THE key to Kerry’s All-Ireland success at minor level is down to appointing the right people and getting ex-players involved, according to Tomas O Se.
The Kingdom have dominated the All-Ireland series for the last three summers, with former senior manager Jack O’Connor guiding them to the 2014 and 2015 titles before former player Tommy Griffin took the reins to make it three-in-a-row in 2016.
Their 2014 success ended a 20-year wait for an All-Ireland minor title and their subsequent hat-trick of titles equalled the teams of the early 1930s.
And while the Kerry senior team is going through something of a transition, manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice has kept the Kingdom competitive since he took over in 2012, winning Sam Maguire in 2014.
Jack O’Connor, meanwhile, has moved up to take charge of Kerry’s U21.
“The crucial thing is the men at the top and who they choose is vital,” said O Se.
“For years we were getting things wrong in Kerry. We’d great players coming through, we were winning colleges’ All-Irelands all over the place but we couldn’t produce it at minor level because we had the wrong people in charge. We had the wrong people coaching, we’d the wrong people in charge of minor teams.
“Donal Daly is a key man in Kerry in terms of strategically organising what they were going to do, what camps, what coaches they had. Buddies of mine are involved.
“Michael Quirke is involved, we’ve Sean O’Sullivan involved, Tommy Griffin is involved, ex-players are involved and know and understand it; they know how to talk to players.”
O Se, now working as a GAA pundit, paid tribute to the shrewd leadership offered by the Kerry County Board and how they've head-hunted the right coaches to keep the Kingdom at the top table.
“We’ve a great chairman at the moment – Patrick O’Sullivan – he’s really bright. We’ve a great county board; we always had a good relationship with our county board.
“In the quiet they would ask people in the know: ‘Who do you think we should go for here?’
“In some counties, they fill a vacancy and that’s it. That’s not good enough. You need the right guy in charge.”
O Se added: “The reality is if you choose properly good things tend to happen and you get the most out of players. Jack O’Connor was a brilliant appointment.
“We won three minor titles in a row which was brilliant. It’s important that those players carry it on and are minded and they go back to their clubs and they play with their colleges and they stay interested because not everybody will play U21 for three years.
“On the other side, there are boys in Kerry who didn’t play minor. Tom O’Sullivan didn’t play minor. Paul Murphy didn’t play minor.”
O Se, who still lines out for Cork outfit Nemo Rangers, feels the emphasis in the county is on the skills of the game.
“The underage structures in Kerry is very like a lot of underage structures in the country at moment, only Kerry were at it a little bit earlier.
“They’ve focused on skills, they’ve focused on coaching kids at an earlier stage. They put squads together but the emphasis has been on the skills of the game and getting confidence.”
After losing to Dublin in this year’s All-Ireland semi-final, Eamonn Fitzmaurice agreed a further two years as senior manager that will bring him up to the conclusion of the 2018 season.
O Se believes there is no better man to lead the county’s senior team.
“Eamonn Fitzmaurice is the best manager for the Kerry job right now. Fitzmaurice took the job when nobody wanted it and he won an All-Ireland going against the head.
"He’s the ultimate pro and is respectful of everyone. He’s a hard, hard man. He gets the most out of his players and they have the utmost respect for him – they’d die for him. There’s a great bond there. Fitzmaurice has it right.
“For me, he’s tactically brilliant. I’d argue there were maybe more talented Kerry teams than there is at the moment. He’s trying to blood new players, he’s trying to get the mix right. He’s the perfect man for Kerry."