InIrish Examiner podcast appearance that all but brought down the Government, Jack O’Connor’s appraisal of Paul Geaney’s role with Kerry last season was far more pointed and informative than the attention it received.
O’Connor, typically frank, believed employing Geaney as a half-forward was hardly the optimal use of the then-30-year old’s legs and attacking wit. That a premium poacher like the Dingle man should not be grafting his way around the prairies, even if – as it seemed in the early stages of last season – it was designed to up Geaney’s fitness.
Whatever the reason, signs on that it won’t be replicated in 2022. O’Connor seems as good as his podcast comments that Geaney is best employed at the tip of the spear if his McGrath Cup appearances are a reliable indicator of things to come.
“Paul Geaney in his heyday was a good corner-forward-stroke full-forward,” O’Connor told host Paul Rouse. “(Against Tyrone) he played in the half-forward line. I couldn’t see the logic in that, to be honest with you. I don’t think he has the engine for that type of middle third action. I don’t think Kerry positioned their forwards as well as they could have.”
That the conversation spoke of Geaney’s ‘heyday’ only added to the impression of a man who ought to be in a hurry in 2022, of a clock ticking too fast. This week’s confirmation that James O’Donoghue won’t be seen in green and gold again means Geaney, turned 31, and Stephen O’Brien, 31 next month, are Kerry’s high mileage attackers. O’Brien was an early injury casualty in last weekend’s McGrath Cup final win in Killarney but tellingly Geaney played every minute.
For all the exciting young guns at his disposal, Jack O’Connor needs Geaney to go the distance in 2022, to stay fit and fire well. Indeed, his form is one of several inter-connected posers as the manager kicks off a third term at the helm in his native county.
Jack’s a master of inverting convention but Geaney knows too he needs to deliver in the inside line for himself and for Kerry. Leaving aside David Clifford – a difficult ask, admittedly – and Geaney is the only genuine focal point in the inside line, short of throwing a midfielder in there. Killian Spillane, Tony Brosnan, Dara Moynihan and even Paudie Clifford can gallop around and occupy defenders as well as most, but they invariably play off someone. Geaney is a very important piece of glue for the Kerry offence. He is also good above his head.
It’s been a strange couple of years for him, pockmarked by stuttering appearances and injury issues and, for those reasons, he looked a yard off and a foot or two wide of his razor-sharp best over the period. The way O’Brien and himself screwed up the simple goal chance in the All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone was not something vintage Geaney would have been guilty of. He’d have buried the chance himself, one suspects.
In the 2016 and 2017 campaigns, he was among the country’s top forwards – one of the few to do himself justice in the two semi-finals against Mayo in ’17. It is forgotten by some that Geaney has been a constant up front for Kerry for a decade and more and was an All-Ireland final goalscorer and winner eight seasons ago.
He’s just turned 31 but back/hamstring trouble has denied him the consistent game time a high-mileage body needs to be ticking over. He missed Kerry’s calamitous 2020 exit in Cork and by the time he reappeared in the 2021 League, it was as a 12. Though he dipped in and out of the inside line in a fluid formation, it was clear to many that chasing around the middle third of the field was not his game. Jack wasn’t wrong.
Released back to his natural habitat when he returned in the autumn to Dingle, he delivered one of his sharpest, albeit brief, championship campaigns for the town with ten points from two games, half of them from play.
Last Saturday, wearing and playing No 14, he was a sharp and able focal point of Kerry’s attack as they pulled Cork’s defenders east and west. Geaney finished the afternoon as the game’s top scorer with 1-4 to his name. His movement created a simple opening for Tom O’Sullivan for the opening goal. He danced around the Cork cover to claim the second goal for himself.
Starting Sunday in Newbridge, and with Dublin coming to Tralee six days later, the Allianz League may provide a more robust scrutiny of Geaney’s suitability to share the lead role inside with David Clifford this season. By common consent, Jack O’Connor has the deepest and most talented squad in the country with a plethora of attacking personnel and formations to choose from. Finding the perfect cocktail is the trick.
Can Geaney and David Clifford operate in the same inside line? Does it necessitate someone fast and buzzy feeding off one of them. Might Kerry go all out with an inside three? For all their attacking starlets, the Kingdom’s stock of experienced inside forwards who can play with their back to goal is limited – and for all of football’s new-fangled designs, they are still a fundamental piece of artillery.
If Geaney is at 14 and Sean O’Shea at 11, are Kerry are well endowed in the other ‘spine’ positions – surely those central elements have not been rendered obsolete yet by today’s shapeless manoeuvres?
Has Shane Murphy nailed down the keeper’s jersey or will Shane Ryan reclaim over the course of the league? Who is best positioned to fill the troublesome full-back spot – Jason Foley, Dylan Casey or Stefan Okunbor? Who anchors the defence at 6 – Tadhg Morley, Gavin Crowley? – or will the Kingdom revert to their horses-for-courses or man-to-man defensive set up.
And what of midfield? It is good to hear that David Moran is back in light training and may see league action in March but in the interim will Sean O’Shea form a needs-must partnership with Adrian Spillane? Remember there are still six players to come back into the fray for Kerry (Na Gaeil players and injuries), but there’s quite a bit of sorting to do before Kerry faithful get to properly examine the house that Jack’s building.