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The GAA Obsessive Behind Kerry's Incredible Minor Team

The GAA Obsessive Behind Kerry's Incredible Minor Team
By PJ Browne
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There's little doubt in Diarmuid Leen's mind that if Peter Keane had remained on as Legion manager for a third season, the club would have won its first Bishop Moynihan Cup in 70 years.

Instead, Keane departed to nurse the future of football in Kerry. The Cahirciveen native took over as manager of the Kingdom minors in 2016. He took over a team which had won two-in-a-row and lead them to an unprecedented four-in-a-row.

No county has ever dominated the minor grade like Kerry have this decade. They have not lost a game in the minor championship since the 2013 semi-final. While the team possessed superstars like David Clifford during this period, much credit is due to Peter Keane and his coaching philosophy.

On Sunday, in the first Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Football final since the grade took the step down to under-17, Keane and his young panel aim to win a fifth consecutive title for the county. Galway are the opponents and they are expected to be the toughest Kerry have faced in this period of success.

Keane first became involved with the Kerry minors in 2012 when he came on board as a selector under Mickey Ned O'Sullivan. They would fall to eventual champions Dublin in the semi-final and a stage earlier the following year to Tyrone.

A temporary departure came for the next two championships as Jack O'Connor - who was awarded the Special Merit Award at last year's Electric Ireland GAA Minor Star awards - took the reins, winning the initial two of those minor All-Irelands. 2014 was Kerry's first minor win in 20 years.

Keane had risen to prominence in 2011 when he steered his hometown club St. Mary's to the All-Ireland Junior Club Championship. It was a maiden All-Ireland success for the club made famous Maurice Fitzgerald and Jack O'Shea.


When he took over as Legion manager in 2014, it was a club of unexploited resources. The raw materials were there: James O'Donoghue along with fellow Kerry panelists Brian Kelly and Jonathan Lyne.

"We couldn't put it together as a team. We were trying for a few years. Peter took what we had and made it into something," Diarmuid Leen told Balls. Leen, now the club's vice-chairman, worked as Keane's selector.

A remarkable aptitude for organisation along with an ability to communicate his ideas are seen as two of Keane's great strengths. When working with young players, as he was with Legion and even more so with the Kerry minors, the latter is especially useful.


What was most essential about Peter was he brought a system to it straight away. We built on a very sound defensive structure using a sweeper quite a bit to give confidence to the backs.

He's the best communicator I've ever come across. He knows everybody inside out. He'll know the lads who are introverts and those who are extroverts; the guy that needs lots of cuddling and the guy that doesn't need much; the guy that had problems with his job. He understands everybody.

Then he understands how you tell them if they're on or off the team or how to tell them to buck up. He can do the hard chat in a soft way.

Young players now, they love their sport. They're all into fitness and they're all into taking the game seriously. That takes an awful lot of time and Peter gets that.

He can understand what the requirements are: be it to accommodate work, strength and conditioning, be it physio, be it money.

He can empathise with their needs. He can talk to them, he's got young kids himself.

Keane transformed the thinking at Legion. It became a professional set-up. Team meetings which empowered the players were introduced. "That was all brand new to us," said Leen.

Physios, nutritionists and yoga instructors were all hired along with bringing in Keane's strength and conditioning coach, Chris Flannery. While Keane changed attitudes and tactics, Flannery changed their bodies. The club was only just adjusting to the fitness requirements of the modern club game.


Everyone got on board. Ten students who spent midweek in Cork were encouraged to make the trip to Killarney for training by ensuring they had a hot meal to send them on their way to CIT or UCC.


"Really, by 2015, we were a very different outfit because of him.

"Strength and conditioning was at our core and we'd had a brilliant winter. We survived in the league but we started moving very well in the championship - all because we knew our game. Peter kept it very simple."

In 2015, for the first time since their only title win 69 years previous, Legion reached the Kerry SFC final. The opponents were South Kerry, a side with the experience Legion lacked. After a replay which went to extra-time, Bryan Sheehan lifted the Bishop Moynihan Cup for South Kerry.


Legion players would almost certainly take Keane back tomorrow. He's the type who commands respect. That's an earned respect and not one created by fear.

"It sounds like I'm running an advertisement for him and I haven't worked with him for three years," joked Leen.

He owns the Super Valu in Killorglin. The staff buy him and his wife Christmas presents. It's a good sign of a boss in a shop. There's that kind of warmth there for him.

There's also the possibility that a bigger job may come calling. Keane is one of the main candidates to succeed Eamonn Fitzmaurice as Kerry senior boss.

But this weekend, Keane's attention is focused on a singular task: guiding the young stars of Kerry up the Hogan Stand steps for the fifth year in a row. For Kerry and Peter Keane, history beckons.

Picture credits: Sportsfile

Minor players are embarking on their adult lives. They have hopes, dreams, pressures, distractions and ambitions, but for this one moment in time, the Electric Ireland Minor Championships is the major thing in their lives. Follow the conversation at #GAAThisIsMajor

If you’re heading along to Croke Park this weekend make sure to get down early. Electric Ireland is highlighting the major significance of GAA players’ pre-game ritual, ‘The Championship Haircut’ by offering complimentary haircuts ahead of the Electric Ireland Minor Football Final from 11.30am on the Cusack Stand side of Croke Park on Sunday.



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