Kerry GAA officials will attempt over the next 48 hours to talk Jack O’Connor out of resignation as inter-county coach as the dearth of quality alternatives began to sink in in the Kingdom.
The county’s GAA chairman Patrick O’Sullivan will bid to meet O’Connor as soon as possible after the coach indicated to his fellow selectors that he intended to step down with immediate effect.
However with odds-on favourite Eamonn Fitzmaurice not inclined to step in as O’Connor’s successor for at least another two years, members of the board executive are left in no doubt as to the urgency of the situation.
There is a broad consensus in the county at board level that an All-Ireland title may be beyond Kerry for the next two or three years. However there is also a determination to ensure the Kingdom do not slide into the depth of football depression that saw the county go without an All-Ireland title from 1987 to 1997.
“There was a time I could go to a County League game in Kerry and the inter-county players would stand out a mile. Now you’d be looking for them. The talent is no longer there, the conveyor belt has stopped,” said one well-placed football figure in the county.
O’Connor has told those close to him that this was the most difficult season he has endured as Kerry coach, and is of the view that, as things stand, it would be better to walk away. The current management has performed admirable surgery on a squad that’s been on the slide for some time. Now, with the smoke clearing after Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Donegal, the scale of the problem is presenting itself.
There are ongoing concerns, shared by some key figures in the county, that ongoing inter-county success at senior level has camouflaged some serious structural and strategic deficiencies.
Despite suggestions that he would defer any decision for a few weeks, O’Connor seems determined to “clear the decks” for the board as soon as possible, according to sources. He may resign this weekend.
Losing O’Connor would leave the county board in a very difficult position. Fitzmaurice has been groomed for senior inter-county coach, but he feels — as do others — that it would be too soon for him.
One source said: “Having Fitzmaurice in charge with the likes of Seamus Moynihan and Dara Ó Cinnéide would be a very exciting combination, but it is a couple of years too early for that.”
Though the names of John Evans and Liam Kearns have already been mentioned, neither is figuring prominently at the moment in informed talk on the succession stakes. Pat O’Shea is not available and no club manager in the county has shown the credentials yet to step up to one of the most pressurised positions in the GAA.
“If the Kerry fans were realistic and accepted that a rebuilding programme would mean three or four years without an All-Ireland, you might have a chance. But in Kerry, they expect to win an All-Ireland every September,” said another insider.
There is a strong will to get Donie Buckley back on board as a physical coach. One interesting combination floated by well placed sources last night was a Mick O’Dwyer-Buckley alliance.
Buckley would work best with a manager, as opposed to a coach. It was one of the reasons he left the set-up last April. And O’Dwyer would suit the board in terms of looking for a short-term fix to tide them over until the likes of Fitzmaurice is ready to step up. Whether O’Dywer would be interested at this stage is the question.
If O’Connor is persuaded to remain on as coach — and the likelihood of that is no more than 10% — there would also be a shake-up of his back-room team with physical coach Alan O’Sullivan and selectors Diarmuid Murphy and Ger O’Keeffe possibly stepping down. Whether O’Connor would wear that is a moot point.
The lack of any other genuine contenders underlines the fraught position in a county regarded as the home of football. Senior players like Tomás O Sé, Paul Galvin, Eoin Brosnan and Aidan O’Mahony are also likely to reflect seriously on whether they want to commit to another season in 2013.
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