Kerry’s bat signal still shines Mark O’Connor’s way but Na Gaeil’s caped crusaders have eased the county’s midfield tensions, according to Jack O’Shea.
As David Moran, who turns 34 next month, looks forward and sees the end of his inter-county career drawing nearer, the reassurance Jack Barry and Diarmuid O’Connor have brought this year to an area of concern has been timely. And there is back-up from Moran as well as Joe O’Connor and Stefan Okunbor, who injured himself in the warm-up against Cork. Not to mention Adrian Spillane, who could switch from the wing.
Kingdom great O’Shea still sees Moran playing a major role this year but has been pleased with the Barry-O'Connor axis.
“They’re playing very well, know each other very well, which is a big advantage," he says. "I think the whole team have been going pretty well, there’s a real improvement. I do expect David Moran will get a bit more game-time on Saturday. With David around and the two boys, they’re in a good place.”
In his successful bouts shadowing Brian Fenton, Barry has shown his worth as a covering midfielder and it's clear he provides his younger club-mate O’Connor with a licence to advance.
“Diarmuid is a fine footballer,” remarks O’Shea. “He’s got everything, really. You look at last year, he probably needed another season to develop and strengthen and you can see that he has this year. He’s very comfortable on the ball, very well-balanced. In the next year or two, you’re going to see the best of him.”
O’Shea also knows the mystique around the No.8 jersey that O’Connor wears would have taken getting used to. It was the same for him in his early years of 1977 and ‘78.
“I was aware of it, of course. There was the legacy of Mick O’Connell, one of my heroes, and you aspire to be as good as that, and then Darragh (Ó Sé) after me had the inspiration from me. That’s the way it went. Between the three of us, we had the No.8 jersey for over 40 years if I’m not mistaken. David then (Moran) afterwards had it for a good few years.”
Jack O’Connor hailed Moran’s steadying influence in the victory over Cork and O’Shea is reassured by his presence in the panel having nursed his way back to full fitness earlier this year from a groin tear.
“It’s a bonus that David is still around and there is a certain amount of time for him in every match," said O'Shea.
“David is vital for experience as well as anything else whether he starts or finishes a game. He is a player the other lads will look up to. He’s established and has been through it all. It gives a bit of stability to the whole thing that he’s still around and Jack will be delighted to have him there.”
The midfielder’s brief may have changed over the past 40 years but O’Shea knows its pertinence to a team’s success has never waned, especially as more counties are returning to the traditional brand of a high-fielding athlete.
“It’s all about linking the team, linking defence and attack because that’s still required. It is a pivotal position. You look at any leading team, Dublin with Fenton and Mayo with (Matthew) Ruane, a good strong midfield pairing is important and it always will be.
“The way the game has changed, the importance of midfield has changed. In our day, it was important to win the long kick-out. You don’t see too many aerial duels in the game and opportunities to field the ball although there has been an increase in the long kick-out this year.
“It’s a demanding position and takes a lot of running and movement and to get a midfield pairing that complements each other is very important and the two boys from the same club do that.”
After sharing the No1 jersey with Shane Murphy across the league, Shane Ryan seems to be the preferred choice having been between the sticks in the last two outings. Having a regular first-choice goalkeeper is vital for kick-outs, O’Shea says.
“I think the primary thing is whoever is in goal the guys out the field know exactly where it’s going to go so that they either win or at worst contest it. That’s something you have to build up with your goalkeeper.
“We had that understanding with Charlie Nelligan. We knew exactly where it was going to drop. It isn’t a good thing to be chopping and changing a goalkeeper. I’d be happier if it was somebody fixed and the players knew exactly what to expect.
“You have to be versatile with your kick-out nowadays but if it’s coming from the same man it helps as Dublin have shown with (Stephen) Cluxton down through the years. Getting a permanent goalkeeper is vital.”