Kerry manager Jack O'Connor celebrates after his side's victory in the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin.
Kerry manager Jack O'Connor celebrates after his side's victory in the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. 

O'Connor hails Sean O'Shea's poise under pressure


By John Harrington

When Kerry’s Seán O’Shea lined up that last-gasp match-winning free against Dublin in Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final, the odds seemed stacked against him.

He was around 50 yards out, kicking into a stiff breeze and raucous Hill 16, and over the course of the previous 75 minutes had expended huge energy in what was an all action performance by the Kenmare man.

Throw in the possibility that maybe his first-half penalty miss might still have been playing on his mind into the mix, and you figured this kick was too herculean a task to complete even for as gifted a footballer as he.

Kerry manager, Jack O’Connor, didn’t mind admitting after the match that he also felt the kick was outside O’Shea’s range.

“Personally, from the line, I didn’t think it was kickable to be honest with you, straight up,” said O’Connor. “I didn’t think a man could get the distance because Seanie Shea had emptied the tank.

“He had given a ferocious performance up to then. To have the resilience and the strength and more importantly the technique to kick that with the instep and just glide it in from the right hand past, into the breeze and into the hill.

“So that has to be one of the best pressure kicks we’ve seen here, and we’ve seen a lot of kicks, that I’ve seen here in Croke Park in a long, long time. I don’t think the penalty affected him because he was playing very, very well. He had a great start in that game. He had kicked 1-2 before he missed the penalty. Seanie is a resilient character, that was never going to affect him.

“But like, that last kick there’s very few players in the country…you go back to the Maurice Fitzs and the Bryan Sheehan’s of this world to kick like that, but particularly the last kick and the amount that he had given in the game.”

It was fitting that Kerry’s match-winning free should have been won by David Clifford because he once again produced a remarkable performance in the Kerry attack, top-scoring with six points.

His display was all the more impressive considering his preparation had been curtailed by injury.

“He jarred his ankle and it was swelled after the Mayo game,” revealed O’Connor.

“He basically didn’t train for the following week. But he did a bit last Tuesday. And we did a little bit Thursday, but it was some performance by him considering. He had missed a bit of time before the Mayo game with a calf injury time, so some performance considering the amount of time he had missed.”

Kerry manager Jack O'Connor congratulates David Clifford after Kerry's All-Ireland SFC semi-final victory over Dublin. 
Kerry manager Jack O'Connor congratulates David Clifford after Kerry's All-Ireland SFC semi-final victory over Dublin. 

Kerry were the better team for long stretches of Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final, but Dublin’s second-half comeback ensured the match ended in nerve-shredding circumstances.

What pleased O’Connor most was that his team had the mental resolve to find a way to win despite some very trying circumstances.

“It was a good test of the heart anyway,” he said. “The old ticker was going fairly fast near the end, It felt on the line that it was a fantastic game, a great battle. Dublin threw everything at us like the great team they are and their big players came to the fore in the last 15 minutes.

“Just delighted with our fellas, with the resilience they showed. That game was going against us. I think the absolute key to it was in the last 10 minutes, when Dublin were pressing our kick-outs Shane Ryan got off all our kick-outs. I think that was hugely significant. If they turn over one of those kick-outs I thought we were done. Fellas like Brian O Beaglaoich must have shown short for four or five of those kick-outs and more importantly broke out and broke the line and got us moving again.

“We were still creating a bit down the other end, even though we were a bit wasteful. But what a battle, Dublin are a great team. Probably the greatest team of all time so you can imagine how much it took for us to finally get over the line. Tony Griffin has worked an awful lot with the boys on the mental side of the game. Staying resilient, when you get setbacks, just driving on to the next ball or whatever and it took all that focus and resilience to keep going.”