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Saturday 20 December 2014

Whatever about the semi-finals we must finish well and make a bold statement

Published 02/04/2014 | 05:36

Paul Geaney, Kerry. Picture: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

In the summer of 2002, after making an early exit from the Munster championship, we entered the mindfield that is the All-Ireland Qualifiers.

Confidence was low in the camp. Training had been going well enough but it just wasn't reflecting onto the pitch when we went into competitive action. Cork had swatted us aside in Pairc Ui Chaoimh a few weeks earlier and getting to the big decider that September seemed a million miles away. The draw was kind to us in that we faced Wicklow and Fermanagh (no disrespect meant!) and we blew them both away.

Our year turned. All of a sudden things began to click, the confidence grew and it took us to the All Ireland final, playing some superb football along the way.

What made the difference? Winning did. It's as simple as that. Seamus Moynihan said to us as a group around this time that 'winning is a disease' and we had caught the bug. A few victories back to back and the mood changes.

After recording a third win in a row in Mullingar on Sunday, the current Kerry team have most certainly got that winning feeling. The victory not only ensured another year of top flight action but also leaves us with a chance of sneaking into a semi-final that weeks ago seemed well out of our reach. The permutation for us is simple. Well, when I say simple...!!

First of all, Kerry need to beat Cork and hope that Derry (who have already qualified for the semi-final) beat Mayo in Castlebar. Derry can guarantee a home tie in the semi-final by beating Mayo so they will have something to play for when they travel west. Sunday should make for an interesting day!

Westmeath, as I noted in last week's piece, gave a good account of themselves on Sunday and especially in the first half made life very difficult for Kerry. For the first time this year that I can recall, a team set up with a sweeper system against us and it paid dividends for Paul Bealin's men. It helped of course that Kerry's performance was well below the standard we had seen in their wins over Tyrone and Kildare. They were second best to everything, especially around the middle of the field, and it led to the home team dominating possession in that area and getting a plentiful supply of ball into the dangerous looking Denis Glennon who was causing Mark Griffin problems.

I'm sure the Kerry management had a thing or two to say at half time and it had the desired effect as we saw a different team in the second period.

The introduction of Anthony Maher and Donnchadh Walsh saw Kerry turn the tide in that middle eight and it was great to see Darran show glimpses of his form and fitness returning.

David Moran really stood up in the second half and displayed some sublime fielding. Once Kerry got on top of things here then it gave our potent inside line some much needed ammunition and these young guns aren't slow to pull the trigger!

Paul Geaney (below) is growing in confidence and seems to be striking up a good understanding with James O'Donoghue and Stephen O'Brien (the three of them accounting for 1-10 of Kerry's 2-15).

Do they look like a viable full forward line come championship time? Right now they do. They will be given another opportunity this Sunday in Tralee against the old foe who will give us a better indication of how our inside line are really motoring.

This latest instalment of the Kerry versus Cork saga is an intriguing one. Cork have already qualified for the last four and a win would secure them a home tie. Throw into the mix a chance to lay down an early marker in Kerry's back yard and it really wets the lips for what should be a good battle.

Brian Cuthbert, like his opposing manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice, has used the league campaign to see what kind of quality he has available to him to fill the shoes of the vast number of retired players he is now without. A highlight of the league for them has been the return of star forward Colm O'Neill who came on in their impressive win over Dublin in Croke Park. O'Neill is one of the most naturally gifted footballers playing the game right now and will be a major test for any Kerry defender.

The Kingdom won't care too much about permutations or mathematics! The only sums they will be adding up at the end of this one are the ones on the scoreboard. They will want to finish this league season with a fourth win in a row and a good performance to match. I think they will give us both. If that is good enough to get us a semi final spot then so be it.

Kerryman

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