A huge debt of gratitude will be owed to Seán O’Shea and Rian O’Neill in years to come. Both of these guys have demonstrated to the whole country in high-octane moments the importance of having a reliable free-taker capable of putting the ball over the bar when everything is at stake.
I have long been an advocate for more frees to be taken from the ground, particularly from outfield players. No disrespect to goalkeepers, but they should not be the only ones capable of putting the ball over the bar from 60 yards out. I’m a passionate believer in scoreable frees being taken off the ground. How could I not be? I grew up watching artists ply their trade in this regard. Guys like Charlie Redmond, Brian Stafford, John Toner, Ross Carr, Anthony Tohill, Trevor Giles from the 1980s and 1990s and thankfully I got to play alongside Oisín McConville and Colin Corkery. The list goes on but each and every one of them where top-class exponents of kicking frees off the ground.
The beauty about Rian and Seán’s wonderfully-struck kicks have been the different angles from which we have been able to watch them across many social media networks over the last few weeks. I have seen both kicks from every angle possible and when you witness them, particularly from behind and see the skill in judging the curl of the ball to perfection and getting the distance after 70-plus minutes of energy-sapping championship football, then you simply just have to sit back and admire what both of these guys have done.
The free kick from the ground is now back in fashion and not before time. The media coverage has contributed to this but future generations of footballers should now be inspired by these two kicks alone, that they will want to put the practice in and emulate them in the future.
There has been many a debate throughout the country since Seán kicked Kerry into the All-Ireland final, as to which free kick was actually better. One was to keep his team in the championship with no second chances, the other to get his team to the All-Ireland final knowing that at least extra-time was going to be the other option if the free was missed.
Depending on what part of the country you are from will determine which free-kick you believed was the better. It almost reminds me of the constant debate between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. If you are any way affiliated to Manchester United then more than likely, you will sway towards Ronaldo. Most of the rest will sway towards Messi. There is no right or wrong, though.
We should appreciate the strikes both for exactly what they were, which was two long distance kicks that required a lot of skill and a lot of nerve to send the ball over the bar. Appreciate them for showing us all what endless hours of practice can do. It was no coincidence or luck that got the ball over the bar. These lads believe in kicking from the ground and have been prepared to put the work in to perfect their techniques. I applaud them both for that and for showing me, that maybe the art of kicking frees from the ground is not dying a death, but maybe a revival is on the cards.
Looking forward to this weekend’s All-Ireland final, Kerry are undoubtedly favourites given what they have produced throughout the season. They have been the most consistent team across the country in league and championship and with the gift of David Clifford, Paudie Clifford and O’Shea in the form that they are currently in, the fancied tag is rightly bestowed on them.
Does this mean that Galway don’t have a chance though? Definitely not. Galway have more than enough firepower in the form of Damien Comer, Shane Walsh, Rob Finnerty and Johnny Heaney to cause any team problems and while Kerry have tightened up their defensive structure this year, this Galway team are more than capable of finding pockets of space in front of goals and creating chances for themselves.
Jack O’Connor is back at the helm for one reason only, which is to win an All-Ireland. Pádraic Joyce has made it clear from the outset of his tenure that it has only ever been about winning an All-Ireland and he said as much again after Galway won the All-Ireland semi-final. He was a natural leader and winner as a player and while Kerry are my choice to win it, I wouldn’t rule out Joyce being king of the tribesmen once again.