The summer sporting calendar in Ireland is dominated by the GAA Championship, and it is timely that a book focusing on a team's pursuit of All-Ireland glory, and a manager who guided them on that road, should hit the bookshelves now. In 'Keys to the Kingdom', former Kerry football manager Jack O'Connor reflects on his time in charge of the most successful team in inter-county football.
During his three-year tenure, O'Connor guided the Kingdom to two All-Ireland victories and success in the Allianz Football League. This impressive strike rate should have afforded him hero status in his native land, but O'Connor feels he got little thanks from the Kerry football establishment.
Now free from the pressures of management, the man from Toorsaleen, south Kerry, is free to let fly and he certainly doesn't hold back. The players he coached, his own backroom team, fellow managers and the media all come in for some form of criticism. The often caustic remarks, allied with a smattering of humour, elevates 'Keys to the Kingdom' to something more than just another sports book about how a team triumphed over adversity to reach the Holy Grail.
O'Connor's accounts were ghost-written by Irish Times writer Tom Humphries, who renders O'Connor's thoughts in his own inimitable style. The book is all the better for that, yet it is only when O'Connor talks about life away from football that you feel free from the succession of rants that pepper this memoir.
O'Connor always had a hostile relationship with the revered manager and former Kerry great Mick O'Dwyer, and was particularly pleased to get one over on him when Kerry defeated Laois in the 2006 league semi-final.
O'Connor was an average footballer and was not a part of the all-conquering Kerry side that won eight All-Irelands under O'Dwyer between 1975-1986. As a result, he never felt part of the 'establishment', and when he was appointed Kerry manager in the autumn of 2003, no words of support came from the players of that era or from O'Dwyer himself.
Indeed, O'Connor recalls one occasion when the Waterville legend "blanked" him prior to a match when Kerry were managed by Páidí Ó Sé. O'Connor served as a selector with Ó Sé, yet that didn't stop the latter, via one of his newspaper columns, later criticising the style of football Kerry were playing under O'Connor's stewardship.
At an awards dinner attended by former Kerry greats, the Fine Gael TD Jimmy Deenihan told the assembled crowd that he hopes Mick O'Dwyer would have another go at managing Kerry. That certainly angered O'Connor, who was present with his wife and family.
And then to be told that you managed a team to two "soft" All-Irelands is, for O'Connor, perhaps the cruellest jibe of the lot. Kerry defeated Mayo in both finals, yet it must be remembered that the men from the West played very well in the run up to those encounters.
What 'Keys To The Kingdom' clearly highlights is the politics of Kerry football. O'Connor's club, Dromid Pearses, are a small club in the South Kerry Championship. Declan O'Sullivan, who captained Kerry to victory in the 2006 All-Ireland, is a member of the Dromid club and was coached by O'Connor at a young age. He had lost his place on the Kerry side, but regained it, and the captaincy, too. Colm 'Gooch' Cooper, from the Dr Crokes club in Killarney, had worn the armband before O'Sullivan.
O'Sullivan's return to the team also meant that Eoin Brosnan, another Crokes player, had to make way. Needless to say, the folk in Killarney weren't happy, yet their displeasure did not bother O'Connor, who feels they have a chip on their shoulder anyway. Classic town v country stuff!
The difficulties that often arise in managing a talented bunch of athletes permeate many sports and it's no different in Kerry. There were some players on the panel that O'Connor felt he couldn't get through to; and others, like Darragh Ó Sé, who would question the manager's methods. Some others were not prepared to give that little bit more in training. And there was one player, Tom O'Sullivan, who skipped training one night. He did not return O'Connor's text as to his whereabouts.
Was managing Kerry worth all that hassle? If winning the 2006 All-Ireland was anything to go by, the effort was certainly worth it. O'Connor's final year in charge was a defining one. After the defeat to Tyrone in 2005, he felt Kerry needed to be 'tougher' in their approach to games.
The 2006 new-look Kerry did not find favour with everyone and the Cork manger Billy Morgan was a critic. The two counties met twice in last year's championship and while the battles on the pitch were intense, the sideshow on the sideline was just as compelling. There was no love lost between O'Connor and Morgan.
Stories of disharmony in the Kerry camp, and a loss of form, were what characterised O'Connor's team in the wake of their Munster Final defeat to Cork in the summer of 2006. How they pulled it around to win in September speaks volume for their collective will.
Again, O'Connor can't help but have a pop at others, namely the "supposed aura of this great Armagh side" and the "phoney and orchestrated" way Dublin march down to the Hill before the start of their games.
There is no doubting that Jack O'Connor is an astute tactician and his teams are always well prepared for battle. Although he admits to being quite stubborn, and has fallen out with many people, he works hard at what he does. Maybe he feels the time is now to convey his frank and forthright opinions, as if he knows that he will never be asked to manage Kerry again.