Jack O’Connor: ‘We were lucky to beat Derry in All-Ireland semi-final’

The Kingdom boss will cross swords with Mickey Harte again when the sides clash in Tralee on Saturday

Jack O'Connor and David Clifford
Jack O'Connor and David Clifford Jack O'Connor's Kerry side begin their League campaign without talisman David Clifford when Derry travel to Tralee

ALTHOUGH he was loathe to think back to the conclusion of last year’s All-Ireland SFC campaign, Kerry manager Jack O’Connor has acknowledged just how close Derry were to beating his side in last year’s semi-final.

The sides meet again in Tralee tomorrow in the opening round of this year’s Allianz Football League Division One campaign, a game which sees O’Connor renew sideline rivalry with Mickey Harte.

“We got our bellyful of Derry in the semi-final last year,’’ admits O’Connor.

“In my view we were quite lucky to win that game. They played fantastic football and in the last five minutes we just managed to put a bit of a squeeze on their kick-outs and got some joy from that.

“There was nothing in that game. Shane Ryan made a point-blank save from Gareth McKinless that I felt was save of the season. If that goes in, we do not win the game.’’

Ciaran Meenagh was in charge of Derry that day, but he has since been replaced by Harte, who has already banked a trophy after Dr McKenna Cup wins over Cavan, Down, Armagh and Donegal in pre-season.

‘’Regardless of who is in charge, they are right in the mix,’’ says O’Connor.

‘’Good age profile, football in the county going from an upward curve to a surge on Sunday (Glen’s All-Ireland Club win), underage All-Ireland titles. Their time is coming, just hoping we can delay it for a bit longer.”

The football scene has had a lot of changes since O’Connor shook hands with then Louth manager Harte in Portlaoise at the end of Kerry’s emphatic win in an All-Ireland SFC group game last June.

Interestingly, O’Connor used the example of Glen’s second goal against St Brigid’s in Croke Park last Sunday to explain how Kerry lost out to the Dubs in the All-Ireland decider last July.

“I just felt it was a very tight game and there were periods where we looked like we had control,’’ he said.

‘’A couple of big moments changed it and once Dublin get momentum in Croke Park, it’s hard to arrest it.

‘’But’ like the Glen last Sunday, Dublin’s goal changed it. There was a time in my former life a lot of stuff like that would stay with me, would bother me. I’m more philosophical now; you can only control what you control. No one can account for a deflection,” he said on not retaining Sam Maguire last year.

O’Connor has confirmed that the Clifford brothers – David and Paudie – will not be involved tomorrow evening, while Paul Geaney is another still to feature for Kerry in 2024 after their McGrath Cup campaign ended in defeat to Cork in the final after a penalty shoot-out.

The Kerry boss isn’t expecting an open classic when the Oak Leaf county arrive.

“The days of six on six, open football, six backs against six forwards is long gone and it won’t be coming back any time soon.

‘’You’re constantly working on quick transition, trying to get the ball moving out of defence quickly and hitting somebody up front on the counter-attack… that is the way the game is going.

‘’The likes of Derry are coming (to Tralee) Saturday night; they’re not going to be playing open football. You’ll be getting 15 men behind the ball and attacking with 15 as well.

‘’Sure, we’d all love to be going out playing open football but it’s just not the reality.”