Kerry were on the ropes last weekend as the minutes ticked down towards the end of the All-Ireland final.
Five points down with 15 minutes remaining, it looked as though Dublin would cruise home in a predictable fashion. However, the game was soon flipped on its head. Shane Ryan batted away Paddy Small’s effort before Tommy Walsh flicked the ball onto Killian Spillane who expertly stepped inside Brian Howard before leaving Stephen Cluxton with no chance as he tucked the ball neatly into the bottom corner.
It was a goal that had everything. From Ryan’s heroics to Walsh’s brute strength culminating in the silky skills of young Spillane whose finish brought back memories of his famed uncle Pat.
It’s been a long-time coming for the 23-year-old who has been in and out of Kerry teams over the past number of years, failing to nail down a starting position. He finally hit some form with the seniors this season but was the unlucky soldier to lose out as Peter Keane drafted in Jack Barry to try and curtail the influence of Dublin’s Brian Fenton.
According to former Kerry All-Star Aidan O’Mahony, Spillane is a player they’ve known about for a long time. However, his development has probably been hampered by the expectation placed upon him given his family name.
Spillane won an All-Ireland minor medal in 2014 with his uncle Pat raving about him following Kerry’s victory but it’s only now we are beginning to see the best of this bright young talent on the senior stage.
“I’d say Pat put the kibosh on him on RTE when he was talking about him as a minor! I think it’s a big step-up. He was a fantastic minor and he came in 2014/2015. Training is very tough and I know myself when I came first it’s a different level.
“What kills you is that when you come into Championship you’re training so hard and in the internal and challenge games that you’re not performing then because the body is just drained.
“And it probably took him a while to get up to that level of the game or that kind of strength and conditioning.
“He always had that potential, he’s from a great background and his brother Adrian is the same. The two of them would have stood out in the Championship for the past couple of years. Especially this year I’d see them in the club championship at home and he’s like a player who’s oozing confidence. It’s like the shackles have been thrown off and maybe that pressure is off him now.
“There was so much expected of him, and sometimes it can weigh down players if you’re not performing and you’re coming into a Kerry senior set-up then you have backs that are chomping at the bit and pulling and dragging and flaking you inside in games.”
Moments after his goal, Spillane split the posts to put Kerry in the ascendency heading down the home stretch. At that point, it looked like Kerry’s to lose.
As it transpired nobody lost and the two sides must meet again next Saturday evening to determine who the 2019 All-Ireland champions will be.
The burning question now is should Spillane start following his heroics the last day out? O’Mahony feels that the player himself will no doubt want to start but given the impact he made off the bench, it could suit the Kingdom better to keep him in reserve.
“It’s not easy. Because you obviously don’t want to give up your jersey either. I think he’s just coming now and there’s that air of confidence. I think that impact role suits him as well, that the game opens up and he’s getting on ball.
“It showed the last day, that goal chance. I was watching it and I said to myself, ‘If he takes two more steps, Cluxton will get down and block him.’ I think that’s the best part of his game. He’s a very intelligent young lad. He knew when to kick it the last day.
“If you watch it, and I’ve watched it several times over, it’s the beauty of being retired now you’ve plenty of time to watch these things when you’re at home babysitting as well.
“But he kicked it two seconds earlier and he put it into the bottom corner, it was a fantastic goal. I think that impact role suits him as well, it opens up the game and there’s no pressure when you’re coming on then.”