Kerry’s midfield options, a new Kildare era and the Dublin test in Tralee
Updated Jan 31st 2022, 8:30 AM
1. Kerry’s midfield options
No David Moran. No Jack Barry. No Diarmuid O’Connor.
Kerry took to the field in Newbridge yesterday minus three leading figures around the middle from their last meaningful encounter, that late August loss to Tyrone. Injuries and club commitments ruled out that trio, the returning Stefan Okunbor from the AFL may be a future option but badly damaged his shoulder while playing for Na Gaeil on Saturday.
It left Kerry fielding Adrian Spillane and Sean O’Shea as their midfield combo, who competed well in the opening period but struggled to stifle the influence of Kevin Feely thereafter, the Athy man brought on to telling effect by Kildare at half-time. Kerry missed O’Shea pulling the strings in attack and Na Gaeil’s All-Ireland exit may pave the way for a swift return for their crew.
“Kevin is one of the best fielders in the country, I’m well aware of that,” said Jack O’Connor.
“We don’t really have any of our first choice midfielders available up to now. The boys are doing a decent job there, Seanie and Adrian, but hopefully for the game next week we’ll have a couple of Na Gaeil boys back.”
Kerry boss Jack O’Connor.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
2. A new era in Kildare
The presence of icons from the county’s football history has spiked interest in Kildare’s fortunes. Glenn Ryan is the head of the team, flanked by Anthony Rainbow, Dermot Earley and Johnny Doyle in steering them through 2022. That contributed to a healthy crowd yesterday, which prompted a 15-minute delay for throw-in, the return to a feeling of post-Covid normality must also have drawn fans to St Conleth’s Park.
For all the hype about those on the sideline, Ryan wants the focus to remain on the pitch.
“Well obviously it’s a special day for me, it’s a special day I hope for the players. It’s all about the players. If I hope for one thing during this league it’s that the focus becomes about the players and not on the fellas on the sideline because they’re the ones doing all the work and they’re the people who are going to deliver anything here.”
3. Jack’s return to Newbridge
Glenn Ryan was not the only manager attracting attention. Jack O’Connor’s third coming as Kerry boss creates a natural profile, the fact that he was in the Kildare hotseat last season added extra spice to the mix. If there was a layer of drama to the change in his managerial career, O’Connor was keen to be deferential to the hosts.
“This was always going to be a tricky game for me. A lot of good memories up here. still very friendly with a lot of the boys and the backroom staff here. I gave it absolutely everything when I was up here in Kildare for two years. I enjoyed it, no regrets but it wasn’t sustainable to keep it going.
“This was a huge game for Kildare. They were never going to be an easy nut to crack. Glenn Ryan is a legend up here and they were all going to row in behind them. They’ve an awful lot of work done and that could be seen near the end.”
Jack O’Connor shakes hands with Glenn Ryan after the game.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
4. Kildare’s attacking coach
There were some decent aspects to Kildare’s forward display. Jimmy Hyland posted 0-6, including the pressure kick to level the game. Daniel Flynn didn’t score but his fingerprints were all over Kildare’s most eye-catching attacks. Paddy Woodgate adds another scoring touch to their attack.
There is clearly scope for improvement, only scoring one point from their first five shots in the second half, and the principal area of recent interest in their attacking fortunes was the addition of Paul Galvin to their ranks.
“There’s plenty of emphasis in our games that’s taken people’s focus away from the simple, basic things, they’re the skills,” said Ryan.
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“We always try to work on the skills but maybe with Paul there we might be able to focus a bit more on them. Looking at it today, there’s plenty of work to be done.”
5. Dublin test in Tralee
Kerry’s second-half performance didn’t sit well with Jack O’Connor. He identified problematic areas in the scores they left behind in the first half, a hamstring problem robbing them of Gavin White’s probing runs and a lack of movement up front in the second half, all in a January environment that was always likely to prove testing.
The upcoming challenges don’t get easier. They have home advantage next Saturday but face a Dublin team left smarting from Saturday night’s loss to Armagh.
“Both teams will be looking to improve but I think it just shows the pre-season tournaments are grand for getting a bit of fitness but this was the real world, those games are exhibition games,” said O’Connor.
“It was always going to be a big game with Dublin coming to town. We have a bit of work to do obviously.
“They (Dublin) had 14 or 15 wides which is very uncharacteristic. In fairness to Armagh, they are moving very well. They look like they’ve a lot of work done.
“Dublin are missing a good share of players. When they get those back, they’ll be a different proposition.”