Mickey Ned admits there are still shortcomings with minors
A loss, a draw and two less than convincing wins has qualified the county minor team for a shot at a Munster Final as well as guaranteeing them a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Jason O'Connor looks at the journey so far . . .
WHERE to start in assessing what has been another frustrating pre-summer campaign for the Kerry minors? Probably best with manager Mickey Ned O'Sullivan's views on where he feels the team is underachieving at present?
"We're not ruthless enough; it certainly is something that we are still trying to instil into the players at this level. We played well for 20 minutes against the breeze against Waterford but then the lads seemed to stand back and think that the job was done particularly after the sending-off (Waterford full-back Tomas Cooney was dismissed early in the second half for a second bookable offence). It seemed to give Waterford some momentum and it just appears to be a thing with young players when they get a big lead in terms of taking their foot off the pedal," the Kerry Minor boss said in the aftermath of last Wednesday night's semi-final win.
While O'Sullivan accepts the argument that the destination is more important that the journey (Kerry have at worst an extra two games again this year) he still feels that the performances have to stand up as well.
"We've shown that we can play flashes of great football but we're reverting back to more mediocre stuff far too often and overall we're disappointed," he said. The jury is still out in the Kerry minor manager's view as to whether or not he thinks the team is in a better or worse position than its predecessor of 12 months ago in equalling their achievement of reaching a Munster Final after same number of games (four) played.
We're capable of better but some of our players really have to stand up and be leaders now. Some have but far too many haven't. Some of the lads have played more than 10 Championship games between the last two years and they are the ones who should be the leaders at this stage," the former All-Ireland winning senior captain said.
Has the much criticised system with its 'back doors' and 'safety nets' created a sense of complacency amongst the players in terms of only having to do enough each time to get by? O'Sullivan thinks it might.
"At the back of the lads' minds there probably was a confidence that they would make the Munster Final and I could sense that the real killer instinct wasn't there. The same is probably true of the final (knowing there is an All-Ireland quarter-final regardless of the result) but I do like the fact our players are getting more games and an extended summer. I do think it's (the system) lopsided however we will have some players who by the end of the year might have 13 Championship games played for their county at this level and that will improve them no end into the future," he said.
One wonders will we finally see the end of this controversial system following Cork's defeat to Tipperary last Wednesday in the other semi-final which means their entire year is over despite beating Kerry in the First Round while the Kingdom's year will last to the August Bank Holiday weekend at the very worst and with the possibility of two defeats at that!
Exams will create a long seven week gap between here and the Munster Final. While actually ball sessions are not feasible for the team according to O'Sullivan he hopes to be able to do some work with the players on the physical side, an area he admits has to be improved on.
Speaking of the Leaving Cert, the GAA President Liam O'Neill has recently mooted reducing the Minor age group to U-17 to cope with the amount of stress players have in their lives at the time between coping with a life determining event and trying to play competitive GAA at the same time. O'Sullivan agrees with the idea in principle but fears a group of players are going to miss out on playing at Minor level as a result.
"My fear would be that if it were introduced the players who would be underage in the year previous would then be overage all of a sudden if it were changed the following year and they would miss out on the experience of minor football at this level as a result. I totally agree with reducing the age as a means of stopping Minors from playing Senior Football which a lot of our lads are doing at the moment because that pressure shouldn't be on them at this stage of their lives," the school teacher by trade himself said.
Despite the air of pessimism surrounding the team's prospects, O'Sullivan is hopeful that there will be an awakening from the side come the first Sunday in July.
"It is every young lad's dream to play a Munster Final in Killarney in front of 40,000 people and if that doesn't raise the hair on the back of their neck then I don't know what will!"
Certainly assuming all works according to plan on the senior front that will be the case but whatever about the venue if the fact that Kerry have lost their last three meetings with Tipperary at minor level doesn't motivate this team then you have to ask questions about their mindset overall.
The minors move to the big stage now in their role as curtain raisers to the big deciders in the province as well as GAA headquarters, there certainly will be no hiding places for repeat performances of the mediocre variety especially with the strong possibility of Ulster opposition in the All-Ireland quarter-finals!