Liam Kearns and what remained of his squad could have thrown their hat at it months ago. They could have gone through the motions of the season safe in the knowledge they were sheltered from criticism by the loss of players that stretched into double digits. Colin O’Riordan gone to play AFL in Australia. Steven O’Brien lost to the small ball. More again stripped from the panel by the lure of foreign lands. Who could really blame them if they had just tumbled out of the championship before high summer?
Instead, Tipperary have negotiated their way through to an All-Ireland semi-final despite it all. True they have done it with a core of players who can claim ownership of silverware from the underage grades but their reaction to adversity has nonetheless been admirable. Counties can – and should – complain about disparities in funding and lament small population bases and screwball provincial structures but the likes of Tipperary and Clare, as well as Fermanagh and Monaghan in football, are proof that small counties can achieve big things.
The Kerry team yesterday showed three changes from the one that started the Munster final, only one of them being forced. Depending on what goes on behind locked gates in Killarney and who they face in August 28th’s All-Ireland semi-final, that number could jump especially with Colm Cooper and Johnny Buckley coming back into the reckoning. Kerry have had to become a horses for courses team but it’s that adaptability which is one of their strongest qualities. If it’s Dublin, there is sure to be an onus on pace unless Kerry decide to make the football do all the work. Should Donegal win next Saturday, Aidan O’Mahony will be a major consideration after his detailing of Michael Murphy two years ago.
Long after the final whistle yesterday, Éamonn Fitzmaurice was deep in conversation with Anthony Maher who made another appearance off the bench. The Duagh man would seem a suitable midfield candidate to face Dublin from the outset with Kieran Donaghy perhaps better equipped to be there from the off against Donegal. What will remain for either opposition is the manner in which Kerry retreat from their full-forward line to shore up the centre.
It mightn’t look pretty but needs must in the modern game.
Peadar Healy was at pains to say he wants the likes of Alan O’Connor and Daniel Goulding to remain on but we may just see another exodus of seasoned players in the coming months. For the second season running, O’Connor’s year has ended with injury adding insult to defeat. Will the frustration get to the 31-year-old? He couldn’t be blamed if it left him feeling disillusioned. Ditto Goulding, 30, for similar reasons as well as inconsistent form.
And what of Donncha O’Connor who even at the ripe old age of 35 showed in Saturday’s first half his class prevails? Injury has caused him no end of disappointments this last while. And then there’s Paddy Kelly who looked to have finally got the better of his hip difficulties?
In late 2013, Cork’s shedding of veterans wasn’t so much an exodus as a cull but on this occasion they will be no P45s issued. Healy is right to be concerned about losing them but convincing all to stick around for 2017 is easier said than done.
Kevin McLoughlin as a sweeper? Keith Higgins up front? Are these really the changes that will take Mayo the extra few steps into the Promised Land? Here they are back in an All-Ireland quarter-final and we aren’t any closer to knowing. Higgins had a decent game, his runs ending with one point of his own and playing a part in the creation of a number of others, but it still doesn’t sit right such a fine defender is press-ganged into action further upfield.
Ditto for McLoughlin’s migration further back.