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Jack O'Connor: 'It's about that group of lads, we are just hoping this can spark something big'

The Kerry boss is savouring another All-Ireland triumph.

Jack O'Connor celebrates at the final whistle.
Jack O'Connor celebrates at the final whistle.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

JACK O’CONNOR PAID tribute to Kerry’s rising stars as they at last made their mark on the All-Ireland senior stage.

O’Connor was at the helm when Kerry won minor crowns in 2014 and 2015 but the products of those teams, along with the free-scoring brilliance of David Clifford and Seán O’Shea, had to wait until today to finally get their hands on the Sam Maguire.

“Look, the ’14 minors were an exceptional team, we thought that was the best team we had. You had the likes of Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan, Killian Spillane, Micheal Burns, Mark O’Connor, who is over in Australia. They were a very good side and we beat a very good Donegal team and a lot of that Donegal team have come through since.

“The ’15 team was not as highly rated but we felt they really came together and then Peter Keane continued it and we are just hoping this can spark something big.

“Look, it isn’t about myself, it’s about that group of lads. We’ve been trying to put them together since 2014. I finished up with the seniors in 2012, because we knew that a new group needed to come. The great team from 04-09 had come to an end here 11 years ago, I suppose Stephen Cluxton put an end to them.

“We knew that a new group had to be developed and whatever. That began in 2014. We didn’t think today would take eight years to go the distance, but with that group, I know we won one in ’14 but this is the five-in-a-row minors really coming through today. We’re just hoping it is the start of something good.”

tadhg-morley-jack-oconnor-celebrate-with-the-sam-maguire-cup Jack O'Connor celebrates with the Kerry players. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

One of Kerry’s underage stars has had to deal with rising expectations but David Clifford delivered on the biggest day.

“I went down there to the corner under Hill 16 at the angle where David Clifford kicked that last free and I will tell you something that is some kick, that is some kick. There was a tricky wind going in there and he did not have much to aim at and he stuck it over so hats off to him.

“Look, he is a remarkable man and that weight of expectation has been on him since he was was 18 and he has jumped every hurdle he has come across. He jumped another big one today.

“We felt it was a free (John Daly on Killian Spillane), we felt he leaned in with the shoulder. It was a great conversion; I am telling you was a tricky free and I think it was the one that gave us a small bit of daylight.”

david-clifford-and-paudie-clifford-celebrate-with-his-parents-ellen-dermot-and-sister-shelly David and Paudie Clifford celebrate with their parents and sister. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Emerging from a tight battle was hugely satisfying for O’Connor as he watched his team dig out the victory, although he admitted there was some anxiety in the first half.

“Absolutely, they’re the best ones of all. This was never going to be an easy game. We never took Galway lightly. I thought Galway played very very well. Maybe the tag of favouritism rested heavily on our fellas’ shoulders. particularly in the first half I thought we were very jiggy and not composed on the ball. 

“In general play I thought we were doing ok. We were turning Galway over. And we were doing very well on the Galway kick-out. I just thought we were lacking composure and just needed to be more clinical. And that was the message at half-time.

“I was quite animated myself at half-time. I felt that we weren’t playing to our potential out there. There were players who had more to give. We’ve always been pretty composed in the dressing room at half-time. But I think today was one where we needed a bit of a jolt. And we left a couple of yahoos alright.”

adrian-spillane-celebrates-with-jack-savage Adrian Spillane celebrates with Jack Savage. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Kerry boss referenced his team’s resilience, the addition of performance coach Tony Griffin to their setup and the reduction in goals conceded as key factors this year.

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“It had to be ground out and we spoke about that 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 lads we can dig out a game, we can dog it out. 

“I think there is a lot of belief in the dressing room, a lot of belief in each other. We have worked incredibly hard on the mental side of the game this year with Tony Griffin. I just think we needed everything in the end to get over the line because that was a really good Galway display today.

“In terms of that being the x-factor in terms of getting over the line this year as opposed to not in 2019, 2020 etc is it those little things like digging it out that makes the big difference

“Look, you have to say that the big difference this year is that we haven’t been conceding goals. It took a wonder goal from Cormac Costello to breach us against Dublin. That was the only goal we conceded in the championship. We conceded two in the league. So any day that a Kerry team does not concede goals you have a great chance.”

O’Connor explained the decision-making that saw experienced figures David Moran and Paul Geaney withdrawn at half-time.

“David spent a week there after the Dublin game, he had a bit of illness, he did not train and we felt he was not going to last the game. I had the same dose myself and it took a good bit out of myself. I was saying to myself I had to play a game I would not be in ay great shape, I just through he would not have the same energy levels that he could have. We thought Diarmuid would give them a bit of bother around the middle of the field with his legs.

“Paul was playing quite well…he was just a bit unsettled and snatching at stuff. We just thought Killian would settle things down but look what is the point of having subs if you don’t put them in. Adrian Spillane had been very good for us all the year, he gave us great work-rate and Killian was very composed and got two great scores.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole  / Reports from Croke Park

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