“Kerry’s star performer throughout 2019. O’Brien caused continual headaches for opposition teams in the championship and turned the screw when Kerry needed him in the final 15 minutes against Tyrone. Kerry looked like they were heading for the exit until O’Brien’s goal flipped the script.
“Touch and go as to whether he will receive an All-Star, such is the competition in the forward line. If he doesn’t though, it will be a grave injustice.” Pundit Arena, 2019.
As the dust settled on Dublin’s historic five-in-a-row, the topic quickly turned to who would be honoured with a prestigious All-Star award for their efforts in 2019.
The forward line, in particular, proved to be the hot topic of discussion as fans, players and pundits up and down the country debated over social media as to who the scoring six should be.
For most, Kerry’s Stephen O’Brien was a shoo-in. When the team was announced, however, the Kenmare man was sensationally snubbed as Paul Mannion (corner-forward) and Michael Murphy (midfield, full-forward, centre-forward) occupied the wing half-forwards positions.
As this writer predicted, it was a grave injustice and O’Brien had every right to feel hard done by. From the beginning of the league to the end of the championship, the 28-year-old attacker was a key cog in the Kerry revival.
In fact, had it not been for O’Brien’s contribution against Tyrone when the chips were down, the Kingdom would not have made it to an All-Ireland decider.
Speaking at the Allianz League launch, the man himself admitted it was disappointing not to win it, however, he’s fully aware accolades such as All-Stars aren’t relevant to the bigger picture. The real prize was won on the All-Ireland final day.
“Yeah, look it was disappointing not to win it, it would have been a nice reward at the end of the year but I suppose the main prize was won in September.
“Kerry got four All-Stars, for a losing All-Ireland team it’s probably the max you’re going to get and the lads were very deserving winners. It was a particularly hard team to make, especially in the forwards this year.”
O’Brien was a sight to behold in 2019. Despite picking up an All-Ireland in 2014, there’s no doubting that the season just gone was his best to date with the Kingdom.
The Kenmare man admitted as such and is putting his rich vein of form down to getting on the scoreboard more while also claiming that he’s physically matured and is now in the prime of his career.
“I was just able to get on the scoreboard a bit more last year. I felt like maybe a couple of years before that, I was doing the same job for the team.
“Maybe last year, I got a bit more spotlight or whatever just for getting scores but yeah, physically maturing and I’m in the prime of my career really now.”
He continued by explaining that it helps when you have a functioning forward line around you. With youngsters like Seán O’Shea and David Clifford fast becoming household names, O’Brien admits it’s easier to put up good performances when you’ve got the players around you.
“You’re trying to add things to your game every year so I suppose, do you know we probably had a bit of a more functioning forward line as well so you’re a contributor, it’s easier to come into a team that’s doing well.
“We had a few good forwards in the team, do you know, the likes of Sean O’Shea and David Clifford coming into the team as well. It’s easier to play in a functioning forward line than a team that might have been struggling for form the years before that.”
O’Brien and his Kingdom teammates return to the scene of the crime on Saturday night as they get their Allianz League campaign underway against Dublin in Croke Park.
He’s looking forward to returning to the capital and getting the chance to play in HQ under lights.
“Ah yeah, Croke Park is where you want to play. And under lights as well is class, there will be a good atmosphere and stuff like that. And a chance to test yourselves against the Dubs again.
“It definitely won’t make up for last year if we beat them on the 25th, but it’s the start of a New Year and we’re looking forward to it.”
However, while Dublin are clearly the benchmark for the rest of the chasing pack. O’Brien is well aware that Kerry need to focus on how to improve themselves rather than how to beat the Dubs.
“You don’t want to be totally focused on Dublin as well.
“They’re going to improve as well. They have a lot of fellas coming through too. I suppose you just have to look after your own house. At the end of the day, it’s probably going to be a toss-up between us. We trying to get them to where we maybe had them the first day and see it out this time.”
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