Mike Quirke: Mighty oaks from little acorns grow in Kerry

It takes time for young players to mature into top stars, writes Mike Quirke
Mike Quirke: Mighty oaks from little acorns grow in Kerry

I got a call late last week from a friend of mine who works in finance. We got chatting, and he reckoned putting some money into commercial forestry was becoming a popular way to go for people looking for a smart, low-risk avenue to invest a few bucks into something longer term.

“Trees?” I asked him in disbelief. I thought he was having a laugh, but I let him give me his spiel. You purchase a plot of land, they plant the trees, and hey presto; 21 years later, after a couple of trimmings, you collect a significant return on your investment.

But there is a but.

Sometimes, saplings can be damaged by disease and the stock is ruined. It’s very uncommon but is one way to lose your money in a hurry.

The following day, I wandered up to Austin Stack Park in Tralee to watch Mayo battle back from the brink to spread their own withering ailment amongst a Kerry team relying heavily on too many youngsters for inspiration.

The heaving terrace grumbled with discontent as the Kerry lead was whittled down and eventually overturned. I couldn’t help but think about my buddy trying to pedal his forestry venture a day earlier. Plant your young trees he said, take care of them and watch them flourish into a forest that will eventually bring you a sizeable dividend. He may as well have been talking about the Kerry team in Austin Stack Park.

Because of a catalogue of injuries, some self-imposed sabbaticals, and representatives involved in the club championship, some Kerry supporters found themselves more anxiously looking for a return on their investment a lot sooner than they should.

For Kerry to have won three minor All-Irelands titles in succession, and have a senior side who have had to play second fiddle to the dominant Dubs in the same period, has made supporters in the Kingdom even more twitchy and harder to please than normal.

Patience is not a virtue in plentiful supply on the terraces of Tralee or Killarney.

Last weekend, the home side found themselves in an experience and leadership deficit. Kerry had 10 players — who either started or came on — that had played in the Allianz League three times or less.

By contrast, Mayo had the benefit of 12 players who had either started or came on in last year’s All-Ireland final replay to call on and eventually that experience told when the fat was in the fire.

Mayo were stung themselves by Monaghan at home the previous week and were blessed to be still even in the contest at half-time in Tralee. Kerry could, and probably should, have been out of sight, but spurned a penalty and a host of other gilt-edged goal-scoring opportunities that came back to bite them hard in the second half. While Kerry’s youthful zest propelled them into a seemingly strong position, Mayo haven’t become one of the top teams in the country by rolling over when under pressure. They made some adjustments defensively and stopped their opponents running the ball down the middle by getting bodies back to block up the highways, which Kerry exploited in the opening spell.

Kerry newcomer Jack Barry’s stock continued to rise sharply and again looked the real deal in a first half packed with hard labour and powerful running that yielded two points. He wreaked havoc on Donie Vaughan with his incessant bursts straight at goal.

Barry is a big unit, but with all the skills and a blistering turn of pace when he shifts gears. His influence was negated somewhat by Stephen Coen in the second half but even after two rounds of the league, he’s Kerry’s find of the season so far by some distance, and a guy who if his graph continues to climb, will be right in the mix for a starting championship jersey. He brings an injection of pace and energy into the middle third that none of the others out there have in their lockers.

While Mayo will have driven up the road happy with their night’s work, and their first two points in the bag, it was a win primarily crafted though the guile of man of the match Andy Moran. He’s a guy who seems to get a bit of a raw deal at times and rarely gets the full credit his consistent play deserves.

The Andy Moran I’ve seen over the past number of years is a leader; a guy who constantly wants the ball, even when things are going against his team.

His movement and decision- making are that of someone with a high football IQ and he continues to be a consistent score-getter from play at the highest level. He looked sprightly last weekend, like somebody who is enjoying a good run free of injuries. And he took full advantage of a favourable match-up against Mark Griffin and dragged his team back into the game, and ultimately over the line.

I’m sure Kerry’s management would like to have that one back, to see if somebody else marking him might have slowed him down a little more.

But while Moran is a tree nearing maturity and almost ready to collect his endowment, Kerry’s saplings are an investment that will take more patience before becoming strong enough on their own to pay out the dividend all people invested in Kerry GAA so desperately crave.

Setbacks like last Saturday night are like the disease my friend was talking about, the panic and unrest amongst supporters too, but unlike the conifers, the investment Eamonn Fitzmaurice is making will surely pay sizeable returns in the longer term, once they are allowed time and exposure to grow and flourish and supporters start to see the wood from the trees.

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