Kerry's fringe players fail to grasp opportunity

Seven rounds of league fare after Jack O'Connor said there was an opportunity for fringe players, the number of new hands raised within the Kingdom panel are disappointingly few
Kerry's fringe players fail to grasp opportunity

LIMITED OPTIONS: Kerry manager Jack O'Connor. Pic: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

On the Monday evening before Kerry’s League opener away to Donegal, Jack O’Connor held court upstairs in the Austin Stack Park pavilion.

Straight from the throw-in of this media briefing, Jack detailed the long list of injuries and absentees that meant he would travel to Ballybofey without two-thirds of his All-Ireland final starting team.

“You could look at it negatively or positively,” mused the Kerry manager, “but I’d rather say that it’s a big opportunity for players who were around the set-up last year and a couple of new players who came in this year to put their hand up and stake a claim for later. That’s what you’re hoping for. That’s what you need.” 

Seven rounds of league fare later, the number of new hands raised within the Kingdom panel are disappointingly few.

Outside of midfielder Barry Dan O’Sullivan and debutant forward Donal O’Sullivan, opportunities presented did not lead to opportunities taken.

Given the extent of injuries and absentees, not forgetting David Moran’s retirement either, that the total number of Kerry players used this spring came in at only 29 is surprising.

Of that figure, 16 featured in last year’s All-Ireland final and a further three were unused substitutes. Dara Moynihan, but for injury, would also certainly have figured at Croke Park last July.

The remaining nine players to see league gametime who were not part of the All-Ireland final matchday panel are the aforementioned O’Sullivan pair, Mike Breen, Darragh Roche, Ronan Buckley, Ruairí Murphy, Greg Horan, Dylan Casey, and Pa Warren.

With the exception of Horan, who was used off the bench against Donegal, Monaghan, and Tyrone, the other eight started at least one game.

Assessing Kerry’s “indifferent” league, former forward Seán O’Sullivan expressed disappointment that a spring of opportunity did not deliver greater squad depth.

“What I would be unhappy with was that the guys Jack did give a go to haven't put the other fellas under pressure” said the four-time All-Ireland winner.

“We haven't introduced a few more guys that offer you a little bit more depth, because come the heat of championship Jack needs to be able to turn to his bench and trust these guys. There is plenty there already, no question, but every year you need to find one or two more to really strengthen your hand.

“The guys that have been given an opportunity in the league, the majority of them really haven't grasped it, with the exception of Barry Dan O'Sullivan. He's been consistent without being fantastic.” 

Having not seen gametime in green and gold since St Patrick’s Day 2018, the Dingle clubman started all bar one of their league outings.

“Barry gives management the option to select Diarmuid O'Connor at half-forward and play him then in that third midfielder slot.” 

But with fellow midfield option Stefan Okunbor again sidelined through injury, O’Sullivan acknowledges that Kerry are not spoilt for choice in this key department. Outside of Jack Barry, O’Connor, and O’Sullivan, there is little to no backup.

“Midfield is an area we have quality players in, but maybe not enough of them to cover.

“Looking at defence, come that first game in Munster Jack will probably go back to his tried and trusted, which is essentially last year's back seven, with Brian Ó Beaglaíoch and Paul Murphy contending for the number five shirt depending on where Ó Beaglaíoch is at.” 

Further up, O’Sullivan picked out Tony Brosnan as one player who elevated himself up the rankings in recent weeks.

Brosnan started both of the county’s Munster championship outings last summer, but his involvement in the subsequent All-Ireland series was confined to a handful of minutes off the bench at the end of the quarter-final.

“Tony seems to be grasping the bull by the horns a little bit. I am still not 100% convinced, but he could be an option during the summer.” 

With regards to performances on the whole, O’Sullivan said it was a league of every step forward being followed by two steps in the opposite direction.

“We never backed up a good performance with another good or better performance. In terms of getting consistency, it has been disappointing.

“Load to work on heading into the championship.”

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