They probably thought they were done, most supporters in Kerry probably thought they were done. I think credit has to go to Peter Keane there. He got rid of a certain amount of experience, got in other lads who probably have a point to prove.
The players themselves, it was just a big call. They could have said, ‘No, do you know what? I’ve had my time, it didn’t end the way I wanted it to end but I’m not putting my life on hold for that’. It’s a big call to come back and put the head down and work hard. When Kerry needed that bit of experience, they were the boys that delivered.
- Darran O'Sullivan, four-time Kerry All-Ireland winner
HOW COULD HE SAY NO?
The cut between the end of the first half and the start of the second in the Sunday Game’s highlights of the All-Ireland semi-final between Kerry and Tyrone perfectly encapsulated the match.
Kerry ended the first half looking slow and ponderous as they struggled to break down the Tyrone defence. The second began with Jack Sherwood bursting through the middle of the pitch at speed before fisting the ball forward to Paul Geaney who was subsequently fouled. Sean O’Shea kicked Kerry’s first score of the second 35 minutes.
That injection of pace, along with Kerry pushing players further up the pitch, created holes in the Tyrone back line which did not exist in the opening half.
Sherwood’s contribution to Kerry’s win did not end there. He was a link in the chain which saw Stephen O’Brien start and finish the only goal of the game.
After O’Brien picked up a loose pass from Kieran McGeary deep inside his own half, the Kenmare man laid the ball off to David Moran. As he had done 20 minutes earlier, Sherwood came flying off Moran’s shoulder, this time advancing Kerry up the pitch with a kick pass to Geaney who hand-passed inside to the tireless O’Brien.
That was it: Kerry up by a goal and Tyrone’s reach did not get any closer.
“When the game opened against Tyrone, he has massive legs, he’s very controlled with the ball - that comes from basketball,” Barry John Keane, who played at minor and schools level with Sherwood, told Balls.
“It was that punch Kerry needed to go through the middle when the game opened up. He carried a lot of ball and got in good positions.”
And here’s the thing: Until this year’s league, it had looked like Sherwood’s inter-county career was over. He admitted himself that he had all but given up on playing for Kerry again.
The 29-year-old made his championship debut in one of the greatest games of this decade: the 2013 semi-final between Kerry and Dublin. That was the match in which Kevin McManamon broke Kingdom hearts for the second time in three years.
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice with substitute Jack Sherwood during the second half of the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final vs Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
On the Irish Examiner podcast on the Monday following the game against Tyrone, former Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice spoke about the role which Sherwood had played in that 2013 semi-final.
Kevin McManamon got the goal in 2011, he was at the top of his game at that time and we knew he was going to be brought on.
We had to detail one of our subs to be the man to come on [and mark him]. Jack was the one. He was playing that well in training - he had the speed and the mobility and everything else to stay with Kevin McManamon.
It didn’t work out on the day but it wasn’t a case that afterwards we said, ‘That’s Jack done’. We knew that it was a big call to throw him in.
Sherwood played league several games in 2014 and 2015 but never made a breakthrough. His last championship appearance, prior to this year, came in the 2015 Munster final against Cork.
“Sometimes, when a fella doesn’t make it under your reign, it’s almost like there’s some hidden agenda there; there isn’t, it’s a numbers game,” said Fitzmaurice.
“If a fella isn’t where he needs to be at the time, he goes by the wayside and he goes back to his club and that’s it.
“In 2015, in particular, Jack had big injury problems with his hamstring. He just had a frustrating year.”
Located in Farranfore - a village between Tralee and Killarney - Sherwood’s club is Firies, but he plays senior football with divisional side East Kerry.
Along with inter-county teammates David Clifford and Dara Moynihan, he was part of the team which reached the 2018 Kerry SFC semi-final, losing to Dingle in a replay.
“He has a massive club championship last year,” said Barry John Keane. “I remember I was texting a few of the Kerry fellas, ‘Jesus, this lad is just enjoying his football again’.”
Barry John was not the only Keane to notice Sherwood’s resurgence. Following that game, the new-installed Kerry manager Peter Keane enquired if he’d be interested in rejoining the Kerry panel.
“It’s a great message that if you’re good enough, it doesn’t matter how old you are,” said Darran O’Sullivan, “Peter will give you a chance.”
Club players in Kerry will step onto the pitch in the months after the All-Ireland final with that thought in their minds.
When Peter Keane was ratified as Kerry manager last October, you suspect that Jonathan Lyne’s face lit up.
After seven years involved with the Kerry seniors, Lyne had been cut by Eamonn Fitzmaurice for the 2018 season.
His inter-county CV prior to that year had numerous highlights: A league debut in 2011; a championship debut in 2012; two crucial points off the bench for a punch-drunk Kerry against slightly more punch-drunk Mayo in the 2014 semi-final replay at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick; starting the 2015 final (and scoring a point) against Dublin; starting the 2017 semi-final replay against Mayo.
