O’Connor remains defiant

KERRY boss Jack O’Connor remains in positive mood despite the traumatic start to his management career against Longford on Sunday.

The Allianz NFL defeat in Pearse Park may have sent shockwaves through the GAA world, but O’Connor is in defiant mood.

“Considering that we had to play the last 30 minutes with 14 players after Tom O’Sullivan was sent off, and led by two points deep into injury time, it wasn’t a bad result,” said O’Connor.

The game ended controversially, with Longford’s Stephen Lynch punching a goal five minutes into injury time though the fourth official had earlier signalled for three minutes of extra time.

O’Connor though was not to be drawn on the controversy. “I’m not making any comment on where the extra minutes came from. It’s over and done with and we’ll focus in on our next game tonight when we gather for training. On a more positive note, the players showed lot of spirit and heart. Longford hit us at crucial stages in the game with goals and each time we responded to go three points in front.

“I was particularly pleased with Brendan Guiney who made a very impressive debut at corner back; Mike McCarthy slotted in very well at full back while Ronan O’Connor (St. Michaels/Foilmore) did nothing wrong up front when he came on.”

Ironically, Longford utilised the techniques of Armagh and Tyrone, past masters of Kerry, to produce Sunday’s

“We’re a lot fitter than maybe we were before at this stage of the year as we’ve been doing a hell of a lot in training the last few weeks,” said captain Paul Barden who opened the scoring on Sunday with his fisted goal after 40 seconds.

“We’ve all been on a weights programme the last three years and that takes time to show the results. It was like that programme on TV not so long ago [The Men Behind Maguire] that showed how much weight training the northern teams put in. We’re really seeing the benefits of that now. I’ve personally noticed it every season I’ve come back that I feel that bit stronger.”

Longford’s win answered questions about more than just stamina however. Having sprinted out of the blocks against O’Connor’s men, they could only watch as a 1-1 to 0-0 lead was quickly transformed into a 1-4 to 1-1 reversal in the first half. At that stage, Kerry were seemingly cruising towards a routine two points.

“We fell out of the game alright in the middle of the first half. Kerry had Shane Scanlon there in midfield picking up so much loose ball and, just by himself, he was putting fierce pressure on our half-back line. We just couldn’t get our hands on the ball for a while there and it was just a question of hanging in there.”

A concern for the Leinster side was their tally of 14 wides to Kerry’s four. Five of their seven points came from Padraic Davis’ dead-ball accuracy and they’re not likely to meet a defence as inviting again. Still, when Denis Connerton replaced Niall Sheridan at full-forward and sent in the more athletic Trevor Smullen, Longford began to get on top again.

“There was no plan really to change how we played. It just wasn’t Niall’s day up there. We had planned to use the wind to get some quick balls in to him but it died down fairly quickly. Having said that, I thought we could have done with Niall a few times in the second half there when we were firing in a good few high balls.”

The small print may still need working on for Longford then but it’s hard to argue with the importance of momentum for a team tasting top-flight football for the first time since the 1972/73 season when, incidentally, they beat Kerry by three points in Tralee.

“From the team’s perspective it was definitely the most important win of the last three to four years,” Barden claimed. “That will do wonders for our confidence as a group because it was our first game in Division One and we needed to get off to a good start. We need to stay up in the top division this year if we’re to get any real long-term benefit out of playing at this level and this is a great start. Next week now will be even tougher with the local derby [against Westmeath] down in Mullingar. There’ll be a great crowd for that one.”

With Kerry and Cork having dropped points in their opening game, Saturday’s match under lights in Tralee has taken on an added edge. O’Connor hopes to have Darragh Ó Sé back while Cork boss Billy Morgan is counting the walking wounded after the draw with Westmeath.

“I’ll know more about Philip Clifford (bruising on the hip), Maurice McCarthy and Derek Kavanagh (hamstrings) when we meet for training tonight”, said Morgan.

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