O'Sullivan: Down caught us on hop
KERRY star Declan O'Sullivan admits the Kingdom got their preparation wrong for last year's All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Down.
And ahead of Sunday's renewal that could yet see either side join Dublin in the league final, Kerry are not short on motivation.
"I think on the day we were just flat footed, caught on the hop. Maybe our preparation mightn't have been spot on. It's something that we have to look at. Even as players ourselves we have to look at our own preparation and our own hunger levels.
"Down showed afterwards what a good team they are by going very close to winning the All-Ireland. They're an up-and-coming team. They showed the freshness and hunger that's needed to win those big games. It's the biggest thing we learned -- that if we're going to be competitive this year we really need to get a good bit of youth into the panel, shake it up and become very competitive, no complacency, and I think that's what the management have been trying to do for the league.
"Obviously after last year they are a team that we probably want to beat. I suppose we're looking down the road as well. We've been a long time around so we probably know that the league is only preparation for the championship.
"Sunday is another opportunity for fellas to show the management what they can do. There's 30 to 35 fellas involved at the moment and it's in everyone's heads to try and make that championship 26 and to try to make it as hard as possible for the management to leave them off, so I think that would be more important than Sunday, rather than making up for anything that went on in the past."
O'Sullivan's schedule has been particularly hectic in recent years. The Dromid Pearses man played in six consecutive All-Ireland finals from 2004 to '09, and he also won four county titles with South Kerry in the same period. But his recent marriage and honeymoon provided a welcome extended break away from the game.
"Liam Hassett told me that when he got married he started playing great football so hopefully that'll work for me as well!" he said.
"It was important to take a step back, just to enjoy it again a bit more. When you're at that level it gets very intense and you become very focused. You can forget that you have to enjoy it.
"Especially as a forward, you have to be instinctive and fresh and sharp. Otherwise you become stale and it can become hard work at times. So it's important just to relax and getting married and going away and enjoying that has been great. It's been great coming back to it with a bit of freshness and hunger and with fellas nipping at your heels."
After losing two league matches from their first three outings, league final qualification looked beyond the Kingdom and they booked a training camp for Portugal which would have them out of the country on the weekend of the decider.
The panel have also found themselves at odds with 'The Kerryman' newspaper, which criticised the outlay, but, according to O'Sullivan, the planned trip will have no influence on the Kerry performance this weekend.
"We're going all out to get to a league final, try to win on Sunday and let that stuff take care of itself. I'm sure the county board have some plan in place if we do get to the league final," he said.
Whatever they do in the next few weeks, finding a settled midfield partnership will likely be top of Jack O'Connor's list. A cruciate injury ended David Moran's season prematurely but, with Mike Quirke recently returning to training and Tommy Griffin edging back towards fitness, O'Sullivan is confident Kerry are okay in that department.
"Down in Kerry after Darragh O Se going there was always going to be a lot of talk about midfield. It's become a big issue, but in the modern game you don't see a lot of high fielding anymore. It's more about the middle eight than the middle two," he said.