He was a man trusted for the big day by Fitzmaurice in the past, but still, he was dropped.
But the new Kerry boss was a face the Killarney Legion player knew well. Keane had managed Lyne’s club in 2014 and 2015, in the latter year taking Legion to their first Kerry SFC final since their only county title win in 1946.
Jonathan Lyne celebrates Kerry's 2014 All-Ireland final win against Donegal with Killarney Legion teammates Brian Kelly and James O'Donoghue. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
And so, when Keane gave the Kerry panel a stir last November, Lyne was one of those added back into the mix.
He made appearances in the league and off the bench late in the Munster semi-final win against Clare.
In between, there was a visit back to his club - one he needed.
“I even know myself that in the county setup, if you get a club game, even though it might be at a lower standard, you can get that bit of confidence back,” 2014 All-Ireland winner Barry John Keane told Balls.
I was actually talking to Jonathan Lyne a few weeks ago. We’d a club game against them [Legion]. One of our [Kerins O’Rahillys] young fellas - he’s only coming through - he gave him a nice dusting.
I said to him, ‘I told you he was quality’. A week later, Jonathan was coming on against Donegal. I just said to him that the club game brought him on.
He said, ‘I might have got a dusting but I needed that football’. Looking back, he said it was the best thing he could have done.
Lyne entered the action in the draw against Donegal just before half-time as a replacement for the black-carded Gavin White.
To be dropped by Kerry but come back showed Lyne’s mental toughness and, in the final ten minutes against Donegal, there was a microcosm of that mentality. He was turned inside out by Ryan McHugh in the 60th minute before the Donegal man laid it off to Michael Murphy who then put his side ahead by a point.
On the next play, with Donegal going full press on Shane Ryan’s kickout, the Kerry keeper was forced to go long. The man who fielded the ball, immediately turning and driving his team forward in a move which eventually resulted in a score from Killian Spillane, was Lyne.
A minute after being left dizzy by McHugh, the 29-year-old was the one making sure Kerry had a response.
For Keane, it was surely vindication of his trust.
THE THIRD ACT
Ten days after the 2014 All-Ireland final win against Donegal, the party in Kerry found another reason to turn the music up: Tommy Walsh was coming home from Australia.
The Tommy Walsh everyone had in their heads was the one who had kicked four scintillating points from play five years earlier in the All-Ireland final victory over Cork and then signed a two-year deal with AFL side St. Kilda. That player would have been nitrous oxide for the Kerry engine.
But, physically, the man who arrived home was not the same mobile powerhouse who had left. A devastating injury had blown out the tyres on an Aussie rules career which was just about to leave the byroads and hit the motorway.
Two years after joining St Kilda, Walsh transferred to Sydney Swans. He made a promising debut against Melbourne in 2012 and looked to have made a breakthrough the following season against Fremantle.
Disaster struck a fortnight later against Essendon. While stretching to collect the ball, the then 25-year-old tore his hamstring from the bone. It was the same injury which ultimately brought Paul O’Connell’s career to an end and one which still affects Walsh to this day.
Kerry's Tommy Walsh in action against Cork's Eoin Cadogan during the 2009 All-Ireland football final Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
“I know he has to mind his body more than others.” Walsh’s Kerins O’Rahillys club mate Barry John Keane told Balls.
“Tearing the hamstring off the bone, he was very anxious with it. He has to do certain warm-ups himself.”
Walsh rejoined the Kerry panel for the 2015 season but was well down the list of credits in the Kerry cast. All his appearances that season - bar one start in the league against Derry - were made off the bench.
He played a similar role in the league the following season before the frustration became too much and he left Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s panel ahead of the championship.
“The injury was the key thing,” Walsh’s club manager Micheál Quirke told the Second Captains podcast earlier this year.
By the time he came home from Australia, I don’t think his body had fully adjusted to his new reduced capabilities in terms of his movement.
The mistake was he went straight in training with the Kerry senior panel. He probably wasn’t playing very good football because his body wasn’t ready for it.
A bit of malaise set in, he was getting frustrated because he wasn’t getting any game time. He wasn’t getting any sharper because he wasn’t playing enough games to adjust to what he could do now.
Fitzmaurice also told the Irish Examiner’s football podcast about Walsh’s decision to leave the panel.
“When he was in with us and it didn’t quite work out, he was so professional, he was so courteous,” said Fitzmaurice.
“There was no sour grapes, there was no throwing his toys out of the cot. He gave it everything and felt it wasn’t working out.
“He did say to me when he was finishing up with us after the league final in 2016, he just said to me, ‘I don’t think my Kerry story is over’ and I said, ‘I agree with you, I don’t think it is either’.
“I suppose from the practical point of view, he was in with Kieran Donaghy as well. He was, in effect when he came back from Australia, an understudy to Kieran.
