Kieran Donaghy has challenged Kerry to stand up when it truly counts in the Championship and to prove their credentials by delivering in a major game.
The recently retired full-forward, unveiled yesterday as a GAA analyst for Sky Sports, insisted that his county has a chance to deny Dublin the five-in-a-row.
The Tralee man maintained that there’s “a good bit more in Kerry than we saw on league final day” when they lost to Mayo.
But the four-time All-Ireland winner and former footballer of the year said they will have to get over their habit of failing to deliver in season-defining games.
“They have to go and prove it, Kerry,” said Donaghy. “We’ve been saying that the last few years. Against Galway last year, the league final this year, a few times it’s been put up to Kerry and they didn’t have the answers.
“So they have to find the answers to win the All-Ireland, to beat Dublin, Galway, Tyrone, all the teams that are knocking around. But they’re right in there with a chance. If they get put in against anybody on the big day, and their forwards hit form, they’ll have a chance.
“I do think they have a chance. I don’t think they played well against Mayo in the league final, and were still just a point down with a minute to go. That’s because Mayo didn’t let Kerry play well, but I still think there’s a good bit more in Kerry than we saw on league final day.”
Donaghy suggested that the chance to be the team that denies Dublin their place in the history books will motivate Kerry, and all of the other All-Ireland contenders.
He pointed to how Seamus Darby and the Offaly team that denied Kerry the five-in-a-row in 1982 were ultimately remembered for that achievement over anything else they did in the game.
“As good a team as (Offaly) were, a few of their players had won a few All-Irelands, they’re all remembered for that game,” he said.
That’s the carrot that’s out there for every player now, doing the extra bit of training in the morning. ‘Am I going to be the man that shows up on the day and does the business?’ Will there be a team that really buys into something like that and says, ‘We’re going to be the boys, we know who we’re playing and this is what we’re going to do’.
“And look, Dublin will have to have an off day, because if Dublin play to their maximum ability, with the squad they have, they’ll win the All-Ireland. But not everyone plays to their maximum ability all the time, so you have to catch them on the day when they’re just not at it and you maybe get a run on them, get a goal or a few points up, and then see can you hold out.”
If Kerry and Dublin both reach the Super 8 and win their respective groups, they would be kept apart in the semi-finals so could potentially meet in the decider.
It would be a clash for the ages and one that could even pit Tommy Walsh against Rory O’Carroll, two players who last played Championship football in 2015.
Full-forward Walsh returned for his third coming with Kerry in this year’s league, featuring in seven of their eight games, while ex-All-Star full-back O’Carroll is tipped for a Dubs recall after returning from a spell in New Zealand.
Donaghy, a forward colleague of Walsh’s when Kerry won the 2009 All-Ireland, and marked by O’Carroll on a number of occasions, discussed the two players.
“I think he (Walsh) can be a big player for Kerry this summer, yeah,” said Donaghy of the former Australian Rules player. “I think he can do the role that I was kind of doing, which is coming in and being a big influence and being a leader and being good in the dressing room and good with the younger players. He’s obviously good under a high ball.”
Walsh started Kerry’s last five league games, contributing 0-5 in that period.
“He got a bit of his swagger back during the league,” claimed Donaghy.
Once he gets out in front of you, you can’t beat him. Tommy will keep playing that way and he’ll just catch it and lay it off to guys, which is good if the Kerry half-forwards read him. He’ll be a big player for Kerry this year, yeah.
As for O’Carroll, Donaghy reckons it’s a done deal that the Kilmacud Crokes defender will be recalled by Dublin before the Championship begins.
“I would expect he’ll definitely come straight back in,” said Donaghy. “If you’re going for five-in-a-row, you get one chance. These Dublin boys won’t get another chance at five-in-a-row. If I was one of the players, or if I was on the management team, I’d be going, ‘Yeah, we have to make sure (we’re covered)’. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know what injuries you’re going to pick up during the summer. You don’t know what fellas will fall in and out of form.”
Donaghy said that O’Carroll’s aggressive, physical style means he should be able to slot back in relatively seamlessly.
“He’s built to go out and tear into whatever, he’s good at doing it,” said Donaghy.
“He’s big and he’s strong. He’s your old school full-back, doesn’t have much interest in playing the ball, doesn’t have much interest in going up the pitch, just wants to beat you physically, mentally, with the ball, without the ball.”