High standards at all grades must be maintained

James Costello
Peter Keane

ONE All-Ireland final defeat, a semi-final championship exit and a single point loss to old rivals Cork in the Munster Championship.

Familiar ring to it?

That’s the record of James Costello in his three-year reign as Kerry minor team boss but, quite amazingly, it’s a mirror image of Peter Keane’s time at the helm with the senior squad.

No doubt Keane loyalists will point to the fact that if such a record is deemed good enough to earn Costello another year in charge, and if consistency counts for anything, then surely the same offer will have to be extended to the Killorglin businessman – if he wants to remain in the job.

St Pat’s Blennerville clubman Costello saw his side lose to Galway by a single point, 0-14 to 0-13, in the 2019 semi-final at Croke Park and, when they emerged from the lockdown, his enthusiastic charges lost again, this time to a last minute Derry penalty in the 2020 final at Tullamore.

In this year’s provincial championship semi-final, held just days after that loss to Derry, Kerry were again hit with a one-point sucker punch when they lost to Cork, for the first time since 2013, the final scoreline reading 1-15 to 1-14.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice
Jack O’Connor

Keane’s experiences at senior level were remarkably similar, if in a different order: An All-Ireland final loss to the six-in-a-row Dubs after a replay in 2019, caught by a last gasp Rebels point in the Munster Championship last year and a one-point All-Ireland semi-final reverse against Tyrone, after extra time, last Saturday week.

In fairness to Costello, his plans were thrown into complete disarray by the lockdown – with no minor action taking place – and it saw him having to rely on schools’ football and word of mouth to choose his squad.

His second year, in particular, was greatly affected by the pandemic with the Munster final not played until just before Christmas while the All-Ireland semi-didn’t happen until July, a week before they lost the final to Derry.

And while Peter Keane had quite a settled squad, who were all given a rigorous home training programme and could later gather for training sessions, Costello had to juggle managing the 2020 and 2021 squads – two almost entirely different sets of players – at the same time.

The Kerry County Board yesterday confirmed the Blennerville man’s reappointment in a strangely terse three-sentence statement published online.

It read: “Kerry GAA are pleased to announce that James Costello will be proposed as Kerry Minor Football Manager for a further 12 months. James’ management team will be announced in due course. This proposal will be put forward for ratification at the next County Committee meeting”.

Pat O’Shea
Tim Murphy

That bit of business taken care of, outgoing chairman Tim Murphy will now have to concentrate on the senior management position and, if the approach to the minor job is to be used as a barometer to gauge the thinking of senior officials in the county, then Keane is likely be offered at least another year in the role.

Besides, there’s not exactly a long queue of obvious successors winding along the narrow rural roadway in Currans.

The debate amongst supporters is rich in nostalgia but hardly practical the with most focus appearing to concentrate on former players with little or no management experience at any level or going back to the future, so to speak, with the names of Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Jack O’Connor cropping up time and again.

The thing is if the powerbrokers in the county board want to go down the road previously travelled, it would be utterly ridiculous to look beyond the credentials of Pat O’Shea, a vastly experienced and hugely regarded tactician, who has led both club and county to All-Ireland Championship success. It’s unclear whether O’Shea could be tempted to return but even at that, at this stage, the smart money will be on Peter Keane to remain on for another term.

In a county in which football at all grades is taken very seriously, it’s hardly acceptable to have one standard for minors and another for seniors.