Home Written work Jack O’Connor’s influence written in prose as well as poetry

Jack O’Connor’s influence written in prose as well as poetry


WHEN Paidi’s September nights roll around and there’s no training from Kerry to keep the summer vibe going, they’ll be fixing up early for winter talk about All-Ireland’s 38th and winning.

It will only be the second time in a dozen years that the former canister has spent the end of the year in Kerry’s dungeon and they will wisely nod when someone says Jack felt it was the “most sweet of all”.

Because now they appreciate what he’s talking about.

Sure, their 0-20 to 0-16 success at Croke Park on Sunday was an uplifting highlight for the football campaign – and only one previous final has delivered more scores – but the sweetest thing for the people of the Kingdom is the fact that this campaign title winner will be told in prose, not poetry. Even though the Kerry footballers have won all four competitions they have entered in 2022, much of their career will be framed by what happened in the final 20 minutes of Sunday’s decision.

For all the times Kerry has been involved since 2019, nothing spoke renewal like this team’s ability to come out of the duck when it didn’t have its best Sunday in tow. They never led until the 41st minute of the final, a game they entered as big favourites. There were frantic spells in both halves at Croke Park where Galway tugged their favorite rivals through the nose, making the smartest decisions in possession and out of possession. Kerry was ‘jiggy’, Jack admitted. Like Kilkenny a week before, Pádraic Joyce and his players will reflect on a final that could have ended differently.

What ultimately denied them an exciting All-Ireland tenth was their opponents’ ability to keep a clear head and achieve their end goal. When it came to a 67th-minute moment that always came, David Clifford made the killing blow with a superb free under the Cusack stand. After the game, Jack O’Connor visited the venue to make sure it was as shrill and challenging as he had imagined it to be in real time from the touchline at Hogan Stand. Clifford delivered an MVP display when the climax called for it. He has earned his place in winter comparisons with Mikey, Maurice and Gooch now.

Again, that Kerry side had found a way. They finally put a limit on Shane Walsh and pushed Damien Comer to the sidelines. It wasn’t all stroke angles and smooth curls.

It dates back to the League opener of the season when they phased out Newbridge but emerged with a draw. Ease of getting results has too often been beyond Kerry’s recent teams to be circumstantial and it’s something Jack O’Connor set out to tackle from the start of his third coming as as senior manager. He mentioned coach Paddy Tally and sports performance coach Tony Griffin too generously for it to be a coincidence and their impact is one of the most fundamental differences between coming up short and squeezing the tape first.

O’Connor noted after Sunday’s roller coaster win that they only conceded one goal from Cormac Costello in the league, and another couple in the league – one from a Monaghan penalty and the second from a rubber death against Tyrone. It’s a remarkable statistic for a county where joga bonito is an expectation, and one that will be celebrated as joyfully as the crowning of David Clifford with his first Celtic Cross medal.

Kerry manager Jack O’Connor and Galway manager Cian O’Neill after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kerry and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Has Kerry football finally bought into pragmatism and accepted that artistic brushstrokes and champagne football won’t always prevail? Is this Jack O’Connor’s greatest achievement, more remarkable even than bringing his people back to the top of the mountain?

O’Connor went hard for Paddy Tally when he interviewed to replace Peter Keane, with the fear that he might have walked away with his grand plan had the executive not backed his vision. He said so himself, so it’s no small feat to suggest that the Dromid Man would make a deal with Lucifer if he thought it would serve as a means to the end of Kerry’s football.

Kerry’s board of directors was won over to some alternatives, but in the area of ​​guarantees, O’Connor offered as close as possible. Tally and Griffin were the small margins.

It’s been 18 years since his first All-Ireland hit on Mayo in 2004 and some old tricks remain. He knocked down Graham O’Sullivan, his own club man, as he did then with Galvin and O’Mahony. Like that first final, he’s not too smart to dust off old schemes. While using Johnny Crowley and Dara Ó Cinnéide, he had Kerry bombard Galway’s backline with air traffic controllers and turned them into scores via David Clifford’s marks.

Although Galway headed into the interval break 0-8 0-7 ahead, they had done their job well and deserved a more representative lead. O’Connor and Kerry knew that. There were a few ‘yahoos’ at the break, the manager said, and they emerged with both Spillanes to provide the missing first-half legs and advantage. O’Connor always believed in Killian Spillane, but the sniper Templenoe might have left other critics perplexed. His two points on Sunday were worth way more than what was on the giant scorecards.

In the 46th minute, a riveting finish seemed to have rocked Galway’s path. They led 0-14 to 0-12 in front, and Kieran Molloy returned possession to Stephen O’Brien. Tom O’Sullivan saw a shot blocked but Killian Spillane stepped in to collect the remains and was fouled. It was a crucial intervention, just as Graham O’Sullivan’s first point was three minutes after.

If Kerry thought they had beaten Galway’s best, they were premature. Damien Comer, squeezed out of the full forward by a lack of involvement, pinched a restart from Kerry to set up the wonderful Cillian McDaid for the game’s 32nd point – also shared.

It was in the 64th minute. There were ten minutes of football left, but Galway would not score again. Clifford’s point in the 67th minute was a magnificent thing and a source of controversy. Pádraic Joyce felt after Comer was pushed before Daly and Killian Spillane struggled. Sean Hurson awarded the free to Kerry, who surprised the most in the sold-out crowd of 83,000. That said, McDaid won a free after being sandwiched six minutes earlier and both of Kerry’s challenges appeared to be on the shoulder.

Small margins, big calls.

And sweeter still for it all, Kerry’s manager reflects afterwards.

“In the first half I thought we were very restless and not composed on the ball. I think we had seven kicks wide before Galway recorded one. We were very wasteful. I felt that we were not exploiting our potential there.

“It needed to be ground down and we talked about it on Thursday night. There are many ways to win a game. We feel that all the work we have done on the mental side of the game with the guys, that we can dig a match, we can get out of it. It turned out to be the way.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard on the mental side of the game this year with Tony Griffin. I just think we needed everything at the end to get over the line because it was a really good display in Galway.

But one that came aimlessly. Indeed, Shane Ryan’s gloves have not been tested.

“The big difference this year is that we haven’t conceded any goals. It took a superb goal from Cormac Costello to break through against Dublin. Every day a Kerry team doesn’t concede, you have a big chance.

Extraordinarily, Gavin White exploded from the Hogan Stand side of the field to score a 72nd-minute point that put Kerry three down. Leaving the pitch a fortnight ago, he feared a cruciate ligament injury had ended his dream and his year, but he got a session this week to convince everyone he would bring the goods. Just like Joe O’Connor late doors. And Paudie Clifford, who fought her way through the first half – an apt metaphor for Kerry’s performance – but reacted in a second half by delivering the clutch late, making smart calls and taking decisions that change momentum.

Symptomatic of a different and wise Kerry.

Jack came back fine.