Power play crucial as students bid to stun Kingdom
ALL-Ireland champions Kerry could face their first defeat of 2010 on home ground in Tralee tomorrow -- but manager Jack O'Connor isn't unduly concerned about the threat posed by the Institute of Technology Tralee in the McGrath Cup preliminary round.
O'Connor and the stars of 2009 are on their well-earned holiday abroad, with New York and Jamaica on the itinerary. But back home in frozen and snow-hit Kingdom and -- weather permitting -- a Kerry-lite squad will face the boys of ITT at Austin Stack Park.
No insult is intended to the players who wear the green and gold, most of them minors and U-21s and promising youngsters, but this is very far from even a half-strength Kerry side.
Still, opportunity knocks for ambitious and talented players. Squad members for the ITT match -- including Paul O'Donoghue who has been released by ITT to play for Kerry -- know this is an early chance to impress and make a bid for inclusion in O'Connor's plans for the new season.
Indeed, the manager has already indicated his confidence in the lesser lights' ability to beat ITT by making preliminary arrangements to return for the January 10 quarter-final against Waterford, while the main panel remains on holiday.
The ITT lads will be doing their best to give O'Connor an extended stay abroad and save him the necessity of an early return home -- particularly Limerick senior inter-county player, Cormac Joyce-Power.
Joyce-Power is in the first year of a four-year course in Health and Leisure at the Tralee college.
It's no accident that he's studying in the Kingdom, as Limerick boss Mickey Ned O'Sullivan recommended ITT as the right place to develop him as a player.
The 6ft 4in 19-year-old was sprung from minor football into the Limerick senior panel for last year. Joyce-Power then went on to claim his place in the Limerick side which came close to beating Cork in the Munster final and then lost by only a point to Meath in the qualifiers.
It was a steep learning curve for Joyce-Power, who was only playing junior football with his club Ahane before Limerick manager O'Sullivan brought him into the senior fold, and he admits that it di d not have a fairytale ending.
The player has plenty of ability in addition to his physical prowess and is an all-round sportsman, as he proved when winning a Munster Schools Cup medal with Castletroy College.
Munster's Rugby Academy were interested in bringing the Ahane man into their development structure, but now he's furthering his football education in Tralee with the encouragement and blessing of O'Sullivan.
Reflecting on his '09 adventures, Joyce-Power said: "I played a senior League game with Limerick before I played U-21, so I came straight from minors into the senior team.
"Mickey Ned put great faith in me -- but as much as it was a great experience playing a Munster final, nothing went right for me. I was young and the whole occasion got to me on the day. I have no problem admitting that.
"People say to me 'you played a Munster final' but the fact I didn't personally play well in it's a disappointment. Hopefully I'll get another chance at it some day, but right now I'm happy in Tralee and I love it down there.
"Mickey Ned set it up because he felt if I was playing high-level college football it would help me develop my game. We have a lot of good players and it's not an easy team to get into. It's not like positions are set in stone and everybody's fighting for their place.
He added: "Whoever Kerry put out against us, it will be a great experience for our lads and we're not going to sit back and admire them. Hopefully we'll put in a good performance and then we'll see where that takes us.".
Limerick boss O'Sullivan will open the new campaign at Kilmallock against Waterford IT in the McGrath Cup, but has no problem with Joyce-Power being released to ITT.
"We would not be standing in his way," said O'Sullivan. "Cormac will be in a better position this year, because by playing in ITT he'll be getting football every day. Third-level football where they are competing against the best of their age group and with good people in charge is a great grounding for any player.
"Cormac hadn't been used to playing at any intensity with his club, so it was a great achievement for him to get as far as he did last year and play in a Munster final. I'm sure he'll build on the potential that he has shown and he's in the right place to do that.
"I hope that being at Tralee will give him the opportunity to build in confidence. Rome wasn't built in a day and you don't become an inter-county footballer overnight."
He added: "He's a big man, very athletic and has a very good attitude and hopefully we'll help him to be a very good inter-county footballer."
Limerick's hurlers are in turmoil but the Kerryman's only current problem with the Limerick footballers is the weather and its disruption to training and matches.
O'Sullivan's first priority is to use the McGrath Cup to try out players and seek a replacement for goalkeeper Sean Kiely, who retired at the end of last season.
Conor Ranahan, brother of defender Peadar Ranahan, was substitute goalkeeper last year and will start against Waterford IT but the manager will also check out a number of other goalkeepers in the next few weeks.
Stalwart, John Galvin, has signed on for his 11th campaign and the 29-year-old Croom player is determined not to let the disappointment of the '09 season overwhelm him.
"John Galvin, he's a warrior. It's good that he's there for us again," said O'Sullivan. "As for 2010, it's up to the players and management to see can we build on last year. We don't know whether we can or not, but that's what we'll be trying to do."