Mike Quirke: Kerry running to a standstill

In a football coaching context, the scientific literature suggests that mistakes made in games or training can be used as a powerful tool, and offer the coach the opportunity to promote real learning amongst the players. The inventor of the electric light bulb, Thomas Edison, once said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work”.
Mike Quirke: Kerry running to a standstill

For the last two weekends, Mayo, and Kerry, in particular, might have come close to finding that number of things that don’t work, but unlike Edison, they have yet to find the light.

Kerry are exactly where I thought they would be after a mere seven training sessions on flooded pitches in early February. They are nowhere, caught in a limbo-like state somewhere between a lack of fitness, short of bodies and bereft of ideas. Everybody must share that collective responsibility for poor performance; players and management alike, and both were being subjected to whispers of discontent on the way out of Killarney last Sunday. Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s infallibility had an expiry date apparently— at least in the eyes of some of the more fickle of the terrace cogniscenti.

As an aside, and not in the slightest way to excuse how poorly Kerry have played, but the last several months and weeks of terrible weather have provided a timely reminder of Kerry’s desperate need for the centre of excellence in Currans and the IT Tralee to open its door as soon as possible. Having nowhere to call home at this time of year has last season’s All Ireland finalists foraging from night to night, for an agreeable club with dry ground anywhere and everywhere to borrow for training. Less than ideal.

With excuses and absentees parked, last Sunday was the second utterly abject performance from Kerry in a fresh faced 2016. But what made this one worse was that it was the first game where they would have realistically targeted a win. Fitzmaurice had uncharacteristically given his players a bit of a public dressing down after the debacle in Dublin the previous weekend and I’m sure losing to Roscommon in Killarney for the first time ever, heading into a three-week break won’t have brightened his mood very much.

It was no smash-and-grab effort by the Rossies either, who were good value for their win. You could see everything you needed to know about this game in the contrasting emotions brought by the final whistle; the Kerry boys trudged heavily towards the dressing room, lead in their boots, heads bowed… while the Roscommon players and backroom team flittered around Fitzgerald stadium like butterflies, scarcely able contain their joy and excitement.

It was a huge feather in the cap of Fergal O’Donnell, Kevin McStay and their panel of players to come into Killarney and beat Kerry in their own patch. To put their victory, and subsequent celebrations into context, one should remember it was only two years ago Roscommon were playing football in Division Three of the Allianz League. Successive promotions, ironically guided by Kerry’s John Evans, has seen them reach the top tier of league football and last Sunday’s result will give them huge confidence going forward they can compete and win games against the very top teams.

Indeed, given their last minute sucker-punch defeat at home to Monaghan in Round One, and the poor start they made at 0-3 down in Fitzgerald Stadium, the Roscommon players could have been excused for feeling sorry for themselves in the rarefied air of division one, but they stuck to their task doggedly when the game was going away from them early on, and eventually ground Kerry down. The positioning and performance of Enda Smith, especially in the second half, typified the skill and resolve that was in their side. Both he and Cathal Cregg were excellent throughout and brought a spark that inspired their team-mates to a famous win.

Storm Imogen’s driving rain and blustery gales had already mangled Saturday nights marquee match-up as Dublin travelled to Mayo in a game that quickly descended into little more than an arm wrestle. Like Sunday, conditions dictated that quality football was scarce. Mayo showed an improvement in terms of the level of intensity they brought to the game, but intensity alone is not enough to take points off Dublin these days.

Cork, on the other hand, looked to be less affected by Imogen and more by their own recurring storm — inconsistency. They looked completely flat in Ballyshannon and never came close to reaching the heights that saw them hammer Mayo. Donegal are the early Division One pace setters and they had it all their own way against the Rebels in Ballyshannon.

Where to now for pointless Kerry? Well, this scenario is certainly not breaking new ground for them, and is the third time in Fitzmaurice’s four years at the helm that Kerry have lost the opening two rounds of the league. He has proven himself Houdini-like in previous years, being able to extricate his team from seemingly inevitable relegation.

And he will need to harness all of those qualities again this year if he’s to keep his side in the top division. Because of the timing of the team holiday, this 3-week window offers Kerry precious time to get in their first real phase of hard work of the year. They are behind every other division one teams in terms of their preparation and this block offers them the first big opportunity to start getting up to speed.

Like Edison suggested, the next three weeks are about teams getting fitter, learning from mistakes and improving.

What we saw last weekend won’t be enough to save Kerry, Mayo or Down from the drop to Division Two. They need to bring light to the next round.

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