Our writers chat through the main talking points from the weekend’s Allianz League action.
Kerry's backs up against the wall?
The biggest GAA story of the weekend wasn’t on the field at all. Coach Donie Buckley parted company with his native Kerry and will play no further part in the Kingdom’s bid for honours in 2020.
Amid all the rancour, the rush to blame Peter Keane, to blame county chairman Tim Murphy, and to blame Buckley himself, there is only one certainty - Kerry will be the poorer for his departure, especially without the ball.
Buckley won’t be short of suitors, but might be sufficiently disillusioned by this, his second departure from a Kerry management team, that he would leave well enough alone for the rest of this season. That he has again left a Kerry management prematurely could (and probably will) be spun by some as an indicator that Buckley is an awkward sort. Nothing could be further from the truth. Players from other counties frequently cite him as the best coach they’ve worked with, and there’s never been a set-up he has failed to improve, given the scope to do so.
And there’s the rub. Just as there wasn’t enough coaching to go around between Jack O’Connor and Buckley in 2012, it was again the case that Buckley was given nothing like the scope he anticipated in this current Kerry set-up.
When Peter Keane was pitching for the job of succeeding Eamonn Fitzmaurice in 2018, it was indicated by those in authority that he should bring in Buckley as part of his management ticket. Some might interpret that as an imposition of sorts. Of course, if Keane was not okay with any of this, should he have turned down the Kerry offer?
Either way, it was clear to most in the camp, including players, that there was not the harmony everyone had hoped for, even though Kerry came within a couple of minutes of an All-Ireland last September. Though Buckley is only back in with the squad a month after his annual winter hiatus in Florida, the situation and atmosphere was not getting any better - in fact, according to two players, he seemed to be further marginalised.
Saturday’s announcement from Board chairman Tim Murphy was inevitable if some sense of harmony was to remain and if Keane was going to drive on in 2020 with his project. But the majority of Kerry players are disappointed to be no longer working with Buckley. The frustration for Kerry supporters is that the squad is nowhere near sorting its defensive problems, which pre-date the current management.
Kerry is short of defenders who love defending and producing too many ‘footballing’ backs. But in Buckley, they had one of the best architects of turnover ball in the business, of putting heat on the opposition in the right areas of the field.
The likelihood now is that Tommy Griffin, with help from Kerry’s head of Athletic Development, Jason McGahan, will be driving Kerry’s defensive improvements going forward. If League stats are a reliable indicator, they have plenty to be getting on with. And Peter Keane will hope Buckley’s departure proves less problematic than his involvement seemed to.
- Donie Buckley was removed as Kerry coach and selector
Plenty for Tipperary to talk about on Costa Blanca trip
It’s Alicante for Tipperary’s hurlers tomorrow as the All-Ireland champions hope a March return to Spain’s Costa Blanca will work for them as it did last year.
“Yeah, we’ll have loads to talk about today, won’t we?” was Liam Sheedy’s smiling if short response to a query about the five-day warm weather trip. Limerick visited Portugal for similar reasons last month but the workload will be heavier for Tipperary as they still play catch-up following their January team holiday.
“We have a lot of work to do,” admitted Sheedy having seen his team suffered a 16-point turnaround in Salthill.
“There is good character in that dressing room and those boys will be hurting this evening and they will go about their business but we have a lot of work to do.
“I suppose we don’t have a wonderful record when we do go and win [Liam] MacCarthy of coming back and getting to the required level. So we have a lot of work to do in the next number of weeks but I’d be very confident that this group will do the work that is required.”
As for taking coronavirus precautions, Sheedy shrugged: “I’m not a doctor, lads. I don’t know what Jurgen Klopp says but we can use his answer! I’ll leave that to the medics!”
- Conor Whelan powers Galway to 15-point turnaround against Tipperary
Liam Cahill full of praise for 'hard to stop' Limerick
In the aftermath of Saturday night’s NHL clash, Waterford manager Liam Cahill was full of praise for Limerick - their physical power, their understanding of each others’ play and positioning - and having faced Tipperary, Cork and Galway, he was asked if he felt the 2018 All-Ireland champions are a level ahead of other counties at present.
“Absolutely,” said Cahill. “They’re well ahead at the moment. They’re probably three or four years into their style of play and very much aligned as a team and as a squad.
“They’re very much a slick operation, the way everybody's in tandem with one another. They’ll be hard to stop as the year progresses, in my opinion, if they stay sound.”
An ominous description: when it was pointed out that Limerick might have had more first-choice players on show Saturday night than Waterford, who have several players to come back from suspensions and injuries, Cahill added: “Yeah, we have, and that's a positive for us as well.
“Again, the 17th of May (Munster championship meeting) will be totally different again and I imagine Limerick will improve even further from tonight - so we’ll have to as well.”
- Liam Cahill says Limerick's class a step up for new-look Waterford
Galway could get high-profile double-header
The GAA's Central Competitions Control Committee will meet on Monday to confirm times and venues for this coming weekend’s Allianz Division 1 hurling quarter-finals as Galway face Wexford and Waterford take on Kilkenny.
A coin toss to decide the venue in both games will be required as Galway and Wexford both played three games at home while Waterford and Kilkenny only had two home fixtures.
A home game for Galway could serve up quite the double bill for the Tribesmen as their footballers are set to face Mayo in Salthill this Sunday. However, the Pearse Stadium surface might not be able to withstand such a load.
With Tipperary out of the equation, there has been speculation of a double-header in Semple Stadium but the Premier County’s footballers face Offaly in a must-win Division 3 game there on Sunday.
- Coin toss to determine home advantage as League quarter-finals confirmed