Kerry need to end with spring in step
Published 02/04/2014 | 05:36
It's as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. First things first. Kerry must beat Cork in order to have any chance to make the top four and earn a place in the league semi-finals. After that it's ears to the transistor radio - or eyes on Twitter - to see how matters elsewhere are going. In its simplest form Kerry need Derry to beat Mayo in Castlebar, of which there is absolutely no guarantee of it happening. Another scenario to get Kerry into the semi-finals would be another pair of draws this weekend, with Mayo and Derry drawing and also Tyrone and Dublin sharing the points in Omagh. In that instance Kerry, Mayo and Dublin would all be on 8 points but Kerry's better scoring average would pull them through.
As far as Sunday's contest with Cork goes, however, all those permutations and possibilities are secondary. The Kerry players and management can do nothing about matters in Omagh or Castlebar. What they can affect is what happens in Tralee, and to that end Kerry must ensure they get the job done. And preferably get it done well.
With qualification for the league semi-final only a slim possibility Kerry are looking at an 11-week gap between Sunday's match and their next competitive game, a Munster Championship semi-final on June 21 or 22. Any momentum from a four-game winning streak isn't likely to carry through until late June but a defeat - or a bad defeat at least - could have more lastings ramifications heading into that hiatus and the Championship thereafter.
Six months ago as Cork's new manager Brian Cuthbert was dealing with a spate of retirements one could hardly have imagined that Cork would have qualified for the league semi-finals with a game to go and be one of the talked up teams for the Championship. But what a difference a winter can make.
The retirements of Graham Canty, Noel O'Leary, Alan Quirke, Pearse O'Neill and others - as well as the departure of Ciaran Sheehan to the AFL - have been absorbed to such an extent by Cuthbert and his new team that on Leeside they can hardly remember some of those who have departed since last summer.
Kerry, of course, have had their own retirements and injury problems, so Sunday's meeting of two old rivals who are in a state of renewal and rebuilding should be fascinating.
People may not want to recall last year's League meeting in Tralee when Conor Counihan set up his Cork team to stiffle the life out of a then struggling Kerry team. It didn't work and it left Counihan open to the charge that his tactics and team set-up was holding back a Cork team that should have won more under his watch.
Under Cuthbert we are seeing a much more unshackled Cork team, one that is trusted to play attacking football at pace, and one that is prepared to take on opposition defences rather than trying to suffocate the opposition's forwards.
Mark Collins, John O'Rourke, Daniel Goulding, Paul Kerrigan and Brian Hurlery - should they all play - will be as good a test for the Kerry defence as they will have experienced all year.
Cuthbert has continuously opted to chop and change his team throughout this campaign, and the fact that Cork are still getting results and putting up big scoring totals should serve as a warning to Kerry for Sunday.
Though Cork will have at least one more game after Sunday it's likely they will want to field a strong, competitive team. They, too, won't be in Championshbip action until June 22, so Cuthbert - and the players - will be anxious to get as much competitive football as possible before then.
For Kerry this could be a last chance for the management to see their players in a competitive environment before the Championship.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice says it is too far out to be seriously thinking about a championship fifteen but for several players this will be the place to put up their hand for consideration come June.
With the win imperative it's unlikely that the team will veer too far away from what we've seen in recent matches, but we might expect to see Johnny Buckley, Jack Sherwood, Barry John Keane and Darran O'Sullivan get some sustained action as Fitzmaurice and his selectors look for strengths and weaknesses in the wider panel.
Kerry can be assured of a far sterner test than they were subjected to by Westmeath and that will be no harm at all.
A place in the league semi-finals now would be viewed as bonus territory. The more immediate goal is to get a stiff challenge from a very good Cork team and respond positively to that.
If Kerry's spring campaign is to end on Sunday better that it be with a spring in their step.