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Thursday 31 July 2014

Kelly's Kingdom lay down a marker

Published 19/03/2014|05:36

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Kerry's Daniel Collins and Carlow's Paudie Kehoe go for the ball at Austin Stack park.

THE past is a foreign country, as LP Hartley wrote, they do things differently there.

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It wasn't that long ago that the prospect of Kerry taking on and beating Carlow in Austin Stack Park, or anywhere else for that matter, was deemed remote. That was then, this is now. Under Eamonn Kelly, the Kingdom have a different way of going about things. It's a brave new world.

There was plenty to enthuse about during the reigns of John Meyler and Tom Howard, but what Kerry have produced so far this year really has been of the highest order. It's not just the speed and the quality of their play that impresses, it's their unity of purpose.

This Kerry team plays as just that: a team. They play like a bunch of players with a bond. No link in the chain wants to break and let the others down. Consequently they work like dogs, both on and off the pitch.

Quite clearly they're training really well under Kelly and team trainer Brian Horgan. The evidence for it was there for all to see on Sunday afternoon. Play of that quality doesn't just happen, it's worked for. The energy and determination they show to regain possession of the sliotár a further demonstration of that work ethic.

The first person to admit this wasn't a perfect performance was the manager. Not, of course, that he wasn't pleased. Defeating Carlow by a handful of scores is by far a more valuable exercise than running Kildare off the park.

For one thing you learn a hell of a lot more about yourself. You learn whether you have the stuff to deal with adversity. This Kerry team do.

When their stunning opening twenty minutes, turned to a difficult fifteen minutes in the lead up to half-time they didn't wilt.

They have a belief in themselves and in what they're doing. Players kept doing what they're were doing, confident that, eventually, it would come right. You could say that Darragh O'Connell's goal before half papered over a couple of cracks, but this manager and these players don't seem the kind to shirk uncomfortable truths.

"There's loads of improvement [necessary] really, because we know we were fortunate to get the goal we got," Kelly admits.

"They were on a run. We got a good start, but it was actually similar to the game last week in Mullingar, we hurled in spasms, but as we said there coming off the field, it's nice to win a dirty one without having all guns blazing or everything working for you, we've loads to work on for the next few weeks."

It's a win / win. They get the confidence only a victory over an old foe could generate and enough of a test to work out the kinks in their game. Principal amongst them would have to be an unfortunate tendancy to turn over the ball when carrying it from defence.

That's the type of flaw that twenty plus point victories just don't highlight. That's the type of flaw that could come back and haunt them in the league final unless they correct it and make no mistake about it Carlow will be a whole different kettle of fish that day.

After the game John Meyler admitted as much. The focus and the energy of the county was on Mount Leinster Rangers and Croke Park on Paddy's Day. When they next face the Kingdom there won't be any distractions. When next they face the Kingdom they'll have a bunch of Mount Leinster players back in the fold determined to make up for Monday's disappointment.

"I think we were up for it more than Carlow were," Kelly says.

"They know they've a lot of lads to come back into the mix for the league final, but we're satisfied with the result and for the fourth day we got to use twenty players which was great. This word shadow boxing has come up a bit this week on a few occasions, but I can tell you we weren't shadow boxing, we can't afford to shadow box.

"We're in transition; we're trying to introduce new players. I think Carlow probably hadn't their foot on the pedal fully today, because they're established. They're in the Liam McCarthy Cup, they're probably biting at Laois' heels if you're to perceive the order or merit, we couldn't afford to do that. Maybe they'll have more in the tank come the league final."

Unquestionably they will, but so too will Kerry. Kelly, with a league final spot all but certain, opted to give some of his wider panel a run. Kilmoyley's Paudie O'Connor was handed the number fifteen jersey and Ballyduff's Nicky Leen the number 1 shirt.

"We said the whole time that we need to look at everybody that's in our plans," Kelly explains.

"There's no point in having thirty guys on the panel that's going to be sitting on the bench for the year. What we said [was] if Tadhg [Flynn] got injured we'd have to have a look at our sub goalie and I'm delighted that Nicky [Leen] got a clean sheet today.

"We want to look at as many players as we can. We're not for going out with fifteen players unless you can call on twenty and we had Padraig Boyle to call on last week. We were in real trouble and he came on and got the goal for us and got a point. He is actually working very hard on his fitness and I think he'll have a big say before the year is out."

Another huge plus for Kerry was the return to the fold of Tom Murnane following his recent injury worries. A fully fit Murnane playing at his best would be amongst the first names on the team sheet for any Kerry manager.

It's for that reason that we'd expect him to start against London this weekend. It's the definition of a low priority game. Kerry have qualified for the league final. London have avoided relegation. Both teams will be out to experiment. We might even see Liam Boyle make his first appearance of the year. Brendan O'Leary, Kevin Orpen, David Goulding, Paul McGrath, guys like that, too.

"It's good that we can go to London next weekend," Kelly says. "We've a load of guys that still haven't got game time and we can have a look at them. We want to get to a position ahead of the Christy Ring that we'll know our twenty six best players."

Everything seems to be going just swimmingly for the new management team.

"I suppose I'm ahead of schedule from where ye [the media] thought I would be anyway," Kelly joked on Sunday.

"Listen there's no medals given out yet, we're happy we've qualified for the league final. Our ambition was to try and consolidate our position; we've probably gone a bit better than expected. You've got a lot of guys vying for places and that makes my job that bit easier."

He's certainly making it look easy at the moment. The reality, no doubt, that it's anything but.

* Kerry play London this Sunday afternoon in Ruislip at 2pm. David Hughes from Carlow will referee the game.

* The league final between Kerry and Carlow will be played on Saturday, April 5 at a time and venue to be decided.

Kerryman

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