Focus on the job in hand

Kerry Under 21 manager Jack O'Connor Photo by Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Kerry Under 21 manager Jack O'Connor Photo by Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

Timmy Sheehan

A game like that was always going to raise the level of expectation.

The very fact of it alone was enough to buoy spirits in the Kingdom. A first title at Under 21 level in Munster since 2008. A first win against Cork since 2009. A first win in Cork since 1997.

Then add on top of that the manner of it. The style, the panache, the power, the pace and you have a recipe for overblown expectations. Talk switched almost immediately from what these guys could do in the remainder of the Under 21 championship to what they might do for Kerry in the summer months.

Naturally enough, Jack O'Connor, the Kerry Under 21 boss is keen to damped down such expectations.

"That's a question for another day," he says sensibly enough.

"I want to keep these guys focussed on the game on hand. The media and everything else can be speculating all they like, but as far as I am concerned there's no sacred cows, every fellow has to prove himself to us and we will take every game and every training session on its merits and that's the way it has to be.

"One way to keep fellows grounded is making sure that no fellow is sure of his spot. That will keep them grounded because they all want to play. I think we have twenty-four players that can fill in as we proved the last day, with a couple of changes in personnel and maybe a few positional changes, and they are a very versatile group so I don't think any fellow is going to be getting ahead of himself because it's about what you can do now, not what the media say you can do [in the future]."

Still, reflecting back on the Munster final win, there was an awful lot to be enthused about. There's no doubt about it, but Jack O'Connor isn't the type of man to rest on his laurels. Even certain aspects of that fine performance came under his gimlet eye and were found wanting.

"We were delighted with it," he continued.

"But I do think you must take into consideration that Cork were missing a few players, the likes of Kevin Flahive was down to start and he didn't start due to illness, and I think that was a big loss to them.

"So you just have to temper our display around the middle with the fact that they were missing a couple of front line players. We were delighted with the way we played around the middle eight, but I think Cork were a bit under strength on the night.

"I just think maybe we took them a small bit by surprise. They didn't really realise how hungry our fellows were because we were very hurt over being beaten in Tralee last year, because that group weren't used to being beaten.

"I think they were waiting twelve months for that Cork game and we were really up for it. Few and far between the wins below there, so we were delighted. I would say our over-riding emotion was that of relief, to get over that game, because our record has been very poor down there.

"Ten wides, I didn't realise that. I felt, to be honest, that we probably could have put Cork away a bit earlier, we had a lot of possession in the first half. The black cards issue absolutely, I never like to see fellows getting black cards because that can really cost you, but I think it was more a case of lads determined that Cork wouldn't score a goal, so maybe that came into it a bit. A bit of that, but I never like to see fellows being carded, whether it's black, yellow or red.

"Having said that we would rather park that game. There's no point in patting ourselves in the back for too long because Galway are going to be another different challenge.

"We are going to have to find other angles to get ourselves mentally right for that game. It was easy get right for the Cork game, that's the point I am making, whereas this is a different challenge, we will have to get ourselves very right for this as well."

The attacking option which Matthew O'Sullivan provides at full forward has been one of the big talking points of the campaign. Has O'Connor discovered for the Kingdom another Donaghy in the St Michaels / Foilmore man?

"He actually has good pace and is very good to show for a ball in front as well," O'Connor says.

"It just gives you a different option and it's never any harm to have a big man around the square. Go back the years with the seniors, we had [Johnny] Crowley there in '04, [Kieran] Donaghy there in '06, Tommy Walsh in around there every now and again, so you can never go too far wrong if you have one guy where you can actually vary the play a bit, because backs like everything in front of them.

"If it's aerial it just keeps them guessing, so it's just good (to have) the potential to vary the delivery in."

The challenge that Galway - who have won four All-Ireland Under-21 titles since 2002, and scored nine goals in the campaign to date - will provide is well known to O'Connor.

"They always produce good Under-21 teams, good minor teams as well and there wasn't a whole lot in that Minor game [All-Ireland final 2016]. It took [David] Clifford's goal, a wonder individual goal.

"I wouldn't be under-rating Galway in any shape or form. They have a lot of very natural footballers, produce some really good footballing sides, and this group are no exception.

"They have some special players, Michael Daly on the forty, and they have three or four more seniors as well, so they will be a tough test. They beat the All Ireland champions Mayo who were good this year.

"We played Mayo in a challenge up in Limerick a while back and they beat us. We thought Mayo were good so Galway beat them fairly comprehensively in Tuam, so we are facing another big task.

"They certainly know where the net is alright. They have a few really key players, and we will have to do our best to negate them. We have had...I have had great jousts with Galway teams, going back as far as Colaiste na Sceilge and Jarlaths in 2002. That was the first time I set eyes on Meehan and Sice and those fellows so they have always been great traditional stylish footballers. We like to think that we are in the same boat."