Kerry find their next group of leaders, now the challenge starts as they seek to get back to the top

65 DAYS AFTER a vacancy arose in the Kerry football hotseat, it was filled last night in Tralee.

Fitzgerald, Griffin, Keane and Buckley will all be involved with Kerry.

Source: INPHO

Word had filtered out last week that Peter Keane was to be the new boss and speculation flared over his backroom team before it was all neatly rubber-stamped at a county board meeting last night.

Keane will succeed Éamonn Fitzmaurice with Donie Buckley steering the team from a coaching perspective and selector roles to be filled by Maurice Fitzgerald, Tommy Griffin and James Foley. The S&C issue is still to be resolved but the bulk of the business is done and the approach will now switch to 2019.

The selection in Kerry embodies two characteristics of inter-county appointment processes that now receive greater attention. The identity of those that will work alongside the new man and whether succession planning has come into the equation with an aspiring manager stepping up from underage grades. 

The latter box has been ticked with Keane’s coaching CV bolstered by the steady stream of silver he delivered during his three-year reign as Kerry minor manager. Six championships entered and six trophies secured is a record that is beyond reproach.

The first issue surrounding Keane’s sideline team was always going to be a critical one as Kerry sought to overhaul and manage a time of transition. Donie Buckley’s progressive and innovative work during spells with Mayo and Limerick did not go unnoticed in Kerry. He had a role with their squad in 2011, his input this time is likely to be greater and satisfies a desire amongst Kerry supporters to have the 1985 All-Ireland club winning goalscorer with Castleisland Desmonds, back involved in his native county.

Maurice Fitzgerald provides a strong link to the squad from the past two seasons, provides an amount of stardust from his playing exploits and a relationship with Keane as club-mates – they have both taken St Mary’s Cahersiveen to All-Ireland club glory in Croke Park since 2011.

It’s six years since Dingle’s Tommy Griffin hung up his inter-county senior boots. He’s enough knowledge of a senior environment, and along with James Foley has forged a strong relationship with Keane during that run of minor triumphs.

The 2019 season will begin the process of discovering whether that managerial mix produces the right results on the pitch. They take over a squad that has already been stripped of experience since this year’s campaign concluded with Kieran Donaghy, Donnchadh Walsh and Anthony Maher all retiring over the past month.

The theme of change can be expressed in the fact that Griffin’s last championship involvement as a Kerry player was the 2011 All-Ireland final with Killian Young, Darran O’Sullivan and Barry John Keane the only playing survivors from those that featured that day against Dublin.

Five minor crowns in the spin since 2014 have inevitably ratcheted up the anticipation levels in Kerry of the talent that is coming down the tracks. Keane can be grateful that Fitzmaurice’s last summer at the helm was marked by the gametime he gave to that emerging crew.

Of the All-Ireland minor victors over the past five Septembers, there were five footballers – Jason Foley, Gavin White, Micheál Burns, Seán O’Shea and David Clifford – in action during Fitzmaurice’s last game against Kildare in early August. Brian Ó Beaglaoich had started the Munster final and Keane has a better take than anyone of the underage raw materials that exist.

If the sideline group he has assembled looks strong and the youngsters with potential are plentiful, the challenge still remains a considerable one. Chairman Tim Murphy offered a reminder of the target  that always exists in Kerry by mentioning his confidence they can bring Sam Maguire back to the county. 

Kerry have not contested the last three All-Ireland finals. They have lost in championship encounters to Mayo and Galway over the last 14 months, and but for a piece of David Clifford magic, Monaghan would have defeated them in July.

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There is a different dynamic at play for Kerry and not least because of the era of remarkable dominance Dublin are enjoying. Keane will not need reminding of the expectation that governs the tenure of every Kerry senior manager. There will be patience at the start of his time in charge but there is plenty work to be done.

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