No way Jack O’Connor was leaving this special group of Kerry players

Jack O’Connor was advised at the start of the year to walk away from the Kerry minors as a champion, to wait patiently in the wings and return when the next star group emerged.

No way Jack O’Connor  was leaving this special group of Kerry players

He didn’t, of course, and if there is one reason why O’Connor opted to remain with the bunch of players who will jog out in Tullamore this afternoon it’s Cormac Linnane. Now, Linnane won’t actually feature for the All-Ireland holders, owing to the cruciate knee ligament injury suffered in the Munster final defeat of Tipperary.

However, according to the man who guided Kerry to three senior All-Irelands and returned last year to land a minor title, Linnane’s giant heart neatly sums up this year’s squad.

“I’m not usually prone to many generalities but I would say of all the groups I have coached, this group have a ferocious appetite and a ferocious desire to wear the green jersey and play for Kerry,” said O’Connor.

“Nobody more so than young Linnane, who, unfortunately, got injured. When he came to us at the start of the year, he was not mapped out to be a leading light or anything.

“The progress Cormac made and the application and appetite he showed were frightening. When he came in at the start of the year, he basically was not using his left foot and, by the time he finished up before getting injured, he was kicking points with his left foot which showed you he worked tirelessly at his skills.

“That kind of effort and doggedness runs right through the team.” Along with Linnane, captain Marc O’Connor is also out of the clash with Sligo with a tendonitis issue in his knee. The losses have focused the minds of all concerned though the feeling is that the Munster and All-Ireland champions should still have enough to progress.

And to think they advised O’Connor to cut his losses just a few months ago.

“We are delighted with the team because, at the start of the year, fellas said to me, ‘you should take a year out Jack, come back next year maybe and take the minors next year and the following year because there are two great groups coming through’,” said O’Connor.

“But it doesn’t work like that. As I said, we feel this group is a very special group in their own way. They might not have the marquee names we had last year but they are very dogged and very determined and have a great spirit within the group. That has stood to us and there are a few really vital ingredients in this bunch that will stand to them.”

Tipperary buttressed their defence with extra bodies at stages of the Munster final. O’Connor accepts more of the same from Sligo at O’Connor Park is likely though railed at the suggestion that Kerry might ever follow the script.

“Sligo certainly will be defensive because in both games against Galway (Connacht final and replay) they played with their corner-forward back as a sweeper,” he noted.

“It appears that you are not sexy if you don’t play a sweeper. That is the way the game has gone. I don’t think you will see Kerry ever go for an out and out sweeper but what we will try to do is keep a good structure in our back line. I don’t think that as a general theory it is in Kerry’s DNA to play with an out and out sweeper.

“But there are certainly ways of keeping your men in place. It would feel like a betrayal of the way Kerry teams have played down through the years in a lot of ways (to play a sweeper) but I do believe it’s something that will have to be prepared for with the way the game is going.”

O’Connor was critical of both the timing and the choice of venue for today’s game. It is part of a Tullamore double bill though he argued Kerry should have been playing at Croke Park yesterday alongside the seniors. Failing that, he would have brought it to Ennis today.

“I reckon if you were to draw a straight line between Kerry and Sligo, halfway would not be Tullamore,” suggested O’Connor.

“I have no idea what the reasoning is, it’s a double header but you would imagine Ennis might have made more sense. Basically it involves an over night stay for us whereas Ennis would have been a day trip.”

Meanwhile Tipperary bid to bounce back from their Munster final defeat to Kerry against Galway in the second game in Tullamore (4pm) Tipperary manager Charlie McDeever hopes his side can learn the lessons from their slow start against the Kingdom in Killarney.

He said: “We have chased down teams well but we have been giving teams too much of a head-start. Despite conceding the soft goals we were competitive for long periods against Kerry. If we can tighten up at the back and make use of that possession we will be in with a shout.”

KERRY (MF v Sligo): B Courtney (Dr Crokes); D Brosnan (Gneeveguilla), J Foley (Ballydonoghue), J Morgan (Austin Stacks); G White (Dr Crokes), M Breen (Beaufort), D O’Brien (Glenflesk); A Barry (Na Gaeil), JM Foley (Kilgarvan); B Barrett (Ardfert), B Ó Seanacháin (Ballydonoghue), S O’Shea (Kemare); S O’Sullivan (Templenoe), B Sweeney (Listowel Emmets), C Geaney (Dingle).

Subs: E O’Brien (Churchill), M Foley (Spa), T O’Sullivan (Dingle), D O’Shea (Kenmare), R Buckley (Listry), G O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses), E Cronin (Spa), J Goulding (Ballyduff), J Duggan (John Mitchels).

SLIGO: C McGovern (Calry/St. Joseph’s) B Mahon (Owenmore Gaels) E McGuinness (Tubbercurry) M O’Dowd (Enniscrone/Kilglass) N Mullen (Coolaney/Mullinabreena) D Cummins (Calry/St. Joseph’s) N Gordon (Easkey) K Banks (Coolera/Strandhill) P Kilcoyne (St. Mary’s) L Gaughan (Tourlestrane) P O’Connor (St. Farnan’s) F Cawley (St. Farnan’s) K Cawley (St. Mary’s) N Rooney (St. Mary’s) S Power (Drumcliffe/Rosses Point).

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