Long wait makes second All-Ireland medal a sweet one for O'Brien
By John Harrington
For four men in particular on the Kerry football panel, this 2022 All-Ireland SFC triumph felt like a long time coming.
Stephen O’Brien, David Moran, Paul Geaney, and Paul Murphy are the four survivors from the team that won the county’s last All-Ireland title in 2014.
The seven championship campaigns that ended without the Sam Maguire Cup in the interim were painful in a variety of different ways, but for Stephen O’Brien those serial disappointments just made Sunday’s hard-fought win over Galway all the sweeter.
“It's just so satisfying,” he told GAA.ie “That was my first year playing in 2014 and you're just thinking maybe this will be what it's like every year or every second year or something like that.
“But it just didn't happen for us, we came up against a great Dublin team and couldn't get back here. Then you're doubting yourself will you get back here?
“So to say that we've gotten back here now, for those who played in 2014 and are still involved now it's just an amazing feeling.
“It's so much sweeter now because all the heart-breaks, all the defeats, it's all worth it for today. It was just amazing to go up those steps again, I'm just delighted.
“This team has had a lot of disappointments but we knew we had a great crop of players coming through. Our older lads maybe had to guide them a little bit.
“We thought our chance had come against Dublin in 2019 and then the in the last two years we could have pushed on and won it but we didn't. We're just delighted it's finally happened this year.
“Jack O'Connor came in as manager and we owe a lot to him. He's definitely got the Midas touch. He's a great manager, he's experienced, and that's what we needed really to get us over the line in these tight games and we've had some massive battles the past couple of weeks.”
No-one doubted the ability of this Kerry team, but plenty questioned their mental fortitude.
It was a common assessment that if Galway could be in the game with ten minutes to go that Kerry could buckle once again under the weight of expectation that has been placed on their ‘Golden Generation’.
Galway were indeed in the game coming down the stretch, but Kerry held their nerve and proved they have the bottle to complement their skill by scoring the last four points of the match.
“Yeah, huge, it's something we've really worked on,” says O’Brien. “We had Tony Griffin in with us this year and he made a big difference in that. We had some great battles in the League as well. Jack always puts a big focus on the League and we had some tough battles in that which gave us confidence.
“But you never know until Championship and we had some great battles in the Championship too. The Dublin game, the end of that game, that really really set us free.
“Seanie's kick will probably go down in history now, it was just an amazing kick. To come through a battle like that against probably the best team of all time in Dublin really stood to us.
“All this team needed was experience and it was earned experience really. So we knew coming into this All-Ireland that we could come through if it was another battle.”
A battle it certainly was. Galway were the better team in the first half and went blow for blow until the final 10 minutes when Kerry finally got on top.
“Galway were savage, absolutely savage,” says O’Brien. “We knew going in we were coming up against a great team. They have some really, really savage players and savage pace in their team.
“Cian O'Neill was involved with us previously when Eamonn Fitzmaurice was manager so we knew that they were going to be very well set up and they were. They really frustrated us in the first half and they kicked all their scores. They had amazing accuracy in the first half and we missed a few.
“Going in at half-time we just said that we knew they probably couldn't keep that accuracy up and we were going to improve. That's what happened in the second-half.
“It was still a ding-dong battle that could have gone either way, but our bench really took over. We knew we had a huge trump card there in our bench with the likes of Killian Spillane, Micheál Burns, Paul Murphy. They make a huge difference coming off the bench.
“Joe O'Connor too, he's been amazing for us this year as captain even though he's not always playing.
“A lot of praise needs to go to him because he's a great young fella and it's a tough position he was in but he took it like a man so I'm just delighted for him as well that he was able to come on and make a massive difference as well.”