Posted by Ewan MacKenna

2012 Kerry players 520x280

We’ve been here before, listening to people who said they’d seen it all before. And, in a way, you can understand their argument when it comes to Kerry.

In 2006 they were stumbling when Kieran Donaghy was thrown in at full-forward against Armagh and just like that they were a different team who were revolutionising football on the way to the All Ireland.

In 2009 they were on the ropes after being bullied by Cork, and it was only a matter of time before the knockout punch came along and ended an era as they escaped Longford, Sligo and Antrim.

But then they rediscovered interest and ability because it was Dublin in the last eight and a full house and soon after they again won it out.

Given all that there’s a reluctance to write off Kerry this time around. They struggled against Westmeath at the weekend yet survived, now have the big-game qualifier to reignite them and recent history suggests that it only takes one move of a player or one jolt to the senses for them to awaken.

But that’s a flawed argument based on the past and not the present. The jerseys may be the same, the county they are representing may be the same but that’s all that 2012 has in common with 2009.

Just because a great team three years ago was packed full of legends who had both the will and skill to make unprecedented magic happen, doesn’t mean a largely new group can do the same. In fact it’s unfair on this class to even suggest they can do what a once-in-a-generation side did.

Back in 2009, sitting with some journalists in the green room of Setanta the Friday before that All-Ireland quarter-final with Dublin, we took turns making predictions. I said Kerry would win and everyone else was taken aback. But it was based on the characters and the ability they had in their line-up.

There was no way a team with Marc Ó Sé, Tomás Ó Sé, Declan O’Sullivan, Paul Galvin and Colm Cooper at their peak, with Seamus Scanlon and Tommy Griffin having career seasons, with Tom O’Sullivan, Mike McCarthy and Darragh Ó Sé at the end of their careers, with Tommy Walsh on the verge of a new career and with Tadgh Kennelly on the verge of something special having changed careers was going to allow failure.

What had gone before didn’t matter. When a group of characters like that come together with a common purpose and desperation, then anything is possible,

But of the side that started again Dublin in 2009 and of the side that won the All Ireland in 2009, only six were back for more and started against Westmeath at the weekend. Throw in Kieran Donaghy and Darran O'Sullivan and you are still at just over half a team.

But it’s not just the numbers, it’s the extra responsibility those left behind have been given, the holes those left behind have been forced to cover and the minds and willpower they no longer have to inspire them.

When writing Darragh Ó Sé’s autobiography, there was one day I’ll never forget. Short on time for interviews, he told me to jump in the car in Tralee and we could talk on the way to and back from a home league game for An Ghaeltacht against Dr Crokes.

But on the return journey there was no chatter because he’d lost yet his silence said more about the man than words could have. Here was a legend with six All-Irelands yet losing a local league match drove him over the edge.

Characters like that are few and far between and cannot be replaced. Indeed were he there for Down 2010, would Kerry have lost? Were he there for Dublin 2011, would Kerry have lost? Now he’s not there for this impossible task through the back door in 2012, can Kerry win? I don’t think so.

But if the loss of his attitude has hurt the team and the loss of his physicality from midfield has hurt the county to the extent Kieran Donaghy is being forced to come deep, then other losses have hurt too.

Compare 2009 with now and you’ll see. Eoin Brosnan hasn’t been the resurrection man like McCarthy was. Aidan O’Mahony is not having the season Griffin had. Killian Young is good but he’s no O’Sullivan and his move to corner-back has distorted a half-back line where Tomás Ó Sé has lost a yard of pace and a certain edge. And all that has taken from the forwards.

It’s not just Donaghy that’s being asked to come deep to paper over the cracks but even Declan and Darran O’Sullivan are being drawn too far from the opposition goal and sadly it’s a necessity for the sake of the team at the expense of their own game which we all love watching.

It leaves the forwards without the structure they had before as Galvin isn’t the player he was, Declan O’Sullivan isn’t the playmaker he was and doesn’t have Kennelly to help him out, while Cooper doesn’t always have the big man beside him to play off like in recent seasons when Walsh or an in-form, single-purpose Donaghy was there catching ball, drawing attention and bodies and playing the simple pass.

There is talent on the way through in Kerry for sure. In fits and starts we’ve seen potential in Barry John Keane, Anthony Maher, Kieran O’Leary, Pádraic Curtin and James O’Donoghue and there’s no doubting they’ll win with Kerry in the future. But they won’t win this year.

They may beat Tyrone, they may win an All-Ireland quarter-final but to expect anything more and to predict even that with confidence based on an heroic group of players who have exited the stage is simply wrong.

It’s heart over head stuff and as difficult as it is to say, Kerry are in transition and they need to be allowed adjust without unreasonable expectations.

Even in Kerry, not everyone can follow in the footsteps of giants. Certainly not before they’re allowed time to grow.