Who can seize the moment?
Published 13/02/2013 | 09:50
All things being equal what Kerry team would you expect to start againmst Tipperary in the Munster SFC quarter-final on May 26? Or to put it another way: how much will that team differ from the last Championship team Kerry fielded - against Donegal in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final?
In defence should we take it that Brendan Kealy will stay in goals? That Marc and Tomas O Se are nailed on to start? Are Killian Young and Eoin Brosnan guaranteed first choices? Aidan O'Mahony? Of a fairly well established defence over the last few seasons only Shane Enright has broken into the starting team in the Championship.
At midfield we can fairly safely assume that Bryan Sheehan and Anthony Maher will maintain their partnership when May and high summer roll around.
In the attack Colm Cooper and Declan O'Sullivan are certainties to start. Darran O'Sullivan would seem a very safe bet also. Paul Galvin, perhaps slightly less so, but it's hard to see Galvin not starting against Tipperary in May. Beyond that, Kieran Donaghy's place in the starting team might be a little less certain, depending on what way the management decide to play it.
That leaves Donnchadh Walsh and James O'Donoghue as the remaining two starters from the Donegal match last August.
Walsh has been struggling with a persistent groin injury for some time now and doesn't look like he will see much, if any, league action. At this stage it's difficult to see that the Cromane man will have enough done to earn a place against Tipperary.
As for O'Donoghue, the young Legion man looks the player most likely to break into the team on a regular basis and become an established starter on the team this year, and for several years to come.
After two rounds of the League it's reasonable to assume that the teams that played against Mayo and Dublin will be quite a way different to the fifteen that will start against Tipperary in May, and even more so than the Kerry team that will probably be meeting Cork in a Munster final in early July.
It's pretty safe to assume that Colm Cooper, Declan O'Sullivan, Paul Galvin, Eoin Brosnan, Marc and Tomas O Se, and probably Kieran Donaghy will all be accommodated in the starting team come summer. Or is it?
A what point does an established player become less sure of his place in the team? The obvious answer is 'any given Sunday' if his form dips and someone else's form rises above him on the training field.
Managers are always telling us that it's great to have competition for places; that it's a panel of twenty-something and every player is fighting for a jersey; that no one's place in the team is guaranteed. All sincere words, we are sure, but clearly some players are more secure than others when it comes to getting one of the jerseys number one ot fifteen. And that's fair enough.
Colm Cooper, for example, has proven himself year in year out and has the supreme skill that ensures he will start every game, even if the management were to be momentarily concerned over Cooper's form. (That hasn't happened yet.)
Declan O'Sullivan, the O Se brothers and Galvin are others who have been fairly much guaranteed their place in the team over the last few years.
Which moves us on to the central question for the time being: who, over the last six games (four McGrath Cup and two League) has shown that they are capable of breaking into the starting team for the Championship, or are at least capable of making a significant contribution to the team through the summer?
Since the start of January Eamonn Fitzmaurice has used, to one degree or another, 34 players. Add in Cooper, Brosnan, Galvin and Donnchadh Walsh and the management will have seen close on 40 players through the spring.
Only a little over half of that number will make it to a Championship panel. Who are the likely lads, who are the probables and the possibles, who needs to do more to convince the management and who are the weakest links that simply won't make it this year?
Likely to succeed
In defence we like the cut of Peter Crowley, even if he got a runaround from Dublin on Sunday. The Laune Rangers man has that extra bit of energy and aggression that any self-respecting Kerry defender must have, and can become a long-term option at wing back.
Jonathan Lyne doesn't quite have Crowley's menace about him but the Legion man is a very tidy and pacy footballer who is settling in comfortably at wing back.
Brian McGuire showed glimpses last year of a capacity to defend stoutly and also get forward with the ball. We haven't seen him him yet this year but the Listowel man can surely establish himself in the defence before long.
Fionn Fitzgerald is as an exciting a defender as we have seen since a young Marc O Se. With a similar starture and style to O Se, the young Crokes man is a great reader of the game, and tenacious marker and a stylist on the ball.
The jury has been out on Johnny Buckley for a couple of years but finally the Dr Crokes midfielder looks to be developing into the inter-county man that many felt he could be. His club exploits have sharpened his game and he will eventually give Sheehan and Maher a run for their midfield money.
In attack James O'Donoghue looks the real deal but he will need strong coaching. He has the natural talent and predatory skill to be a great forward but he needs to make better decisions on the ball. If he learns the game to complement his natural ability he will be a star of the future.
We haven't seen much of Paul Geaney so far but the Dingle man is a classy inside forward who can thrive on the right ball going into him.
More to do
Shane Enright got a decent run last year and can establish himself as a very capable corner back but he has to work on his man marking and tackling. He is learning beside one of the all time greats - Marc O Se - but he has a little more to prove that he can be a top, top corner back.
Jack Sherwood has been entrusted as a centre back in the McGrath Cup where he did quite well but the real test would have been Mayo and Dublin, but he missed out through injury. Only when he faces up to the country's best centre forwards will we know if the Firies man has what it takes.
Up front Patrick Curtin has blown very hot and very cold this year. Powerful and a proven scorer, the Moyvane man seems low on confidence right now and a combination of average ball going in and a lack of aggression on his part is seeing him being bossed around by full backs.
Barry John Walsh has been in and out of the panel since coming out of the minor ranks a few seasons back but hasn't stamped his undoubted talent on the senior team yet. Strong and skilful, this must be the year he takes his game up another level or two.
Hanging in there, just
For a few players who have gone beyond the 'new boy' category and have been around the senior panel for a few seasons now this could well be their make or break year.
Barry John Keane has established himself well in the panel and is usually good for a couple of scores every game. He is a talented and confident player but with younger guys coming in Keane needs to be nailing down a regular starting place this year.
Michael O'Donoghue has gotten a run with the team for a few League campaigns now but come each summer he is usually back with the Kery junior team. Will this year be any different? He has been solid enough so far but probably needs to bring more to the attack.
Brian Looney was the runaway footballer in the 2012 county championship and has been kicking some ridiculous scores for Dr Crokes. However, he has yet to grasp his few opportunities with the county team, and Crokes involvement in the club championship might not be helpful. Now in his mid-20s Looney really needs to break through this year.
Looney's Dr Crokes club mate Michael Moloney has been touted as the next Kerry full back but he hasn't cracked it yet. Emigration took him for a year but he is back now and really needs to be taking command of the no.3 jersey by now, but he hasn't been wholly convincing in his McGrath Cup appearances.
Mikey Geaney had an excellent season with Dingle last year but the world of inter-county football is testing him to the limit now. Strong, honest and an extremely hard worker, is that enough for a place on the Kerry team?
Like his Spa team mate, Andrew Garnett is pushing on in his twenties and is behind Sheehan, Maher, Buckley and probably Donaghy in the midfield race. If David Moran makes a successful comeback that leaves Garnett sixth in line for midfield.
Too early to tell
James Walsh was handed his senior debut on Sunday and had a trying 40 minutes at midfield. We know Walsh's potential from his club and underage inter-county exploits but he needs a lot more game time at senior level to prove he can make the step up.
Conor Cox is a hugely exciting prospect as he has shown with the county minors, under-21s and UCC in recent years. A brilliant point scorer last week's senior debut against Mayo was a tough lesson that senior inter-county football is like nothing else he has experienced.
Ballylongford defender David Culhane got a brief taste of senior football in the McGrath Cup but the current Under-21 panelist has some way to go before he makes the step up to senior.
Former Under-21 full back Mark Griffin is under consideration for the senior panel but hasn't yet got a chance to prove himself