Weeshie's Week

Kerrys wealth of experience on the sideline has been the defining element in their All Ireland successes

August 11th, 2015
by Weeshie Fogarty

The reverberations following Kerry's stunning display against Kildare in the recent quarter final in Croke Park can still be felt all around the county as the Kerry faithful joyfully discuss and digest the enormity of the score and the beauty of the overall display. And let me be quite clear that nobody is under any illusion whatsoever but Kildare, the proud sporting county that they are were absolutely pathetic. In fact looking back in retrospect it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to say that their second half performance was the worse I have ever seen from a county in a major championship game at headquarters.
Preparations for the semi-final against Tyrone with their 15 men behind the ball defence will be stepped up greatly behind the locked gates of Fitzgerald Stadium and while all the media attention will centre on our highly valued manager Eamon Fitzmaurice and his selectors Mickey Sheehy and Diarmuid Murphy (they have 15 All Ireland medals and 10 All Stars between them) and whatever plans he might have to overcome Mickey Harte's men it is the fourth member of these side line generals who probably has the greatest responsibility of all.
 Kildare born Cian o Neill is coach, trainer and selector with Kerry, a man of massive experience, his impact on the county since Eamon invited him on board three years ago has been enormous and it is now as Kerry prepare to defend their All Ireland title against Tyrone and hopefully either Dublin/ Mayo in the final that we have time to stand back and admire exactly where he has brought this group of players to. Make no mistake about it this man is vital to Kerry and the lofty position they hold in the GAA world. And why not as he has a vast amount of experience at the highest level.
Every year since 2008 Cian has been involved in a county that has either won a provincial or All Ireland title. He has helped in both football and hurling success at the highest levels. Seven provincial titles, two All-Ireland wins, (Tipperary and Kerry), five All Ireland final appearances between the two codes and involving three counties. Tipperary hurlers, Mayo footballers and of course Kerry. Very few of us realised that as we were celebrating last year's historic and unexpected win over Donegal he was back in his native county helping his own club Moorefield win the county championship.
 Strength and conditioning is the buzz word in Gaelic games today and the Kildare man is a master in the art of this, and we are ahead of Tyrone in this area. And it was a Kerrymen, our own Mickey Ned o Sullivan who first invited him to intercounty management and the Kenmare man remarked to me in conversation recently that "he was the best trainer in the country".
Eamon Fitzmaurice is one of the shrewdest and smartest managers we have ever seen and like Jack o Connor one of their secrets is to surround yourself with the very best people available for particular position within the backroom team. Cast a cold eye on the Kerry side line during the big games and invariably you will see the manager and his trainer side by side, expressionless, pointing to certain areas of the field and talking to each other, ready to make the changes whenever necessary. I have always maintained that Kerry's availability of top class side line men down through the decades, men who have gone through the white heat of championship football themselves has been the one defining  element in the county's All Ireland long list of victories. Kilkenny in hurling can also boast of this wealth of experience on the line. And the present men in charge here in The Kingdom are as good as any gone before them and while another championship victory is not a certainty to come, one thing for me is absolutely definite, and that is, the team that beats Kerry will have to be the better side on the day.
Last year the increased physicality in the Kerry players was glaringly obvious, especially in those two titanic battles against Mayo in the semi-final and then against the superbly prepared Donegal men in the decider.  This year it is even more obvious and that is down to o Neill's influence. In an interview with Eamon Fitzmaurice following last years final I asked the Kerry manager about his trainer and he told me, "The players have worked very hard under Cian; he deserves a lot of credit for our success. Everything he does is based on science and there's nothing left to chance. I think the proof of the pudding was against Mayo. It's one thing less for me to worry about because I know that everything he does is to the very highest level".
So put together o Neill's physical demands of all players and Kerry's natural ability and technical skills in all aspects of the game especially their huge emphasis on kick passing, long and short foot passing, high fielding, and their innate football instincts of running into open spaces and you have the recipe of the highly successful Kerry championship game plan.
Training and preparations of Kerry teams have changed beyond all recognition over the years. We live in a totally different world in this respect. While the word manager did not enter the Kerry vocabulary until Paidi o Se assumed the role, he had Seamus MacGearailt as his trainer, other legendary winning trainers such as Con Brosnan, Jack McCarthy, Dr Eamon o Sullivan and Jackie Lyne were all of the so called old school, Cian o Neill is light years away from their methods.
I have been around long enough to see quantum changes in the preparation of teams. The jargon of sports science has well and truly entered the lives of footballers and hurlers. For instance, SAQ training, that's Speed, Agility, Quickness, and all that goes with it, hurdles, ladders, even body parachutes, etc. Body Mass Index, a measure of the fat ratio; Functional Screening, where players are screened, individually, measured in a variety of tests to see just how fit/fat/functional they are in preparation for the season
For many of the passionate Kerry supporters all of this 21st century high Tec training is difficult to grasp and follow but whatever is happening behind closed doors is certainly working and the Kildare native is playing a central role as Kerry strive to put back to back All Ireland together, a massive ask. Cian o Neill is in his third year with Kerry, with a few exceptions this is a young side and if Kieran Donaghy is to lift the Sam Maguire in September then the training, preparation, coaching, positivity and vast experience o Neill has brought to the squad will decide the issue one way or the other. So far he has been faultless and Kerry's first ever selector from outside the county has proven an inspired selection by the manager. The omens are looking good for The Kingdom. Tyrone await, Kerry are ready for the physical clash.

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom