Kerry’s Diarmuid O’Connor hails midfield partner Joe O’Connor for stepping up in 2024

Austin Stack’s man has stepped in for Jack Barry in Kingdom engine room

Diarmuid O'Connor
Kerry midfielder Diarmuid O’Connor says the players on the Kingdom panel are always asking each other for guidance and insight

Diarmuid O’Connor has hailed his midfield partner Joe O’Connor for making a major step up with Kerry this year.

Austin Stack’s man Joe has come in for Diarmuid’s Na Gaeil clubmate Jack Barry, who opted out of the panel to go travelling.

The transition has been well handled so far as they face into another major test against Cork pairing Ian Maguire and Colm O’Callaghan in Saturday’s Munster SFC semi-final in Killarney.

“Joe’s done superbly well this year,” said Diarmuid.

“Joe’s been on the panel since 2020 and he’s been unlucky that he hasn’t got the break before that to try and stake his claim. He’s doing brilliant well, in fairness to him.

“He probably could have got his chance a bit earlier and just to see the work he put in while he was injured and the way he went about things so professionally, it’s no surprise to me how well he’s doing.”

Diarmuid O’Connor credits Barry with playing an important role in his career but he knew Barry had his mind made up once he mentioned heading abroad.

“Jack had made his decision and it wasn’t for me to try and change his mind. It was something he wanted to do for a while and him and Laura, his girlfriend, decided that they wanted to do it so fair play to them. I wish them the best,” he said.

“He’s a couple of years older than me and he was the first from our club to play for the county. To lean on that experience was hugely beneficial.”

Joe O'Connor
Joe O'Connor

Stefan Okunbor is another Na Gaeil option around the middle but he has enjoyed little luck with injuries.

“Stef has been playing great football this year when he gets the chance and hopefully he’ll stay fit this year,” said O’Connor.

“He’s been quite unfortunate but he’s a positive guy and he’ll take things in his stride. He’ll always come back a bit stronger.”

O’Connor also praised Footballer of the Year David Clifford for his role in lifting the team around him to a higher level.

“David is brilliant in that not only is he a brilliant scorer in terms of getting his own scores but he’s brilliant in making the boys around him better,” he said.

“He can slip ball, he’s a great kickpasser, and he can maybe take two defenders and leave another fella get his shot off so he’s brilliant that way as well.

“He’s come on leaps and bounds since he came into senior and he’ll keep improving, no doubt.

“There are plenty of fellas like that in the panel who have great football brains and you can pick their brains and they can pick our brains as midfielders.

“It’s having that confidence in fellas you can speak to them about certain things going on in games. It’s very valuable to us.”