WE tend to forget, given how brilliant they were in the final in Croke Park, just how close Kerry came to going out of the 2011 Christy Ring Cup.
They travelled to Newry on one of those squally, overcast, rain spitting days you so often get in May. They were full of confidence and full of hope that they would finally qualify for their first – and, as things stand, only – Christy Ring Cup final appearance and Down, not giving a damn about league status, not giving a damn about Kerry's position as pre-game and pre-championship favourites, very nearly put paid to their best laid plans.
That's a warning Kerry should heed. They again travel to Newry as pre-game and pre-championship favourites. If they think that will ensure their safe passage from Down then they'd best think again. Not even a substantial lead at one stage in the second half gave Kerry an easy ride in that semi-final. Two sendings off in the final ten minutes very nearly turned the game on its head. Anything can happen in a game of hurling. Be prepared.
We're still waiting to see what team Tom Howard selects (the team will be selected on Wednesday evening after training and will be made public on Thursday lunchtime). Whatever team he selects we can expect them to be tenacious and resilient – qualities they've demonstrated time and again this campaign. It's those qualities, as much as their hurling ability, that gives one confidence about their chances in this game and in this competition.
Liam Boyle will anchor the defence. Paul Costello (the captain) will surely be handed one of the corner-back berths if he has proven his fitness, he missed the league through injury. Tom Murnane will be handed the number six jersey (if he has overcome his back injury) with Tommy Barrett (again if he's fit) and Darragh O'Connell alongside him on the half-back line.
Midfield is likely to be a horses for courses affair with John Griffin sure to be handed the number eight jersey, with the number nine jersey going to either Darren Dineen (with whom Griffin formed such a strong partnership last year) or young Daniel Collins.
In the forwards we're likely to see the return of Willie O'Dwyer to the starting fifteen following his recent injury woes. The Mullinavat man will likely take a place on the half-forward line, although possibly not the centre-forward's berth. That role will fall to a rejuvenated Gary O'Brien. If Kerry had one difficulty during the league it was gaining possession on the half-forward line, outside of Brendan O'Leary who was consistently effective and a dead cert to be handed the number twelve jersey.
The other two certainties are Aidan Boyle at full-forward and Shane Nolan in the corner. Nolan gets the headlines, Boyle puts in the hard graft and sets his younger colleague up for more scores than you could possibly remember. That leaves John Egan (finally recovered from injury, although likely still lacking match sharpness), new comer Stephen Page, Padraig Boyle and Pat Joe Connolly battling it out for a final place in the forwards.
That's quite a bit of talent which could make an impact off the bench. There's also every likelihood that Daniel Collins would be handed the number 13 jersey and given a roaming commission, tasked with supporting Griffin and Dineen around the middle.
That's a potentially strong team. One capable of beating Down this weekend? Certainly, not that it's a dead cert. Whatever happens we'll know a hell of a lot more come Saturday evening about Kerry's prospects than we do right now.