THE R word – relegation – will hover over discussions of the Kingdom for the next couple of weeks.
They were so poor on Sunday, so outclassed by Jim Gavin's Dublin, that it's a sensible enough conclusion to draw that Kerry should be worrying more about their place in the division, rather than a place in the semi-final and final. Either senario is plausible at this stage. They could go up to Kildare in two and a half weeks time and win. They're Kerry afterall. Or they could go to Newbridge and leave with their tails between their legs.
Even if Kerry do improve massively from last weekend's hammering, it still might not be enough. Kildare are motoring quite nicely at the moment. In their first two games they've taken the scalps of the reigining All Ireland champions (Donegal) and the reigning league champions (Cork). They've been buiding nicely for the past couple of years under Kieran McGeeney. They're not going to go weak at the sight of the Kerry jersey.
Win or lose in Newbridge the one consolation for Kerry football fans is that the Kingdom are unlikely to be as bad as they were against Dublin again any time soon. It was the worst Kerry performance in quite some time. People will cite the Meath performance of the 2001 All Ireland semi-final and the league defeat to Dublin in 1998, but where those defeats were seen as abberations, this could be seen as the start of a trend.
It doesn't mean Kerry are out of the running for the All Ireland this year – not with Colm Cooper, Eoin Brosnan, Brian Looney, Donnchadh Walsh, Kieran Donaghy, Bryan Sheehan, Paul Galvin and Declan O'Sullivan all to come back into the side – it does mean, however, that the future might not be as bright as people in Kerry would like it to be. Colm Cooper won't be there forever. Paul Galvin won't be there forever. Declan O'Sullivan won't be there forever.
The panic being felt in Kerry this week is more to do with the future than the stormy present. Even there people shouldn't get too carried way. Kerry look liked like a team going through a seriously tough training programme at the minute and a lot of their problems on Sunday were tactical – i.e. things that can be fixed. It's not looking great for some of Kerry's emerging talent at the minute, but, as Eamonn Fitzmaurice suggested at the weekend, this is not the time to throw them under the bus.
More experienced heads will feature for the trips to Newbridge and Ballybofey and the visit of the Rebels (also without any points so far this campaign) to Killarney. They will have to be part of a mix. Without throwing some emerging talent in at the deep end, how can you tell whether they're good enough or not? Jonathan Lyne's (left) fine performance on Sunday, when all around were losing their heads (including one or two experienced performers), showed that he's got the right stuff.
Disovering who has and who hasn't is more important than anything else at this stage in Kerry's development.