Beyond his three-point contribution and the consistency at which he punched holes in the Clare rearguard, it should not be overlooked that Stephen O’Brien was still on the field when referee Barry Cassidy blew the final whistle in Sunday’s Munster semi-final in Killarney.
Throw in the two All-Ireland semi-finals against Mayo last August and this was the third consecutive championship match where O’Brien started and finished proceedings.
For the Kenmare forward, that’s a clear sign of progress and an even greater indication of how management views him. At 27, he is slowly establishing himself as a mainstay of this Kerry team.
O’Brien has had to bide his time before moving up the pecking order. In his first three years, 2014-16, on the panel, he started 11 championship games. He only finished three. That figure is now six from 14.
A starting jersey, he says, is not to be admired or appreciated, it is to be kept.
Because it is so hard to get a starting spot, maybe, I might have been guilty in the past of relaxing and sitting back after I got a start.
“You have to be cautious of that. It’s actually the match that counts, not the game the weekend before which you get picked on.
“That’s one thing I’m trying to work on, bringing those performances to the game.
“When you are on the pitch and you have the jersey, you just want to run yourself into the ground.”
O’Brien, who was Kerry’s second top-scorer from play during Sunday’s 22-point annihilation of Clare, accepts each forward must do more than simply raise white flags to keep themselves within the first 15.
“Éamonn [Fitzmaurice] and the management do a good job of highlighting if you get a tackle or a block down in the video analysis.
“If we get a score off that, he does a good job of highlighting the block as opposed to the score.
It’s more a case of fellas you meet on the street, saying ‘Jesus, you should take on your man more or you should shoot more’, but it’s not something that comes from management or players.
“Before, I would have judged myself on trying to get scores and assists, so dispossessing players and forcing turnovers is another aspect of the game I’m trying to work on. It’s great when you are working on things in the gym, trying to get stronger, and you bring that onto the field and dispossess a fella.
“You look at Paul Geaney and some of the turnovers he gets (are incredible). He has switched his mentality and been an inspiration to the rest of us.” Living and working in Cork, the half-forward will be keeping a low profile ahead of their provincial final meeting on June 23. “I’ll be getting plenty of abuse for the next few weeks.
“I’ll have to watch my lunch box. They beat us enough times underage so there is no way my generation will be looking at them lightly. It is great to be playing at the new stadium and on a Saturday evening.”
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