With defensive pillars Tomás and Marc Ó Sé, plus Aidan O’Mahony now gone, Kerry will rely on the likes of Peter Crowley to guide a new crop of Kerry backs. He spoke to Mortimer Murphy.
How does it feel to be named as Kerry’s stand-in captain — being a man of not so tender years in this squad?
Don’t be going there. I’m getting too much of that already (laughs). I’m getting touchy about this now, people calling me old! Of course it’s a great honour.
It’s only temporary, it’s a great honour in the meantime, while the Dr Crokes boys are deciding after, hopefully March 18, and they’ll have decided it then. Just happy to lead it out until then. I won’t be doing much; I’m not exactly a big talker. I’d be actions over words kind of fella anyway, so it won’t change much.
You came in as young man of 20 but now is there more responsibility to show leadership to the younger lads?
100%. We were lucky, I came in when I was 20 and I got a good year and a half to learn before I ever had to play a game. You’re taught the right way to play. You take those lessons as you go along and learn from different fellas like Marc [Ó Sé], Aidan [O’Mahony], and Tomás [Ó Sé] in the backs particularly.
Those were the fellas that taught me things to do. You do realise when you get older that the jersey is bigger than yourself and you need to be teaching these fellas what it means, what the Kerry jersey means and that you have to represent it properly.
I know the last day myself and [Shane] Enright were looking around the dressing room and said ‘geez it’s a very young dressing room’ and we’d another look around and then it turned out he was the oldest in the dressing room and I wasn’t too far behind. So when you get to these situations you kind of start to realise alright.
Ye have lost some legends of the game.
It was always going to happen. We’ve been lucky they’ve gone gradually and we haven’t had to deal with a mass exodus at any stage.
It started I suppose with Tomás, Declan [O’Sullivan], then you’ve had Marc and Aidan gone now, they’ve staggered it well, which has helped us as a group that we haven’t had to deal with a massive vacuum of leadership, but it does mean that fellas my age group now — myself, Paul [Geaney], James [O’Donoghue], Paul Murphy, Enright all these fellas, we all have to stand up and become the mainstays in the team now and show that we can drive it on now and do what the boys have done for the last 15 years really.
Do you feel the pressure that is there now for Kerry to step up to the plate and win another All-Ireland — internally and externally there is pressure?
I don’t think external pressure bothers any of us. The internal pressure we put on ourselves to perform is greater than anything that can come on.
Our group has come on after one of the greatest Kerry teams of all time, so we know the standard set.
At the end of the day, I think basically you need to win multiple All-Irelands to validate yourself and put yourself where you want to be in the history of Kerry.
One All-Ireland, while we were obviously delighted to get it and it’s a huge honour, you want more, it’s the nature of the beast, it’s the nature of being a sportsperson, you need to keep going, you need to keep winning. So the pressure we put on ourselves is huge, we just need to win more.
Is it about beating Dublin or about beating Dublin to win an All-Ireland?
Dublin set the standard at the moment so that’s who you want to beat, but it’s not a case of you beat Dublin and nothing else matters. If we win an All-Ireland and we don’t beat Dublin it’s going to be the same as if we won an All-Ireland and we’ve beaten Dublin, it doesn’t matter. We just want to win All-Irelands.
You have been described as a human wrecking ball — will you be changing your style because you did pick up two black cards last year?
I’d debate one of them big time. To give you a short answer, not really. I think if I start changing my style too much probably I wouldn’t be as much of a player. I’m not a Marc, I don’t have the same skill level he had, I’m not what Tomás used to be, I’m kind of a bit of everything else. I’m my own player really. If I start trying to change my game for fear of getting black cards I think I’d suffer.
Were you more attack-minded last year than before?
I played a different role last year. I was playing wing-back more than centre-back and I’m comfortable playing either way, whatever I’m asked to do I’ll do. With the club I play midfield and I’m always happy to go forward.
If I’m asked to play that role going forward I’m happy to do it, I’m comfortable doing it. I wouldn’t change my general style, no. If it was a case that I was hurting the team doing the wrong things, of course that’s something you’d change, but I won’t ever go changing what I think makes me the best player I can be.
