Minor boss backs his young guns
THE Kerry minor hurlers go in search of back-to-back All Ireland B titles in Nenagh this Saturday afternoon when they take on Meath.
Kerry manager Pat Ryan is reporting a clean bill of health for his players following last weekend's semi-finals in the County Senior Hurling Championship. Friday night saw Jason Wallace in action for Lixnaw and Paudie O'Connor in action for Kilmoyley, while Saturday night saw Keith Carmody impress for Causeway.
The number of minor players seeing action for their clubs this year has been something of a surprise to Limerick native Ryan. Surprising, but not necessarily a bad thing. Quite the opposite in fact.
"it's great experience for them to be getting," he says.
"Most matches I've seen have been good games of hurling, no dirty play, no dirty strokes, so from that point of view that's good for them and they've done very well. Keith Carmody and Paudie O'Connor and Phillip Lucid they've all done very well with their clubs."
For a young team – much of it will be underage again next year – such seasoning is to be welcomed. It's seasoning that had to be of benefit in their opening two games in the competition. Those were two big tests too.
Two big tests when the Kingdom had to show real resolve. Better tough games, surely, than to win easily.
"I builds character. It definitely builds character," Ryan enthuses.
"It looked like we were dead and buried against Wicklow and in the next match we had a gale-force wind and they got the first three scores of the second and it looked like we were dead and buried. For the final twenty minutes then Westmeath didn't score so if you look at it like that there is the potential there for us to do better."
This time last year Ryan wouldn't have imagined he'd be leading a Kerry team into an All Ireland final. He admits it was a job "nobody wanted", but now that he's got it, he couldn't be more enthusiastic about it.
"This team wasn't given much of a chance because I suppose they're very young," he says.
"There's nineteen of the twenty-five minor again next year. It's not an experienced team.
"There's an awful lot of lads sixteen years of age. The big one was the first one trying to get that off our back and then in the second half against Westmeath we showed great heart. We're in a final now and I think that if they play to their potential they're well capable of doing it, but young fellas are different every day they go out."
At training on Tuesday night Tipperary legend Ken Hogan took the reins. A man with two All Ireland medals, five Munster senior titles and an All Star his mere presence will have inspired the players (even if most of them wouldn't have been born during his heyday).
"I often got Ken when I was involved in my own club in Limerick," Ryan says.
"It's just to freshen things up, bring in a new voice on the week of the match really. I think it's very important to keep things fresh. He was with Coolderry there when they got to the All Ireland final.
"He was involved with the Tipp Under 21s and the Tipp seniors as well at one stage."
Opponents Meath are something of an unknown quantity, even if their run to the final suggests a serious outfit.
"They hammered Kildare and Kildare were expected to do fairly well this year. They hammered them and they hammered Donegal. I don't know a huge amount about them, so I just concentrated on our own lads and we'll see what happen," Ryan says.
"We've to give it everything now. We'll make no excuses at the end of it. I want the lads to go out and enjoy it. We were very nervous against Wicklow and very nervous against Westmeath and I suppose we'll be nervous again on Saturday, including myself, but yeah it'd be a great boost just to do it.
"The guys have been very committed and that makes it worthwhile for me that you're dealing with a bunch of lads that there's no messing."