What can Jack O'Connor take from Kerry county senior final day?

What can Jack O'Connor take from Kerry county senior final day?
© James Crombie INPHO Jack O’Connor in Austin Stack Park on Sunday.

THE LAST TIME before Sunday that Kerins O’Rahilly’s were immersed in county final day, Jack O’Connor was in the heat of the action.

In late November 2008 he was directing operations as Strand Road saw their hopes cruelly dashed by a late Mid Kerry goal from a penalty.

On Sunday, O’Connor was watching as his old club partook in their first decider in 13 years, able to adopt a more detached attitude from his vantage point at the back of the main stand in Tralee.

His focus these days is a third spell as Kerry senior boss, his second commencing in the aftermath of that 2008 county final.

Now with the close of this year’s club action in the Kingdom, the countdown is on the business of games that will kickstart O’Connor’s reign in the New Year.

So what may he take from Sunday’s encounter?

Key player

Of the 26-man squad that carried Kerry’s hopes in August’s All-Ireland semi-final, only two were in action come throw-in on Sunday. Given Tommy Walsh’s retirement since that loss to Tyrone, the focus fell on David Moran with his veteran status in the Kingdom ranks and a continuing role in shouldering Kerry’s midfield burden.

Yet his afternoon input only last six minutes, Moran calling it quits after being in discomfort through injury for a couple of minutes beforehand. His club boss William Harmon revealed afterwards it was a groin problem, erasing any concerns of significant knee damage.

If O’Connor sought to judge a player he is highly familiar with, in the pressurised setting of a county final day, he instead saw Moran reduced to a role of bystander on the far sideline, clad in blue club top and yellow bib as he watched the rest of the game unfold.

Young guns

Away from the experienced servants to the Kerry cause, there is the question of the young guns that could now explode on the senior scene.

The two most likely candidates were both in Austin Stacks colours and on the podium afterwards, Dylan Casey as captain and Joseph O’Connor as man-of-the-match.

The age profile is positive for both – Casey (21) and O’Connor (22) – and their performances on the pitch, augmented the case for inclusion. Casey’s leadership skills had Kieran Donaghy offering rave reviews in the build-up to the game, that authority and his defensive capabilities explained why so many have tipped him to step up from Munster U20 winner in March 2020 to senior squad member in 2022.

What can Jack O'Connor take from Kerry county senior final day?
Joseph O’Connor and Darragh O’Brien celebrate after Austin Stacks triumphed.

O’Connor has already plied his trade with the Kerry seniors, introduced as a sub in the six-goal league semi-final hammering of Tyrone. His prominence grew as this game progressed, blessed with clever angles of running and the power to punch holes in the Narries rearguard. His 45th minute point was important, the foul he drew in the 61st minute for a free that Darragh O’Brien converted to relieve the pressure, even more so.

A couple of other forwards could be options down the line, both having rolled off the Kerry U20s that lost to Cork last summer. Seán Quilter came on and made an invaluable impact for Stacks, knocking over two points. Conor Hayes started for Rahilly’s, lively and busy in attack, clipping one shot over the bar.

Captaincy issue

As always with Kerry football finals, and their Kilkenny hurling equivalents, the county captaincy issue is an intriguing subplot. With the winners entitled to nominate next year’s captain for the Kerry squad, who will Austin Stacks turn to?

That’s where the interest lies with no leading candidate. A Rahillys success would have paved the way for Moran to be the natural choice, but the newly-crowned champions had no representative on Kerry’s 26-man All-Ireland semi-final squad. There is excitement around the potential of Casey and O’Connor, will one of them be handed the honour? 

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What can Jack O'Connor take from Kerry county senior final day?
Dylan Casey lifts the Bishop Moynihan Cup.

Former faces

Can a change in manager pave the way for another shot at county action? As Kerins O’Rahilly’s tried to generate an improbable comeback on Sunday, it was noticeable how central Cormac Coffey and Jack Savage were to their attacks.

Coffey bombed forward from defence and Savage pulled the strings at centre-forward. They fired over Rahillys last two points of the game, both brilliant long-range efforts from play, and kept attempting to engineer a revival.

With Kerry minor and U21 experience behind them, senior league gametime last arrived for both in 2018, with Savage also featuring in the previous summer’s championship. Could a strong club campaign prompt recalls?

What can Jack O'Connor take from Kerry county senior final day?
© James Crombie Kieran Donaghy consoles Tommy Walsh after the game.

That will be O’Connor’s call but he also witnessed on Sunday the enduring impact of two towering figures, at opposite ends of the pitch, that he is acquainted with. Donaghy celebrated and Walsh was left dejected, but it was clear much of the attacking gameplans of both teams was shaped around their respective focal points. They may have departed the inter-county stage, yet their club influence remains strong.

What can Jack O'Connor take from Kerry county senior final day?
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