You enjoy the physical nature of the game?
I enjoy every kind of a match. I enjoy the physical side of it; I enjoy games where it’s nice and open. I like to think I can adapt any way I can. I wouldn’t say I’m very, very good at anything, but I do a bit of everything which would be my main strength really.
Maybe with Aidan O’Mahony gone — Kerry need an enforcer at the back and that is why you got the captaincy?
It’s a funny thing, it’s something I’ve never completely understood is this idea you have to have this fella who can lay out the big hit. For me it’s not the big nail, it’s stopping a fella. He’s coming at you and to stop him, you don’t have to put him on his backside, it’s changing his momentum, you have to change his direction and I think people kind of get caught up with ‘geez he nailed him’.
You might only get that once in a game, but you could have four or five tackles where the turnover is more important than the hit. People keep coming up with that Tyrone hit but the thing is about that I never actually turned over the ball, it doesn’t have any use. I might make a tackle you won’t notice, but it’s more effective for the team. Sometimes we can get caught up with the idea of the big hit and some fellas seem to think I’m mad after it, but I don’t really.
What is your opinion of the black card — you have seen it a few times...
It’s not perfect, but I think generally I’m a big fan of the black card, just because it takes out the third man tackle alone. We seem to get caught up with the idea of the interpretation of it and people seem to get caught up with the big incidents, the Robbie Kiely one and the Lee Keegan ones were big last year, but ultimately I think the total benefit to the game has been huge. My only frustration with the black card is that it seems to penalise backs.
Has it made the game more open?
The black card has made the game more open, 100%. I think the amount of checking that used to go on off the ball, especially in the club game... the club game used to drive me mad, because you’d go for a run up the field and you’d have to sidestep three or four fellas who wouldn’t even be looking at the ball.
There are problems with it, but in the GAA at times we’re great to complain about things, but we’re not so good at accepting change.
It’s the same with the mark, people are giving out that it’s not going to make a huge difference. Possibly it’s not going to bring back high fielding; keepers are not going to punt the ball out the middle of the field, because they’re afraid they’re going to give away a free if some fella catches it, but there are ways it can be exploited to make a quicker and more attractive game. I think both the black card and the mark will.
There was commentary lately from Niall Moyna about the workload on college players and inter-county players — but you rarely hear Kerry players complain?
From my experience in college I don’t think anybody has said ‘I don’t like training’. I think at times what’s gotten players is just the length of the season. In Kerry we come back in January, but other counties come back in October and ovember and that’s a different animal. Generally we all enjoy the hard training.
We all love the first four weeks of getting back at it and getting fit and getting back with the boys. I don’t think that’s a problem. I know where he’s (Moyna) coming from in that there is a lot of demand on players, especially at that age. The players themselves need to be mature enough and there needs to be communication and when there isn’t that communication there’s the potential for that player to be flogged. Especially in DCU, where they draw from so many different places.
Do players actually prefer League to championship because of the rapid-fire games?
Maybe a year or two ago I took the league for granted. I kind of questioned the benefit of it, until last year when I missed it with the shoulder and then I got to go back and got the full run of games and you realise just how important it is to get those games. It gives you a yardstick for the rest of the year, it gets you to your performance levels in the right areas, I just question why it needs to start in February and why you can’t condense it a bit.
I can’t understand how we have to start in February and not finish until September. You look at any other professional organisation, it doesn’t take that long to play.
We all want games and I think the league is good because you get to go to places you wouldn’t normally get to go to. Last year I got to play in Monaghan for the first time, you get to see how those different GAA communities operate. I always find that interesting. You’re playing games, you’re travelling with the boys and it’s what you want to do.
What about the Paraic Duffy proposals for the Championship?
As the championship currently stands I wouldn’t have a problem with it; you get more games and get more quality games.
You get an extra six games of the top eight teams playing against each other. But then you talk about the larger ramifications for the club sides; I’m not too sure I am qualified to talk about that.
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