CHANCES are, this will be Kerry's last game in the league this season, regardless of how they do on Sunday afternoon.
They've done everything that's been asked of them and if things had panned out how we thought they would have done a victory over Derry at home this weekend should have guaranteed the Kingdom in place in the league final.
Westmeath's suprise victory over Laois in round three looks to have put paid to that. WIth all three promotion chasing sides (Kerry, Westmeath and Laois) on six points each and with all three sides having home advantage this weekend they can be expected to finish the league phase level on points.
In those circumstances it will come down to scoring difference and Kerry are at a serious disadvantage here going into the weekend with a scoring difference of minus one, whilst their two rivals boast scoring differences of plus thirty two (Laois) and plus seventeen (Westmeath). Kerry would have to win by something like twenty points and hope that Westmeath would struggle to a one or two point victory over Kildare.
That's unlikely, just as it's unlikely that Westmeath would lose to their Leinster rivals in Mullingar or that Laois would lose to Wicklow in Portlaoise. Never say never, it's just highly unlikely. It's more likely that Kerry would be beaten at the weekend than either Laois or Westmeath lose. That said Kerry are favourites to defeat the Oak Leaf county in Stack Park on Sunday afternoon and that's all they should be aiming for.
Derry haven't had a great campaign – they're probably safe from relegation, but not 100% safe – but if Kerry go out on Sunday afternoon thinking about scoring differences and not about the simple task of defeating their Ulster rivals well that's asking for trouble. Kerry boss Tom Howard, wisely, is taking the approach that all Kerry can do take each game on its own merits.
"When we came out the last day [against Wicklow] we probably protected ourselves from relegation, so it was a case of pushing on and doing what you can do, what's in your control to do. We can't legislate for what's going to happen in the games that we're not involved in and we can take control of what we can and go out and win."
Derry suffered a heavy defeat at the hands on Laois last Sunday on their home turf – 2-20 to 0-8 – with an understrength and inexperienced team following injuries to Liam Hinphey and captain Ruairi Convery. Few players impressed, but Kerry will have watch out for guys like midfielder Kevin Hinphey, who scored two points from play despite a difficult day at the office for his team, wing-forward Brendan Rodgers and free-taker Paddy Henry, who finished the game with five points to his name.
A response from the Ulster men is to be expected and while Kerry are expected to win their manager is keen to emphasise the narrow margins between success and failure at this level.
"These games – as you can see from almost every division and this division is no different – are a battle," he said.
"We may contest a league final and the team we were playing today [Kildare] may face relegation and you saw the battle it was.
"There's very little between any of the teams. We're crossing the line in these games out of sheer heart and spirit and grit, winning the dirty ball out around the field, getting the hook and the block in and our hard work is being rewarded by the results we've been getting."
Kerry will be strongly fancied to win this game with Derry, but if they slacken off in any way in terms of their application they could well be punished. With the prospect of a spot in the league final still on the cards – even if it is a faint hope at this stage – that doesn't appear likely, however.