Time to grab chance with both hands
"I CAN'T believe we are back at it already," I thought to myself as I packed the gear bag and made the short distance up to our local field on Wednesday evening.
It only seemed like a few weeks ago that we finished up our county league campaign (a successful one might I add!) and looked forward to a long, lazy winter. Yet here I was, halfway through our first run, trying to get the lungs to co-operate again with me, wondering why do we do it?
Maths wasn't always my strongest subject at school, but I maintain that this is my 19th season of senior football. God, when I see it written down it's scarier than I thought, but here we are year after year, putting our bodies through pain and heartache all for the love of the game, the love of the club. For that one day in the sun when you look back and say it was all worth it.
Senior inter-county players think no different by the way. The 6am December gym sessions and the dark depressing January evenings are just par for the course. When the last gut wrenching run of the night is done, your post training meal gobbled up and it's just you and the steering wheel for company on the way home, that little voice inside of your head tells you "it's more power in the legs, more air in the lungs."
Money in the bank. Stretching sessions, pool sessions, dietary plans all come naturally now to a modern day footballer. Leave no stone unturned. Why? For that one day in the sun when they look back and say it was all worth it.
Another National League campaign looms on the horizon and Kerry once again find themselves at the top table. Just about. A glance at the Division 1 table last after four games last season did not make for good reading for the Kingdom with no points on the board.
In the end they had to pull out all the stops to retain their top tier status and Eamonn Fitzmaurice will be keen to avoid a repeat of that. A good start is crucial and if you can pick up a win or two in your first three games then you can start looking up rather than down.
Of course, that's easier said than done when your first assignment happens to be away to the reigning league and All Ireland champions. It's a tough opener no doubt about it and Dublin will be favourites to take the points but I just feel it's a great opening game for Kerry.
The pace of the game will be nowhere near the pulsating All Ireland semi-final between the two teams last August and with both camps down some marquee players due to the club commitments and injuries, the make-up of the sides will be different making it a very level playing field.
Kerry can go into the game with no pressure on their shoulders and it will be valuable experience for the new guys to the set up to play against quality opposition in a quality stadium.
From what I gather Kerry have trained extremely hard in recent weeks even in the run up to the McGrath Cup final with a view to being in as good as shape as possible for the trip to Croker. The three games in the pre season tournament has seen a few players put their hands up for selection for the league opener and I would expect the likes of Paul Murphy, Jack Sherwood and Mickey Geaney to feature in the defensive set up.
It will be a big test for the lads as Dublin boast an array of fast and accurate front men, but again this will help in the development of these players so the management will know what they can do come the summer months.
David Moran will, possibly, partner Anthony Maher in the middle of the field presuming Maher has recovered from a knock he picked up in the defeat to Cork. It's crucial that Kerry gain some sort of a foothold around the middle and stop Dublin building up a head of steam. If David and Anthony can see plenty of the ball early on and impose their game onto their opponents then it gives us a chance.
Bryan Sheehan and Jonathan Lyne have been moving quite well on their return to the side and along with the ever consistent Donnchadh Walsh will form a pretty mobile and competitive half forward trio.
This line will have a busy night between trying to create chances for our inside line, be on the end of moves themselves and keep tabs on Dublin's attacking half-backs. It will be important that Bryan be a constant link man along the 40 because if they all come too deep the gap between them and the full forward will be too much and getting that quality ball in becomes difficult.
It's difficult to say who will come in to that full-forward line. James O'Donoghue is available now so he must start. I would expect Barry John Keane and possibly Paul Geaney to get the nod. These are two forwards who no doubt have the ability they just need to show it on the big stage.
What an opportunity for them and for Kerry on Saturday.