For the first season in recent memory, Kerry opened their championship campaign well and truly positioned in the chasing pack. Not since the early nineties, when the county was in the midst of an eleven year drought, has there been less talk of The Kingdom as genuine All-Ireland contenders.
Retirements of stalwarts, injuries and limited success at underage level over the past few years have fuelled the perception that Kerry are a team on the cusp of mediocrity.
By their own high standards, anything less than an All-Ireland win is regarded as a failure. It has been five years since a Kerry captain climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift the most famous canister in Irish sport. That final was the sixth in a row for the county and the eighth in ten years. The team that had been built by Jack O’Connor, with a brief spell under the watch of Pat O’Shea, was one of the greatest the game had ever seen and along with Tyrone, ruled the roost throughout the noughties.
The vital factor in that side was a perfect blend of all the ingredients necessary to challenge on a consistent basis. A strong spine, marquee forwards and most importantly, a team containing leaders.
Players like Darragh O’Sé and Seamus Moynihan had soldiered through the difficult times and had become hardened to the battle. They were perfect men to lead a side when adversity threatened. The annual addition of one or two more future stars of the game, such as Colm Cooper and Marc O’Sé in 2002, Declan O’Sullivan in 2003 and Paul Galvin in 2004 was seamless as the wise older heads provided inspiration and unwavering leadership.
The loss of three ‘go to players’ in one season, Cooper, Galvin and Tomás O’Sé therefore, cannot be overstated. Their absence changes the dynamic of the transition. Instead of embedding the new younger players into a team with experience, they must now jump in at the deep end. It is either sink or swim for this new look Kerry team.
One of the major sources of the current uncertainty regarding Kerry football is the lack of knowledge of many of the new players. The county has not won a Minor All-Ireland Championship since 1994 and little has been written or said about them. A lot of these players, such as Fionn Fitzgerald, Stephen O’Brien and Mark Griffin have come in under the radar without much previous success but in Kerry, underage medals are never used as a barometer for the future. A career in the green and gold jersey will only even be measured on performances on the third Sunday in September.
But, even the most loyal and dedicated of Kerry natives will admit to doubts about what the immediate future holds. There is no question that the likes of the aforementioned newcomers have the talent to hold the torch for Kerry football but it is the fact that so many are being integrated together that causes concern. But, necessity, not choice, dictates as much.
The similarities between this new Kerry side and that of 1975, the start of the Golden Years, will provide consolation for the Kerry supporter. Few predicted a Kerry triumph almost forty years ago. Just like today, The Kingdom began the season in search of a first All-Ireland win in five years. Many of the old guard had disappeared into the horizon having fallen short in the decider three years previously, which many saw as the last kick of a fading animal. Mick O’Dwyer had no option but to throw the new unheralded talent into the red hot heat of battle and against all the odds, they played with abandon to emerge as the last side left standing.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice will be hoping history repeats itself. In Ennis on Sunday, the most unfamiliar Kerry side in years began their Munster Championship campaign. They overcame a spirited Clare side 1-17 to 1-13. However the victory posed a lot of questions.
Kerry fans will be hoping to deduce some answers regarding the future. But as always with Kerry, there will be only one important question. Is the team capable of performing when it matters and winning All-Irelands? At the end of the day, that is all that matters in The Kingdom.
Read More About: colm cooper, eamonn fitzmaurice, fionn fitzgerald, kerry clare, kerry gaa, mark griffin, mick o'dwyer, munster championship, munster football championship, stephen o'brien, the kingdom, Top Story