"A FLAT kind of performance" is how Eamonn Fitzmaurice described his side's latest victory. It's hard to disagree.
They lumbered their way through the opening exchanges. Sparkled for ten minutes, killing off the game with two expertly stuck Paddy Curtin efforts and after that they were largely in cruise control. They did no more or no less than they had to. Fitzmaurice will have learned more about his new charges in this seventy minutes than he would have the weekend before, but that's not saying much is it?
IT Tralee were totally and utterly outclassed. UCC, to their credit, weren't. They weren't at the same level as this Kerry side were. What they were was lively and hungry and eager to make a statement. A statement to Billy Morgan aimed at securing their place in his Sigerson Cup plans and for the Kerry players involved a statement aimed at Eamonn Fitzmaurice and, indeed, at Kerry U-21 team manager Darragh Ó Sé.
Fitzmaurice must have had conflicting emotions watching Conor Cox give Mike Moloney a tough afternoon of it. On one hand here was a real talent declaring himself ready and willing to compete at the hightest level. A guy with the ability to shoot on instinct and from distance and to do it accurately. If he could do that on a big day against a swarm defence of a Donegal or a Dublin then can you imagine what an asset he would prove to be?
"Yes Conor played well, and indeed all of the UCC lads who are in with us did well," he said.
"I know Conor kicked a share of scores and we know well the quality that he possesses. He is going to have a busy schedule now. Between the Sigerson with UCC, he is involved with Darragh Ó Sé with the Under 21s and he is in and out with us as well. So I suppose for the next while it's going to be about balancing commitments to ensure that he is not over extended at any stage. Conor played well today, no doubt about it."
On the other hand he won't have been at all pleased to see Moloney struggle to cope with the young Listowel man's brio. Full-back has been a problem position for Kerry for a number of years now, with
Moloney returned from London and playing fine stuff for Dr Crokes hopes were high that he could make an impact at intercounty level. It would be folly to suggest he can't on the basis of one difficult game against a player of Cox's ability. Nevertheless he can't afford too many more days like this. His Crokes' colleague Fionn Fitzgerald yet again came up smelling of roses.
It might be his last game in the green and gold until the Crokes conclude their All Ireland campaign – although Fitzmaurice did leave open the possibilty that some Crokes players might feature again against Limerick – but he has done more than enough to merit inclusion in the wider Kerry panel and will surely be given his head at some stage during the National League. If Fitzmaurice takes nothing more other than that out of the opening two games of the McGrath Cup then he's done well we would suggest.
It's still too early – and the opposition has been too weak – to make definitive declarations about what kind of style the new manager is hoping to impose on his team, but allow us to make a few observations. It would seem, for instance, that the diagonal ball will be a recurring feature of this Kerry team's approach. The operation of a two man inside line – in this instance Paddy Curtin and Paul Geaney – lends itself to such an approach and against UCC it worked out exceptionally well.
Curtin and Geaney had a nice understanding and, while he doesn't have the heft of a Kieran Donaghy, Curtin seems to have enough about him to make the number fourteen jersey his own. At the very least he'll have Donaghy looking over his shoulder come the beginning of the National League and championship if he keeps this form up. Of course the health warning that needs to be attached here is that this is January football and this is the McGrath Cup against a team of students.
Still it'd be nice to have options. It's not unfair to suggest that Kerry's offensive play became stale in recent seasons, the route one ball to Donaghy was well signposted. Curtin provides full-backs with a different set of challenges than Donaghy. It might be a case of horses for courses come championship and if it is then that's a very nice position for Eamonn Fitzmaurice to find himself in.
Again the warning must be: it's early days yet. That's the warning that can be attached to everything we've said here so far. Cox looked great on Sunday, but it's early days. Moloney didn't have the best game of his career, but it's early days. Paddy Curtin looks increasingly like an intercounty full-forward, but it's early days. When Fitzmaurice was asked what positives he drew out of the opening two games of the campaign he spoke more in terms of attitude than in terms of tangible results and wisely so.
"I think that the attitude has been good," he said. "And we have to be realistic, it is early January and it is the McGrath Cup.
"A lot of the senior lads have seen big days and it can be hard to motivate yourself in the middle of January, but in terms of attitude and application, the lads are first class. I am delighted the way that is going and in terms of improving from week to week if we can. I am anxious to see can we go up another gear now next week, because it will be a tougher test again against an inter-county team.
"They will have a couple of games under their belt so it will be interesting to see where we are at this time next week."
That it will be.