Despite Kerry winning their first three game in the League, managers Darragh Long and Declan Quill have been disappointed with several aspects of all the performances. That’s a good things, writes Dan Kearney, as it shows how high the standards have been set for 2023
There was a lad I knew that played a bit of junior football one time and he would always give a few lads a bit of praise after the game in the form of; “you played great today – how did you think I did?”
Now, before you think that he was coming from the Munster Rugby school of honesty where the truth is told no matter how much it hurts, let me assure you that he wasn’t. My comrade was simply looking for some faint praise for himself, like the garsún that had brought in the bucket of turf without being asked to do so.
We generally told him that he was brilliant to keep him coming, although he was rarely any good. Darragh Long and Declan Quill aren’t susceptible to such nonsense – after all they were high level achievers on the football field for Austin Stacks and Kerins O’Rahilly’s respectively, in dressing rooms where you’d be told pretty quickly if you weren’t up to scratch.
So, to hear the two lads proclaim after their three games in the league so far of how disappointed they were from a performance point of view speaks volumes of what they expect from their charges. Now, to be fair they weren’t overly critical after any of the three games – Kerry did win all of them – but they expressed a dissatisfaction with some of the elements in the final analysis.
In other words, they aren’t getting carried away, and rightly so. If we look at the three games in cold analytical terms, we will see that Kerry were extremely lucky to come away from Piltown with a win against Waterford and equally as fortunate to leave Bekan with the three points after surviving a Mayo upsurge in the last quarter of the game.
They could have been beaten in both of those two games but weren’t and I suppose at the end of the day a win is a win. Waterford did have chances to win the game in Piltown but messed it up with a couple of bad frees near the finish, and in typical Mayo football fashion the locals in Bekan contrived to leave a scoreable 21 metre free behind them at the death ; a point would almost certainly have earned them a draw.
The thing is that Waterford were seen to be the fall guys in Division One, and although this wasn’t said by anyone associated with the Kerry camp, the feeling out there was that it would be a win of the handy variety. Waterford have shown since that they are far from the weakest link in the top tier, and a draw earned against Cork as well as a win last weekend over Mayo has shown them to be a much better side than was generally thought.
Kerry’s win in Mayo was earned by virtue of their three goals in the second half from Siofra O’Shea, Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh and Lorraine Scanlon that effectively finished off the home sides challenge, and although Kerry conceded six points on the trot in the final quarter, they scraped home by their finger nails.
Last Saturday in Austin Stack Park, Kerry looked in control throughout the encounter and when Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh dispatched her penalty in the 56th minute to put them 2-10 to 1-8 ahead, it was effectively game over. Once again though Kerry conceded the last three scores in a row in this game and last quarter fade outs are a bit of a worrying trend for this Kerry side.
The concession of scoreable free kicks is another concern. In their three games played Kerry have conceded a total of 2-32 but 18 points of that total has been from frees. There was just the one conceded in the opening game against Waterford but a whopping nine against Mayo, and eight last Saturday against Donegal.
On the plus side Kerry have scored a fine total of 6-34 in their 3 games (an average of just over 2-11 per game) with the Kingdom’s ability to score goals a very impressive feature of this side. Another positive factor is that 5-25 of the Kingdom’s total has come from open play which either means that Kerry have a greater ability to beat the tackle or that they just aren’t getting the same rub of the green from referees.
The Kerry management hasn’t been slow to give players game time either and in their three contests thus far thirty players have seen action – another plus factor for the group. Having a happy camp is important and there is now a level of competition for places that hasn’t been seen for quite a while.
The form of some key players has been hugely significant. Aishling O’Connell, no doubt boosted by her All Star in 2022, looks fitter and stronger than ever, whilst Lorraine Scanlon, Emma Costello, Cáit Lynch, Kayleigh Cronin and of course Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh, look as hungry as when they were starting out in the green and gold.
Niamh Ní Chonchúir is a player that looks to have found her feet at this level and it could be a big season for the Corca Dhuibhne flyer, whilst Siofra O’Shea is improving with every outing, and there is a lot more to come from Hannah O’Donoghue, Mary O’Connell, and Rachel Dwyer. We have only seen cameos so far from Fiadhna Tangney but she is another player with vast potential that might see more game time in the second half of the season.
The displays of Mary Ellen Bolger in the Kerry goals has been very reassuring also – the Southern Gaels girl hasn’t put a foot wrong since taking over the injured Ciara Butler, and with the Castlegregory native back training again it will be interesting who will get the nod later in the season. It is the first time in a number of seasons that Kerry have had such a dilemma when it comes to picking their number one.
So, overall a pretty positive mid-term report for this Kerry squad. There are tough tests to come in the guise of Dublin and Meath at home and Cork and Galway away; in a sense the shadow boxing is over, and we will find out what real progress this side has made in their battles against what really is the top four.
So far, though, it has been a job well done.