Vince Casey believes the Dr Crokes team is better now than it was twelve months ago, but that belief still won't allow the co-manager to look beyond the next game and wonder about All-Ireland club titles. Casey has made no secret of that fact that he, fellow manager Noel O'Leary and the players stepped back after last February's All-Ireland semi-final loss to Ballymun Kickhams and re-appraised what they all needed to do to improve. Improving the players strength and fitness was indentified, and to that end former Kerry senior team trainer Pat Flanagan has been working with the team over the summer.
"I think we are a better team than last year. I think we have moved on. I think physically we are better, and fitness-wise we are better," Casey said, before a word of caution. "This time last year we were probably going too well, and in the Munster Final we were flying altogether but then, unfortunately, we weren't allowed turn up in February [against Ballymun], and something went very badly wrong. Look, you have got to get to the other side of Christmas first before you can even think how you can alter that. Our sole focus is on Loughmore-Castleiney on Sunday week."
To that end, Casey was pleased with the test Castlehaven laid before his team, a challenge the manager feels his players haven't really had put up to them through the county championship.
"When you come out of Kerry you're playing against county champions all the time and (Castlehaven) are very good county champions. They have improved an awful lot since last year, but we feel we have improved on last year too. We needed to improve because if we were static there's no way we would have beaten them today. Their gameplan frustrated us for a good while but I think our patience and level of experience got us the result. The goal was the real turning point. You can call it fortunate but it showed great awareness. Gavin was in the right place at the right time.
"In Kerry, with all due respects, we didn't really get a test or get to see whether or not we had weaknesses and to see if you have character. That's what this competition is all about, it really tests the character. Now our field was marvellous today but at this time of year the wet conditions tends to be a leveller and you know you need to work hard. They asked us real questions today, they put a lot of bodies behind the ball and it took us a while to adapt to it. But in fairness to our guys they kept showing composure. Anytime they scored our guys responded with a score and that's what I was really happy with," Casey said.
Looking ahead, Dr Crokes play Gneeveguilla this Saturday in an East Kerry SFC quarter-final but Casey is clear on where Crokes priorities lie. "We have to play in the competition anyway so it's just trying to find the end of the fixture effectively. We have a panel of 27 players so hopefully we will be able to give a few guys a run out in that and see how it goes. As I've said, our priority from here is the Munster championship. Sunday week is our main priority, but we will still approach the Gneeveguilla game as wanting to win it, but the preparation from here on is going to be for Loughmore-Castleiney who I know is a serious team. They will give us a serious test back here in two weeks."