress and can lead to sentiment rather than current form influencing selection decisions.
Different team managers approach this particular element of their team’s make-up in their own way, some preferring to grasp the nettle early while others delay taking what in most cases is essential remedial action.
That’s why today a number of county bosses find themselves at a crossroads while others have already followed the finger-post that indicates a firm route ahead.
Kerry’s loss to Cork in last Sunday’s Munster football championship semi-final not only jettisoned their prospects of winning the provincial title but underlined the fact that some players are approaching — and in the case of one or two — have gone past their sell-by date.
When you consider how society has changed and then ponder the massive commitment that is required from inter-county players, you are left to wonder how players like Marc O Se, Tomas O Se, Aidan O’Mahoney, Seamus Scanlon, Paul Galvin, Kieran Donaghy, Colm Cooper and Declan O’Sullivan can retain their appetite for success year on year.
It is perhaps a measure of Kerry’s current vulnerability that an injury to Bryan Sheehan, a bit player for several years in attack before becoming a regular up front and subsequently transferring his talents to the midfield zone, became a salient factor in their defeat by Conor Counihan’s side.
This clearly underlined that Kerry, for all their success, do not currently possess the strength in depth that is required to go the full distance nor, worse still, do they appear to have the emerging talent so necessary to bolster a squad. No wonder manager Jack O’Connor looks perplexed — he has some big decisions to make and the sooner they are arrived at, the better. Now contrast Kerry’s situation with that of Tyrone and Armagh. The Red Hands won the Ulster Championship tie against the orchard county last Sunday and deservedly so.
They achieved this with Ronan McNabb performing at No 10 in a manner of which Brian Dooher himself would be proud, with Peter Harte cementing his reputation as a polished link man between defence and attack and with Colm Cavanagh confirming that he can follow in the footsteps of his currently injured brother Sean by becoming a great rather than remaining a good midfielder.
Even more encouraging from a Tyrone perspective was the performance of their Minor side who chalked up 4-11 against Armagh’s 0-19.
Mark Bradley was the name on everyone’s lips after he scored 2-7, Sean Hackett proved an elusive poacher by snaffling 1-2, Sean Molloy looks the real deal at midfield and James McGahan gave considerable emphasis to the ‘supersub’ tag by pilfering 1-2 at a crucial stage of the game.
These individual contributions will not have gone unnoticed by Mickey Harte, a man noted for his forensic attention to detail.
Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke has no cause for wringing his hands after his team’s defeat either.
Even though Armagh fell at this formidable hurdle, Jamie Clarke showed that he will be a fixture in the attack for years to come, Caolan Rafferty displayed a remarkable coolness on the ball for a debutant, Aidan Forker will take considerable heart from his first-half performance and Gavin McParland is surely destined to become a regular rather than an adornment on the bench.
O’Rourke will now see the forthcoming qualifiers as a platform on which to nurture his youthful resources and in the process further develop a side that won considerable plaudits even in defeat at the weekend.
Both Harte and O’Rourke have had to make big decisions in terms of assembling their present sides, the former’s being forced upon him to a certain extent because of retirements while the latter’s emanated from one particularly high-profile — and somewhat unexpected — retirement and a marked need for an overall reconstruction of his attack.
Tyrone may have gained promotion in the league while Armagh suffered relegation but while their journeys differed in this context, they are very much on the one road in preparing for the future.
Kerry boss O’Connor on the other hand is still putting his trust in old soldiers and while there is no doubt that they still possess skill, guile and pride, it is difficult to see how their levels of absolute commitment, stamina and ambition can remain at the highest level.
It is perhaps time for change yet O’Connor is not exactly spoiled for choice in terms of his reserve resources. This does not mean of course that the Kingdom can be counted out at this juncture — far from it. It just suggests that their much-needed makeover may take a little longer and prove rather more painful.