Kerry’s Paul Geaney, David Moran and Paul Murphy.

THE KERRY WINTER departures began on New Years Day.

Jonathan Lyne was the first in 2021 to call time on his county career and his Killarney Legion club-mate Brian Kelly followed him in arriving at that decision on 4 January. Two days later Shane Enright joined the retirement club. The confirmation of Peter Crowley’s exit, which had been speculated on, only emerged in mid-April.

Perhaps it is not a sign of great change, after all only Crowley featured in Kerry’s sole championship outing of 2020 when they were tripped up at the finish line by Cork. The previous year over the course of their two All-Ireland final meetings with Dublin, only Jonathan Lyne got gametime and that was as a substitute in the drawn game.

But while they may not have recent regulars on the teamsheet, it does represent the loss of something for Kerry. Four more players with All-Ireland winning experience have moved on. It’s seven years since the county’s most recent Sam Maguire success, the last time someone other than Dublin achieved that, and being able to draw on that type of win is a commodity that is becoming depleted in the Kerry dressing-room. Kelly and Crowley started in that 2014 decider, Enright came on as a sub and Lyne had already made a valuable contribution in rifling over two points in that epic semi-final replay over Mayo.

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And so there are only five players remaining at Peter Keane’s disposal who reached the pinnacle of the sport and played in that defeat of Donegal. Captain Paul Murphy, midfielder David Moran, and the attacking trio of James O’Donoghue, Paul Geaney and Stephen O’Brien. Then there is Tommy Walsh who is still involved 12 years after shooting 0-4 as Kerry held off Cork in a September showpiece.

So much of the attention regarding Kerry’s prospects turns to the gifted youngsters they have assembled at senior level after their spectacular dominance of the minor grade.

But as their 2021 season begins on Saturday, where do the older crew fit in to the outlook for Kerry?

Kerry players stand for the national anthem before last November’s game against Cork.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

1. David Moran (Kerins O’Rahilly’s)

Moran is the most experienced player in the Kerry squad. He made his championship debut in 2008, the same year as Tommy Walsh, but given his club-mate’s spell playing Aussie Rules, it is Moran who now has the longest unbroken run of service.

A towering presence for Kerry in 2019 when he bagged his second All-Star award, he had a more difficult day in the Cork defeat. He received a black card and saw two low-percentage shots for points not find their range in extra-time as Kerry were attempting to push Cork adrift. Moran was still involved at the end of the match, partnering Diarmuid O’Connor from the off with Jack Barry the other established option at midfield.

He will turn 33 a few days after Kerry face Clare in the Munster championship opener that has been pencilled in for late June. Despite that veteran status, whatever Kerry’s midfield mix will be, Moran still seems a central player.

2. James O’Donoghue (Killarney Legion)

2020 began for O’Donoghue in a promising fashion with 0-3 against Dublin in the Croke Park opener in January and also hit 0-2 when meeting Galway in February. Then Covid wrecked the season and when the inter-county game resumed, O’Donoghue had again succumbed to injury, forced to miss the Cork match.

The 2014 Footballer of the Year, that period was when O’Donoghue was at his brilliant best. He was an All-Star attacker for two successive years but replicating that form has been tough with injuries stalling his progress. Is there a slot for him in that Kerry full-forward line and another kick in a player who turns 31 in June? An uninterrupted run on the pitch would help in giving him a chance to put his best foot forward. 

James O’Donoghue in action against Galway in the 2020 league.

Source: Keith Wiseman/INPHO

3. Paul Geaney (Dingle)

The Covid inter-county season of 2020 was a frustrating one for Geaney. Injury cast him into the role of bystander and if he was inching closer to a comeback, that Cork loss dashed his hopes of getting onto the field. It was a frustrating outcome given how sharp he looked at the close of 2019, sweeping over 0-3 against Tyrone and 0-4 when facing Dublin in the replay.

He turns 31 in November and it’s eight years since his senior championship debut. Restored to full fitness it is easy to see Geaney still playing an integral role to the Kerry attack. His experience offered a nice balance to the Clifford-O’Shea emergence in 2019 and he’s recent two-time All-Star following a hot streak of form over 2016 and 2017. Last year’s absence may fire his hunger as well for the coming campaign.

4. Paul Murphy (Rathmore)

When Cork swooped for that dramatic goal, Murphy was a defender in close proximity, almost on the line when the ball hit the net. His body language illustrated the sense of shock and in February he shed some light on the impact of that defeat, opting for a day off from work on the Monday and trying to block it out by binge-watching The US Office.

He has had some good news this year, rubber-stamped as the new Kerry captain, a role he has filled on occasion in the past and now takes it on full-time after East Kerry’s county title last autumn. A championship debutant in 2014, Murphy turns 30 in August and seems a cornerstone in that defence, one of the likely first names on the Kerry teamsheet.

Stephen O’Brien featured against Cork last year.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

5. Stephen O’Brien (Kenmare)

O’Brien was another Kerry player who had a terrific season in 2019. He came very close to gaining All-Star recognition, his running and trickery causing a lot of problems from the half-forward berth. The goal against Tyrone was the highlight but only came on in the second half of the Cork defeat and it wasn’t an easy game to impose his attacking style on.

The Kenmare man will be chasing a prolonged run of gametime again. Would still seem in a good position to nail down a half-forward berth and link up with his club colleague Sean O’Shea.

6. Tommy Walsh (Kerins O’Rahillys)

Walsh’s role this season in Kerry camp will be one of the most interesting. It was he who was under the dropping ball when it evaded him as Mark Keane crashing in that goal for Cork. He only entered the exchanges in the 85th minute, his 2020 championship run ended up being brief.

Again another who will have been left frustrated after the evidence in 2019 that he was poised to influence the inter-county game again. A valuable weapon off the bench, he was particularly instrumental in the second half comeback against Tyrone. Turned 33 last month, where will he fit in to Kerry’s plans for the coming year?

Tommy Walsh played against Dublin in the 2020 football league.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

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