“If we started Kieran and that wasn’t working, the tendency was to mix it up and not go with another target man.
“If Kieran was on the bench and it wasn’t working, then Kieran was going to be the first man in if we wanted to change it up. He was almost competing with Kieran for game-time and Kieran was playing so well that it wasn’t happening for him. It was a practical thing.”
A return to playing regular club football was what ultimately got Walsh back on the track which makes him a game-changing option for Peter Keane against a history-seeking Dublin team on Sunday.
As Kerins O’Rahillys progressed to the semi-finals of the Kerry SFC last year, Walsh was one of their key players. In a second round match against Dr Crokes, he scored 2-2 as the Tralee side came from ten points down to win by four. Crokes resurrected themselves through the backdoor, gaining revenge on Kerins O’Rahillys in the last four.
Tommy Walsh and Jack Sherwood embrace after Kerry's 2019 All-Ireland semi-final win against Tyrone. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
“At the start of the year, I think he just said, ‘I don’t know how long I have left, I’m just going to enjoy club football’,” said Barry John Keane. “He had a good run with Strand Road and he was just carrying us.”
Had Peter Keane not replaced Eamonn Fitzmaurice as Kerry manager last autumn, it’s likely we would not be amid the third act of Walsh’s senior inter-county career.
The new man in charge had seen enough to believe he merited a call. The player was mentally and physically back in a place where he loved being out on the pitch again and it showed in his game.
Walsh played well during the league. He scored a point after coming on as a half-time sub in the win against Dublin in Tralee and got another four from play against Monaghan while being marked by the formidable Drew Wylie.
As with Kerry’s February victory over Dublin, league form counts for little unless it’s backed up later in the year.
After coming off the bench late in the Munster semi-final win against Clare, Walsh picked up a black card as Kerry finished the game with 13 players.
“The Munster final, I was texting the boys from home saying that would have been an ideal game for Tommy to come on,” said Barry John Keane.
“He got no run against Mayo. The lads performed and you wondered was he going to be thrown in at all.
“I was in the bubble for nine years myself and I didn’t want to be asking questions about, ‘What’s the story?’
“It’s not a nice place to be when you’re putting in everything and not getting game time and you’re not playing with the club either.”
Walsh’s chance came against Meath in the final game of the Super 8s when he stepped off the bench shortly after half-time. In that 30 minutes, and the week intervening the All-Ireland semi-final, Peter Keane saw enough to know Walsh was the man who could turn the tug o’war against Tyrone in Kerry’s favour.
In the 50th minute of the semi-final, Walsh replaced Jason Foley as Kerry rejigged their forward line and back line. Five minutes after coming on, he had already set up David Moran and David Clifford for scores.
As Kerry led with the clocking ticking towards the red, Walsh showed some moments of real leadership, breaking free of his marker to provide David Moran with an option for a short free-kick when no others were available.
He then won two vital kickouts, the first one in the 71st minute when he tapped the ball down to Dara Moynihan. Just moments earlier, Tyrone had cut Kerry’s lead to three points after nabbing a mid-range kickout from Shane Ryan. For the young keeper, it was a nervy few moments but Walsh’s availability made it all the easier.
After Darren McCurry again reduced the Kingdom’s lead to three, Tyrone squeezed hard on Ryan’s kickout looking to pilfer what would have been a crucial possession. Again, Walsh was the man to ease the pressure.
“I saw Shane Ryan lining up to kick it,” Micheál Quirke told the Irish Examiner podcast.
He floated it towards the Cusack and he gave Tommy about a 60-yard sprint down the line. I was like, ‘Ah, man, get to this ball’. He won a crucial free, put the ball down and jogged up the pitch. It just showed physically how much he’s come on in those couple of years.
In those 26 minutes, with those five moments, both Peter Keane’s and Tommy Walsh’s decisions - to offer the player the chance to return and for the player to accept it - were justified.
None of the plays were the real stereotypical one of Walsh - the long ball to the full-forward caught over his head. Walsh can do that, but like Donaghy before him, it’s when the ball is in his hands that the real damage is done.
“My thing was, as a forward, if I saw the ball going into Tommy, I’d be trying to run off his shoulder every second, because he will give it to you,” Darran O’Sullivan told Balls.
“He’s not one of these fellas, ‘I gave him the last two, I need to do my own thing’. He’s very unselfish, he will run and run, and show, and give it to you, and pop it.”
Barry John Keane concurs:
“He played a lot of basketball, he played with Ireland underage. He has a good mind for the game and he’s very slick hands, which is a dream for any fella inside. You can see with the forwards, they like playing with him.
"I remember having a chat with Kieran Donaghy and he was like, ‘Jesus, when I’m gone, they need to get Tommy in’. That’s when Tommy was just playing with the club.”
And for Walsh, this year is likely just the beginning. If the offensive mark comes in for next year’s championship, there are few better to take advantage. This season should have sequels.