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'It's unfortunate that it didn't work out' - Donie Buckley's departure in Kerry

Stephen O’Brien has played down Buckley’s surprise departure from the Kingdom set-up.

Former Kerry coach Donie Buckley.
Former Kerry coach Donie Buckley.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IT SEEMS LIKE a lifetime ago when Donie Buckley’s departure from the Kerry set-up was announced.

On 7 March, the Kerry county board released a statement confirming the Castleisland man’s departure from Peter Keane’s set-up.

It was a big story on the GAA front for a few days until Leo Varadkar’s decision to close schools five days later signalled the start of the “delay phase” of the Covid-19 outbreak in Ireland.

Since then Ireland has become a very different place and sport has largely been put on the backburner.

But whenever the wheel begins to turn on the inter-county season again, whether that comes this year or next, Buckley’s exit will go down as a significant moment in the lifecycle of this Kingdom team.

2019 All-Star nominee Stephen O’Brien played down the importance of Buckley’s departure, pointing to the quality coaches that remain in the backroom team.

“Donie is a very astute and experienced coach,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that it didn’t work out.

“But with the trainers and coaches that we have, Jason McGahan is doing the physical training and he’s brilliant.

“Then we have Tommy Griffin who has won a lot both as a player and a coach with the minors. Like, the training, there wasn’t really a huge impact on it. But, yeah, we all probably stopped training the week after.

“I suppose there’s an opportunity in every change. You could say the same if a player gets injured or retires, it’s an opportunity for other people to step up and it’s the same in the management team.”

It was subsequently reported that Buckley was removed from his position. It became apparent that relations between the former Mayo coach and Keane had become strained.

“From what I’ve heard, he was picking up cones and bibs inside there,” Tomás Ó Sé said at the time.

“And that’s the usual thing that’s been thrown out. There has to have been a falling out. We don’t know what that falling out was about and there could be wrong on both sides.”

It was the second time Buckley’s involvement in a Kerry set-up ended unharmoniously, following a fall-out with Jack O’Connor in 2012.

“The vibe I’ve been getting from the camp, through word of mouth – which I wouldn’t really take as sacred – is that the players wanted him,” added the legendary wing-back.

“The players wanted Buckley.”

He certainly appeared to be a popular figure with players.

Buckley was often credited as being the brains behind Mayo’s high-pressing game during his tenure with the Connacht side.

Days out from their Munster SFC opener last May, Paul Geaney was effusive in his praise for Buckley’s methods. He laid down the law in terms of what was expected from the Kerry forwards.

“We’ve done a lot of work, a lot of technique work and there’s been huge improvements this year, I can see it already,” said Geaney. “We’re not leaving lazy hands in anymore. There’s been massive leaps in the tackling with Donie’s drills and the emphasis he puts on the tackle.

“You could see it in Mayo how good they were in the tackle over the last few years, that was all Donie. Well, I would imagine that was all Donie with the amount of work he does on it.

“Hopefully, we can bring those techniques we’re doing in sessions into games. I think we will because it’s very visible to me how much we’ve improved in the tackle. I think people might be surprised at how good Kerry are in the tackle this year.”

Buckley’s defensive work has long been his hallmark and his departure arrived at a time when Kerry’s average concession rate in the league had risen from 13 in 2019 to 17 this year.

For all their attacking brilliance, Kerry have looked vulnerable at the back in comparison with their great rivals Dublin.

Given he had to be the man who made the final call on Buckley, there will be pressure on Keane to shore up his team defensively in the event we do get a 2020 All-Ireland championship.

But O’Brien was positive about the vibe in the Kerry camp before the enforced break in play.

“I suppose we’d been having a positive league campaign. We started with a game against Dublin in Croke Park and it was a cracker of a game that ended up a draw. I suppose good performances from both teams.

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allianz-football-league-2020-launch Kerry footballer Stephen O’Brien at the launch of the Allianz Football Leagues. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

“The following week we played Galway in Tralee and after a nailbiter finish we were lucky enough to get over the line and win by a point. I suppose you saw what Galway have done in the rest of the league campaign, I think that was the only time they didn’t win a game, so that probably made the result look a little bit better.

“We played Tyrone then above in an absolute storm and came out the wrong side of that by a point. It was still a reasonably good performance and they were on a high because they were just after getting Cathal McShane back.

“Then we beat Meath in Killarney and then had another weather event up in Mayo. We travelled up the Friday night and had to stay around until Sunday to have the game. People were saying at the that you’d go off the head doing nothing around the hotel with nothing to do.

“That was some preparation for the lockdown we’re on now where you’re spending a load of time just killing time at home.

“But, overall, it’s been a good league campaign. We were looking forward to hopefully qualifying for a league final. It’s now in doubt as to whether the league will be finished off.

“But even if you are going to play championship teams will want to have challenge games so why have challenge games rather than a fully competitive Allianz League campaign.”

The Kenmare forward is in favour of games taking place behind closed doors if the other alternative is not playing them.

“I’m of the opinion that we usually train during the summer in Fitzgerald Stadium, which is a very big stadium and there’s no-one there. So we’re used to playing in stadiums with no crowd there.

“The few challenge games we’ve played over the years have been behind closed doors as well. So from a players’ perspective, once the ball is thrown in it doesn’t bother you too much. Now I don’t know if it’s feasible to play games behind closed doors.

“For the people who can’t go to matches to see them in person it’s a huge thing. As a player, I’d be okay with it but I don’t know if it’s feasible.”

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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