Kerry hurlers target new goals since shattering glass ceiling
Kerry hurling boss Eamonn Kelly gave the county's new small-ball heroes a few days off to celebrate breaking hurling's glass ceiling but all hands will be back on the training deck again tomorrow night.
"We were all elated afterwards, it was a fantastic feeling," Kelly said of the Kingdom's historic promotion play-off defeat of Antrim to claim a place in hurling's Division 1B next season.
"But we have Down coming down here in three weeks' time in the Christy Ring Cup so we have to get back training tomorrow night and really get our focus back," he said. "We were rank outsiders against Westmeath (Division 2A final) and Antrim, waiting in the long grass for both of them which really helped us, and that's what Down will be doing now, so we'll have to be prepared for that."
With that second-tier championship game taking place in Tralee, he is hoping that GAA fans in the Kingdom will get behind them.
"Having a home game is always a help, our support is OK but it would be great if even more people could get behind the lads now," he said.
Kerry lost a similar play-off to Offaly last year and their breakthrough immediately had local hurling aficionados recalling big days in the past, like beating Westmeath in a Division 2 final in '98, playing Waterford in the 1993 Munster senior championship and, most memorably, losing to Limerick in the fourth round of the 2003 hurling qualifiers after beating Westmeath, Carlow and Derry.
Many of their best underage hurlers are understandably drawn to the bigger ball as they progress, including current senior football manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Paul Galvin.
Kerry have won the last three All-Ireland minor 'B' hurling titles and the 2013 All-Ireland U-21 'B', so it's felt their underage structures are particularly healthy now.
They won the Christy Ring in 2011 and in Shane Nolan have a hurler who has been recognised by the Munster senior selectors.
Kelly stressed yesterday that it is the players and two of his backroom team that deserve most of the credit, including fellow Tipperary native Conor Gleeson.
"Conor is the coach and Damien Ryall, from Abbeydorney, is our fitness trainer and has really taken them to another level," he said. "It's funny but at half-time against Antrim, even though we were eight points down, everyone in the dressing-room believed we were still well in it.
"We had missed three one-on-one goal chances and had another one saved so we were still quietly confident."
In the end, it took a late John Egan point to win promotion and Kelly was particularly delighted to see a stalwart like John Griffin getting to lift a trophy and win promotion in the past few weeks.
The big question now is whether Kerry can make the great leap in standard that Division 1B will demand and Kelly already accepts that they will have to step it up in training.
"We didn't come back until Christmas last year but if we want to be up to speed in January next year then we will have to be back training in October.
"But that's for another day," he stressed. "Our focus now is straight back to the Christy Ring, all we'll be thinking about is preparing for Down on May 2."