Peter Keane’s reign got off to the perfect start with a solid win against Tyrone on Sunday and while it wasn’t vintage Kerry by any stretch of the imagination, the manner of the victory certainly bodes well for rest of the year.
You would have expected a dirty day in January to suit Mickey Harte’s Tyrone more than Keane’s experimental-looking Kerry side but the hosts really got stuck in, much to the delight of the unseasonably boisterous home crowd.
There seems to be this notion that Kerry supporters are Gaelic football’s great elitists, that we demand free-flowing, attack-minded football at all costs. The Madridistas of the GAA, if you will. But the biggest cheers the last day didn’t come after dummy solos or spectacular scores; they came whenever a Tyrone player was landed back on his arse or out over the sideline in front of the stand.
Teams from the north are perceived to be physically tougher than Kerry and the success of Tyrone in particular is often attributed in large parts to their ability to “win the battle”.
This notion hurt Kerry folk throughout the 2000s and I think it still hurts to this day, so whenever Kerry embrace the physical side of the game and eek out a gritty result, especially against a rival, supporters really warm to it. You could see and hear that the last day up in the Park. Fair enough, we’d rather kick 3-15 and play them off the pitch, but even Kerry fans enjoy a bit of flaking every now and then.
To be completely honest about it, I didn’t think the original starting 15 named by Peter Keane on Friday was particularly inspiring. And I mean no disrespect to the players who were selected, it’s just that we’ve seen them all before. It always makes it a bit more exciting for the fans when there are new guys on show so Dara Moynihan’s inclusion at the last minute definitely sparked some interest.
Followers of Kerry football have been excited about the diminutive Spa forward since he shone for the triumphant St Brendan’s College and Kerry minor teams in 2016 but until a fella actually goes out and does it for the Kerry seniors, there will always be question marks. 35 minutes into his senior intercounty career, many of those questions had already been answered.
Moynihan was excellent in that opening period. He kicked two points, one off the left and one off the right, as Kerry built up a commanding, and deserved, 5-1 lead. It’s a pity he didn’t land one of his efforts in the second half but nevertheless it was a very solid introduction to the big leagues.
What makes Dara special is the fact that he plays with no fear whatsoever. Though short in stature, the well-built wing forward is extremely brave and he plays in such a manner that you wouldn’t even notice the height disadvantage. To borrow an expression from American sports, he plays bigger than he is.
He’s cheeky out as well and he certainly doesn’t strike you as someone who stands on ceremony. It doesn’t bother him who’s marking him or what the stage is. His game never changes.
In terms of his style of play, he’s incredibly fast and direct but he’s also clever enough and unselfish enough to keep it simple when required. It’s obviously very early days for the 20-year-old and one good game doesn’t make a Kerry player, but on Sunday’s showing it seems as though he has all the tools to make the grade.
A new full back?
Moynihan’s East Kerry teammate Jack Sherwood was drafted in to play full back, ostensibly as a stop-gap measure, but in all honesty he was probably more assured at the position on Sunday than any Kerry defender has been in years. He will presumably get the nod again this weekend and after some time in the wilderness, the Firies all-rounder now has a massive opportunity to nail down a starting place in Peter Keane’s new-look Kerry team.
Goalkeeper Shane Ryan also acquitted himself quite well on Sunday, although to be fair he wasn’t really tested by a surprisingly toothless Tyrone attack. It will be interesting to see how Keane divides up the league campaign between the Rathmore man and Legion’s Brian Kelly as you would imagine that both will get a chance to stake their claim before Kerry play their first championship game on June 1. With Shane Murphy to come back into contention once Dr Crokes are finished in the Club Championship, it’s extremely hard to predict who Keane’s long-term number 1 will be.
With all the talk of injuries and Sigerson and possibly even relegation down the line, there wasn’t much optimism floating about as supporters trudged up the sandpit and Lewis Road for Kerry’s league opener on Sunday but they certainly came back into town with more of a spring in their step. The home team ground out a solid win in Peter Keane’s first game as senior manager and that’s a very good habit to get into.
Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.