Kerry players must avoid getting caught up in Sam hype
HAPPINESS and contentment in a dressing-room can be a dangerous thing. Following their performance against Cork in the Munster final, the Kerry players are sure to be buzzing from all the congratulations and pats on the back.
The trouble is, sometimes the level of euphoria may not match up with what was actually achieved. I'm sure Eamonn Fitzmaurice will be doing all he can to make sure the young players, in particular, aren't getting carried away. Of course, it's always brilliant to beat Cork and the manner in which they did it in the Rebels' back yard was all the more satisfying.
The pragmatic view must be taken, however. There has been plenty of evidence that Cork are not the force they were thought to be. They struggled very badly against Tipperary and that came off the back of their league semi-final collapse against Dublin.
As I said last week, it's clear Brian Cuthbert and his management team are struggling to really get the most from their squad. It's understandable given the amount of change there over the past year.
Kerry, though, must remember that fact before they start getting caught up in any hype about All-Ireland titles and having another go at the Dubs.
They must first negotiate tomorrow's clash with Galway. I don't want to sound dismissive, but I don't believe the Tribesmen will have enough to win this one. The potential is there for them to cause problems, however.
I'm sure Alan Mulholland will be looking at this and thinking, "let's see how the older fellas such as Marc Ó Sé and Aidan O'Mahony get on when we take them for a run around Croke Park." They'll also know Brian Kelly hasn't experienced this stage of the championship yet, so pump a few high early balls in on top of him to test him out.
The Connacht men are also in bonus territory. At the start of the year, their target would have been the All-Ireland quarter-finals. The shackles are off now and they aren't expected to win. For a young side, such a situation can create a huge surge in belief.
They'll study the Clare game closely, when the Banner were every bit as good as us for more than 40 minutes. Also, Kerry's league form was inconsistent to say the least. Their stock is high at the moment, but critics could point out that a lot is based on a single game where everything clicked.
Personally, though, I do believe that Eamonn has prepared his team to peak at the right time. He's used the league to fine-tune his defence and now he has a settled side. The bench is as strong as I can remember with five or six players ready to come on who would not weaken the side.
Bryan Sheehan was tremendous the last day and his return to form and full fitness is massive. Johnny Buckley won't have happy memories of his last visit to Croke Park, so he'll be desperate to put in a big show.
Up front, James O'Donoghue has spoken of how he won't rest until he has secured a Celtic Cross. That's the type of thing I love to hear.
The game also presents a chance for cousins Paul and Michael Geaney to get a feel for headquarters in knockout championship fare. I expect them to relish the occasion.
If they have managed to come down from the highs of the Munster final, and Eamonn has curbed any overenthusiasm, I expect Kerry to take this one. The performance in a game where they are heavy favourites is key to judging exactly where they're at.
Cork, meanwhile, find themselves in a strange position. It's rare they get to this stage with expectations so low. When is the last time they met Mayo in Croke Park and were rated as outsiders?
It may do them good. They know they have a potent forward line, and given Mayo's tendency to give away cheap possession, Cork will get chances.
I just wonder about them around the middle third in terms of raw power. It's a big ask for a young fella like Ian Maguire.
I'd be very surprised if they line out as picked.
Mayo remain a formidable unit and know exactly where they're going.
Cillian O'Connor has found a new level, while Aidan O'Shea and Jason Doherty have added a new dimension to their attack. They are physically stronger and excellent tacklers.
Cork, on the other hand, are in the first year under a new management team and haven't got a settled system of play or a first 15. In a game where the two squads are relatively even talent-wise, it's the one further down the track in terms of development which invariably comes through.
Expect the Mayo machine to keep rolling.