COLM COOPER: Lethal duo must fire for Kerry

Kerry should be putting the foot down against Cork at every opportunity, writes Colm Cooper.


The balance of the team isn’t right. How often has that been advanced as the reason a manager can’t get his unit to fire properly?

I’m not sure everyone appreciates its full importance. You’ll seldom rise above mediocre with a team of Steady Eddies, and they’ll get nowhere with a group of kamikazes. There must always be players who bring the spark, but more important are the combinations between players that ignite a team, particularly a forward line.

I would say the cohesiveness of his attacking unit has been one of Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s main teasers in the lead up to tomorrow’s Munster final.

Within that forward division there are key combinations. For Kerry, the primary one is James O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney, two pure finishers. It looks like an inside pairing made in scoring heaven but both are number one forwards, and playing second fiddle to someone isn’t in their DNA.

Because James and Paul are very much front and centre with Legion and Dingle respectively, they are used to being leaned upon for six to eight scores a game and they thrive off that. But Kerry is a different examination to Dingle or Legion.

They’re not selfish players by any means, but they are leaders of the Kerry forward line, and sometimes there’s more to that than keeping the umpires and their flags occupied. Are they thinking ‘how can I make something happen for the team’ or ‘the lads need to feed me more’?

In the 2014 All-Ireland final, Paul Geaney goaled after a minute, but James O’Donoghue’s contribution out the field that day against Donegal was critical, even though he never scored. Three years later, the pair have only played 10 times together in championship. It’s a work in progress, but if they don’t find the connection this summer, ultimately Kerry won’t go on and win the All-Ireland.

When it comes to the sharp end of business, the big teams will have someone to shut down the key forward. I’ve gone into games where I might have only scored 0-1 from play but felt I played really well, whether that was making something happen for someone else or opening up a channel.

That’s the next evolution, not just in James and Paul’s game, but for the entire Kerry forward line. The challenge for Éamonn Fitzmaurice is to get that balance in his attack that means Kerry can go and win games when they are not in sparkling form, but they can prevail because of their attacking smarts.

We all know Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue can shoot the lights out if it’s one v one and if the ball in is quick and deadly. It’s finding the cohesiveness.

James O’Donoghue had a very good outing in Ennis but tomorrow is a big day for him. Nobody doubts his talent but it’s the consistency of playing he has missed since being player of the year in 2014. With all respects to Clare, doing well in Ennis and performing when the stakes are at their highest are two very different things.

He might admit that his confidence took a bit of a bashing when he was missing and injured. There hasn’t been a whole lot to report on James since 2014. He started with Kerry in the league this season but missed the latter stages.

A good afternoon against Cork will copper-fasten James’ belief in himself. He will do things naturally. When it’s stop-start, you are always trying to find form. And a player trying to find form never really has the full benefit of form.

Importantly he got a lot of Legion game-time in the first couple of rounds of the county championship. That was crucial for his self-belief. It might seem an odd thing to say about him, but James can’t thrive on confidence if he doesn’t have any and you can’t get confidence when you are not playing.

I use the examples of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez at Liverpool. Sturridge needs to play. His confidence looks brittle when he comes on and he can’t seem to get a run of games together. James is a townie forward, he’s streaky, he can take fellas on, he has that little bit of arrogance which I like in fellas. Luis Suarez has it.

He’s a gunslinger. Every time he goes out, he brings the good stuff, the stuff some people don’t like because they possibly don’t understand.

To elevate himself to the next level, James O’Donoghue has to be playing consistently. I’m not saying he must go out and shoot nine points, I am saying consistently play. If he can do that, he can form a really strong partnership with Paul Geaney.

Streaky forwards thrive on being good, their self-confidence surges. I knew travelling up to Ennis that James just needed anything to kick start him, and he got much more than that. Tomorrow he mightn’t contribute so much on the scoreboard, but I am looking for something that shows me this guy is back properly, back in his pomp.

 Éamonn Fitzmaurice needs to get the balance of his attack right to ensure Kerry can win games when they are not at their best.
Éamonn Fitzmaurice needs to get the balance of his attack right to ensure Kerry can win games when they are not at their best.

There was a nice bit of work to be getting on with for Kerry after the semi-final in Ennis. David Moran was missing that day. Moran going well for Kerry is one of the necessities they need to produce to go all the way to the Hogan Stand.

Only Brendan Kealy or Brian Kelly can say whether they prefer Moran to work with on kickouts but things looked out of sync in Ennis without him. If the keeper is lamping the ball out the field looking for marks, there’s the comfort of knowing that if it’s on the money, there aren’t too many fellas going to be catching the ball above David.

It’s a key part of the Kerry game plan. When Kerry hum, it’s because they have a key platform from the middle of the field to put the food down and drive on.

Kerry should be putting the foot down against Cork at every opportunity. Until very recently, anything before the first Sunday in July was only prepping us for the first Sunday in July. Cork can always rise themselves for one game, I’ve said that already, and invariably it’s against Kerry.

They’ve rarely come down to Killarney and got hammered. Fitzmaurice isn’t talking rot this week by stressing this is a test, not a stepping stone. No matter how good or bad you or they are going, this is going to be different gravy.

Cork will be really defensive and will set up to make things extremely competitive. The problem, of course, is if Kerry lead this match at some stage by six or eight points: Where do Cork go from there? Throwing caution to the wind would open things up for Kerry, but I’ve always felt when Cork do that, they can stagger Kerry.

Obviously, Fitzmaurice is also considering what way Cork will line out. Best of luck with that. The Kerry manager has multiple options off the bench, several of them very experienced campaigners who all think they are worth a shot. That’s a delicate balancing act too.

In 2015, when I came back from the knee surgery, I wasn’t at the pitch I needed to be. When you are in the bubble, you don’t see or accept that, or understand why you’re not getting game time.

That’s when the confidence drains — maybe the management don’t believe in me anymore? That’s where Éamonn earns his crust, managing all those difficult issues. I used love challenging myself to hold off the fella coming up, looking for my jersey.

Even going back to when I was 25, coming into the new year, I would never have taken for granted that I was a starter. I often didn’t play the early league games or pre-season stuff, but you’d be keeping an eye on who was there at the same time.

Tomorrow some of those experienced options will be required off the bench. With 20 minutes to go, Cork defenders’ tongues hanging out, you wonder will Darran O’Sullivan come back into the frame. Where is he in the pecking order? Bryan Sheehan the same. Kieran Donaghy has reportedly been going well in training and the loss of Jack Savage may present an opening for him.

The Kerry management prepare their defensive match-ups meticulously and seldom gets them wrong. Believe me, there will be nothing startling about what Kerry bring to the table. They will detail Paul Kerrigan, who can ignite something.

And they’re aware that Luke Connolly is a streaky player, who could get hot in a hurry. But it’s a big test for Connolly in this environment, against the intensity of a Tadhg Morley, Peter Crowley or Paul Murphy, Luke will do well to get change there.

Tomorrow also hammers home my transition from player to supporter. Instead of heading out to the Hotel Europe for pre-match at 11 am, I’ll be strolling downtown. I love Killarney on Munster final day, and this weekend’s crazy with the Ring of Kerry cycle thrown in.

I’m not even sure what the process for getting tickets is. I never realised until the Clare game in Ennis that the GAA had introduced these ticket vans outside grounds. The fella on the turnstile started laughing at me when I arrived with my €40 for two tickets. That’s how inside the bubble you get.


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