TONY LEEN: A new bridge for Fitzmaurice and Kerry to cross

The last time I reported on Kerry in Newbridge, they grabbed the national league point they probably deserved yesterday.

That was thirty years ago. Afterwards we dutifully recorded Mick O’Dwyer’s thoughts on his experimental forward line before I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him for a drive home to Castleisland.

In 1983, that was okay. When wizened old hacks lament the sterile relationship with their subjects nowadays, they’re not just weeping sepia tears.

Structure has its place, but it has obliterated that precious access that excites the writer and intrigues their audience. Pauric Duffy even seems to agree.

Thus it happened that I survived a white knuckle ride home in the back of O’Dwyer’s Mercedes Benz.

Jerry O’Sullivan from Ballinskelligs — ‘Jerry O’ Mícheál Ó Muirceartaigh called him on the RTE sports report that evening — had the front seat and blocked out my view of O’Dwyer’s stomach-heaving overtaking manoeuvres. Diarmuid O’Donoghue from Legion — James O’Donoghue’s father — was alongside me, goalscorers both in a 2-2 to 0-8 tune-up for centenary season of 1984.

All they tell you about Micko’s driving back then was true. If he drove like that today, he’d be managing Clare from Limerick Prison.

After listening to the radio report on the players in front and beside me — O’Dwyer tut-tutting each criticism as they arose — he eventually dropped me off late in Castleisland.

As I wandered out Tralee Road to thumb home, whatever opinions I formed of O’Dwyer helped cement a trust between us that stands to this day.

I didn’t check if there was a back seat free in Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s Passat home last night, but in the event, I might have passed.

The new Kerry coach is as phlegmatic as they come but a third League loss on the bounce puts him and his project in a place he doesn’t need it to be. When O’Dwyer threw together an experimental attacking sextet in Newbridge that day, he did so safe in the knowledge that his thoroughbred forwards were resting up. Another hat-trick of All-Irelands was around the corner. Points dropped in Newbridge were inconsequential. While Fitzmaurice got a heartbeat from his side yesterday, there was no stage in the play when a forward of real quality threatened to turn heads among a crowd of over 6,000.

With nothing more appetising than a gruelling trip to Donegal on the horizon, the paucity of attacking alternatives to his frontliners will occupy most of the road. Of Kerry’s 12 points yesterday, defenders kicked four and Johnny Buckley kicked four more. Of the remaining four, three were James O’Donoghue frees. Not good enough, not by a long way. A run through the replacements offered little resistance to the can’t-come-soon-enough return of Cooper, Galvin and Declan O’Sullivan.

Though the Kerry management have the relief of returning veterans ahead, the disappointment with those who have been given an opportunity in their absence must be acute. Injuries have denied Kerry of two nascent talents in Paul Geaney and Jack Sherwood, but apart from Jonathan Lyne, no-one else has grabbed the jersey that Fitzmaurice puts so much store and core beliefs in.

James O’Donoghue kept toiling in Newbridge but lost his bearings when the posts were in sight. Ditto Donnchadh Walsh, who proved he has a role to play — if not as a scorer.

Fitzmaurice and his selectors started with a forward line of Jonathan Lyne, Donnchadh Walsh, James O’Donoghue, Barry John Keane, Micheal O’Donoghue and Kieran O’Leary. With the best will in the world, that group will not get it done in such a competitive division. There may be stars over the horizon — and the repositioning of Kieran Donaghy if required — but Kerry will still need some of yesterday’s starting forwards come the summer. It doesn’t augur well.

Kildare are in a better place, and not just because there’s six points of daylight between their respective top and bottom positions in the League. But their lack of poise when Kerry came with a second-half charge was instructive. Kieran McGeeney thought Johnny Doyle’s missed penalty on 57 minutes swung the psychological pendulum, but they still led 2-7 to 0-9 at the time. The number of turnovers thereafter, and bad wides to boot, indicates that McGeeney’s work is far from done.

Johnny Buckley fired Kerry’s second half revival, and from midfield back, there is little about them that isn’t fixable. Aidan O’Mahony held Tomas O’Connor well, and once Kerry took the belated decision to stick Marc Ó Sé on the lively Seanie Johnson, the visitors to this throwback of a tidy ground looked compact and were quickly on the front foot.

But 16 wides, some of them excruciating, tells its own story. It is Fitzmaurice’s right to extract any positives he can find from the rubble of three successive defeats, but even a point yesterday would have been a welcome bonus for the imminent trip to Donegal. They nearly snaffled it. A Buckley free came down off the upright and an instinctive flick from Eoin Brosnan nearly found the net. It would have edged Kerry a point ahead.

“People have been saying there’s problems in Kerry for the past 125 years, and they keep coming back.” mused Kieran McGeeney afterwards. ” I can’t see them being that far away.”

Maybe he knows best.


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