John Fogarty: Kerry’s patchwork leadership falls apart

John Fogarty: Kerry’s patchwork leadership falls apart
Kerry manager Peter Keane and selector Donie Buckley following last season’s League win over Tyrone. The selector has now left the Kerry set-up. Picture: Stephen McCarthy

And so Kerry’s supergroup is no more. Crosby, Stills and Nash go on, but they do so without Young.

Putting together such an array of talent in the management team was always going to carry risk. For one season they chimed, but it had been a strained relationship and ultimately creative differences broke them up.

As difficult as he found his role changing in recent times (one source claiming he had been ‘frozen out’), Donie Buckley didn’t want to leave. After realising he could no longer work in Jack O’Connor’s team in 2012, he knew he couldn’t jump the Kerry ship for a second time.

Soon after September’s All-Ireland final replay loss to Dublin, there was speculation that his future in the set-up was uncertain. Always regarded as a players’ coach, he was popular with the panel, but that has been held against him at times, in both Kerry and Mayo.

That Peter Keane didn’t have full autonomy over his management team might not have sat well with the Caherciveen man. It wouldn’t with most managers. Who can forget Billy Morgan stepping down as Cork manager 12 years ago in protest at not being allowed to pick his own selectors?

Not that it has ever been confirmed, but it’s widely believed Buckley had been the first name on the management ticket to succeed Éamonn Fitzmaurice. Prospective candidates had been advised that being agreeable to having the Ennis-based man on board as a coach would work in their favour. Keane had no previous with Buckley and retaining existing selector — his fellow clubman and Kerry legend Maurice Fitzgerald — seemed to make sense.

However, as much as he had Tommy Griffin and James Foley from his successful minor management team on board, there was a perception that Keane didn’t have the complete trust to formulate his own group of assistants.

From Páidí Ó Sé in his final season to Jack O’Connor to Pat O’Shea back to O’Connor and then Fitzmaurice, every Kerry manager since 2003 had been able to pick their entire management team.

The timing of Buckley’s exit — days after Kerry faced his old team Mayo — is interesting as well. His ties with the county from those six seasons coaching them remain strong and that cosiness, as sure as Buckley wanted the bragging rights over his old charges any time they clashed, wouldn’t have been to everyone’s liking.

It’s generally accepted that Buckley’s best work is done on the training field more so than during games, where he becomes deeply invested in matches and when perspective is needed. But as Marc Ó Sé pointed out in this newspaper last year, Kerry with Buckley on board conceded an average of just over 13 points total per round game in the 2019 league, in contrast to an average of over 18 points total per game the previous season. This year, and bearing in mind Buckley’s smaller role and that he only returned from his annual trip to the US a month ago, that number is close to 18 again.

There is one school of thought in Kerry that Buckley isn’t such a huge loss. Five times he has been part of a management team that has reached an All-Ireland final and five times his team have failed to win (seven if you include the replays). Dubbing Buckley a bridesmaid is as cynical as regarding him, like the captain wearing the No13 jersey, as something of a Jonah — but when it comes to winning, Kerry don’t do sentiment.

Buckley’s expertise over the past decade has not been understated. However, the recent testimonies in his favour by Seamus Moynihan (“I think Donie Buckley is unbelievable”) and Ó Sé (“I found him outstanding”) lend credence to the argument that Kerry have sacrificed an asset. At a time when there is more room for improvement in the team’s back-line than any other area, you can’t help but feel his defensive work will be sorely missed.

For Keane to believe his own stock is strong enough to absorb the fallout from jettisoning Buckley is a bold move. Every setback from here on in will be regarded in this context. And Keane’s roguish, at other times off-handed attitude with media won’t cut it in addressing the departure of the coach.

It’s believed his first opportunity to address the matter will come in Inniskeen this Sunday when Kerry face Monaghan.

Buckley, on the other hand, has long been media-shy and is not expected to break his public silence.

The onus now on Keane is also felt by the county executive who put together a patchwork management team that was appealing on paper but now has fallen asunder after not even a season and a half.

Kerry and Keane will, as Stephen Stills sang, carry on, but Buckley’s departure is, as Neil Young later wrote, like a hurricane.

Limerick fight for credibility of the league

If Tipperary weren’t going to be beaten by Galway last Sunday, the chances are they would have fallen to Kilkenny or Wexford last Sunday. Coming off the back of a week’s warm weather training, they likely would have been flat as they were in last year’s Division 1 quarter-final against Dublin in the Division 1 quarter-final having come off the plane from Alicante.

Winning the league might have been an aspiration for the county executive and the players but we never detected a similar urgency from manager Liam Sheedy. The two-time All-Ireland winning manager has again stressed the need to be fresh for the Munster SHC and the idea of six hurling league games over six weekends to reach the final, followed by club games, as they undergo more physical training on the Costa Blanca this week was excessive.

Contrast that approach to the Allianz League to Limerick’s who, drawing from the deepest pool of players, have maintained their ‘win every game’ policy under John Kiely. The reigning Division 1 champions have now won their last eight league outings and are unbeaten in their last nine, suffering just two losses in their last 21 AHL matches. Sore after last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny, they have attacked the competition but it is in keeping with what they did last year when they were All-Ireland champions.

However, the need for Cork, Dublin and Tipperary to win just one game to avoid a relegation play-off diminishes the value of the Allianz Hurling League, as has the league format in the provinces these past two seasons. Defend the Liam MacCarthy Cup and Tipperary’s jaundiced view of the league will be shared by others, but should Limerick power on and repeat their 2017 All-Ireland success its credibility might just be restored.

Hooter time? Antrim late league winners reopen clock debate

Another week and another call for the clock/hooter to be implemented, this time from former Offaly forward Brian Carroll as he saw his county lose out on a Division 2A final spot thanks to two additional time goals by Antrim.

“The clock which works so well in women’s football should be trialled in next year’s league,” he told RTÉ. “I just don’t think we are helping referees in general by still having them in control of time-keeping.”

Irrespective that there will invariably be more additional time played in the second half when more stoppages take place due to substitutes and often more injuries, it’s worth remembering that the clock/hooter was voted in twice by Congress only to be later voted out on the basis of Central Competitions Control Committee’s recommendation.

And their reasons for doing so five years ago? “Fouling down the clock”, “negative possession”, “over-analysis” and “deliberate concession of line balls”. How many of those aren’t in the games, particularly Gaelic football, already?

As for the Westmeath-Carlow Allianz Hurling League relegation play-off, organising it for TEG Cusack Park was unfair on Carlow when it was tantamount to a final and so much was riding on it. Westmeath may have played one less home game than Colm Bonnar’s side but no advantage should have been afforded for such a clash.

- Fógra — Deepest sympathies to the family of Frank “John 3:7” Hogan. A fixture in so many people’s memories of GAA matches past.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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