KERRY'S big worry heading into Saturday's Christy Ring Cup opener?
The size of the pitch in Arklow. By all accounts it's a tight little ground. The fact Wicklow have moved from their traditional Aughrim base to the costal village suggests that their policy might well be to stifle this classy Kerry side. Hook em, block em, deny them any time and space on the ball to play their own game.
Wicklow will hope to play this game on their own terms and after their heavy defeat at the hands of the Kingdom in this year's league and last year's Christy Ring Cup final – in the wide open spaces of Croke Park – who could blame them?
Kerry will remain the favourites for this fixture regardless of venue, but they might want to be wary of this Wicklow side. Under Casey O'Brien they've been moving nicely in recent years and secured their status as a Division 2A side last weekend for another year following victory over Down in a relegation play-off – they won on a scoreline of 2-14 to 0-17 – with Enan Glynn, Jonathan O'neill, Ronan Keddy and Andy O'brien all starring.
They'll quitely fancy their chances against this Kerry side and will most defnitely feel they didn't do themselves justice in their league encounter. The Boyle saga was raging at the time and, perhaps, the Garden County side was expecting an easier test than the one they got when John Meyler's men rolled into town. Once bitten, twice shy.
Kerry for their part are moving nicely at the moment. A victory over a Limerick development squad in Rathkeale last week confirmed that the work that has been done over the past couple of months is beginning to bear fruit. Kerry's fitness was a concern early in the league when they faded twice in the second half against Westmeath and Carlow, but work has been done in the meantime to address this.
"I would hope so," Kerry boss John Meyler said when asked whether it has been this week. "It's been addressed. If you look back on those two games, Carlow blew us out of it in the last fifteen minutes and Westmeath beat us in the last ten minutes when it was all to play for. To me it suggests fitness and it suggests workrate and we've worked on that over the last couple of weeks and hopefully we've got it right."
Another issue that was a thorn in Kerry's side during those opening fixtures was the seeming inability of the half-forward line to get their hands on the ball and to retain possession. "We've addressed it in training since the end of the league and we've looked at different combinations," Meyler says. "Mikey Boyle missed the last three games of the league and he's back now so that should give us more presence in the half-forward line and hopefully we'll get it right. We're working on it."
The loss through injury of Gary O'brien is a big blow to Meyler and to Kerry's options for that troublesome half-forward line. Nevertheless Kerry are favourites to retain the Christy Ring. A fact that Meyler is in no way downplaying. "We're always going to be favourites to win the Christy Ring because we won it last year and we're back in it this year," he says.
"We beat Wicklow in the Christy Ring final, we beat them in the league. They beat Down last week up in Trim in the relegation final, so they'll have had a competitve game under their belt, which we won't have since our last league game so they'll be bursting for road again. Plus the fact the game is in Arklow suggests that they've something up their sleeve for us."
If Kerry play to their true potential – regardless of injuries – they should have far too much for Casey O'brien's men. At the back they're strong with newcomers Rory Horgan and Paud Costello looking at home alongside more experienced performers such as James Godley and Tom Murnane (a really classy hurler).
Places are more likely to be up for grabs on the halfback line rather than the full, but with team captain Liam Boyle back in the squad and back on form expect him to take one of the wing back berths alongside the aforementioned Murnane. Colin Harris would be our choice for the number 5 jersey, but Ally O'connor has impressed in his outings in the league and could sneak up and take the place from the veteran defender.
Midfield is industrious and classy, if lacking a little in out and out bulk, with Darren Dineen and John Griffin an effective combination. Up front, if Kerry click, they've got the potential to be devastatingly effective. Padraig Boyle is in the frame to take the number 14 jersey from brother Aidan as things stand, with Shane Nolan, Darragh O'connell, Mikey Boyle, Kilkenny's Willie O'dwyer and Shane Brick all well capable of creating havoc at this level. If Kerry click they'll be hard to stop.