Kerry likely to field strongly on this weekend's trip to Tipp

Munster SHL Group A Round 3: Tipperary v Kerry, Saturday January 5, McDonagh Park, Nenagh 2pm

The Kerry team pose for a team photo prior to the Co-Op Superstores Munster Hurling League 2019 match between Kerry and Limerick at Austin Stack Park in Tralee. Photo by Sportsfile
The Kerry team pose for a team photo prior to the Co-Op Superstores Munster Hurling League 2019 match between Kerry and Limerick at Austin Stack Park in Tralee. Photo by Sportsfile

Damian Stack

There will always be butterflies in the tummy before a Kerry side faces one from Tipperary in the ancient code.

For one thing there's excitement. Tipperary hurling doesn't do mundanity. You know you're likely to see something a little bit special when those blue and gold jerseys sweep out of the dressing room and onto the pitch.

Tipperary have a born-to-rule, aristocratic comportment. They're good and they know that they are. That said their record probably doesn't match their sense of their place in the hurling firmament - just three titles since 1991 - but that doesn't make them any less deadly to a team like the Kingdom.

The Premier can be devastating and that's the second reason for those butterflies. Against the Premier you sometimes have to hold you breath and hope they don't click as they can, because if they do you could be in trouble. Real trouble.

There's a more than decent chance that Kerry will suffer a reasonably heavy defeat at the hands of Liam Sheedy's men this weekend. Against the All Ireland champions in the Gaelic Grounds Tipp put up an impressive 4-14 with a nice mixture of youth and experience.

Ominously Seamus Callinan looked hungry for goals in the game - he bagged 2-8 - while Patrick Bonnar Maher came off the bench to score another. The big guns are quite clearly out to make up for a disappointing 2018 season.

It's a whirlwind Kerry could well end up reaping. Of course, Liam Sheehy (a man with more than a passing familiarity with Kerry hurling) will probably surmise he won't need to field quite as strongly against Kerry as he did to down Limerick on their home patch.

Kerry's assessment of the situation is likely to be quite different. Fintan O'Connor and his team will need to go as strong as they can as the Premier - even a weakened selection - will ruthlessly exploit whatever weaknesses they might find.

Against Limerick last week Kerry did bring in a few new players - St Brendans' Eric Leen featured at corner-back, Ballyheigue's Michael Leane featured at wing-forward and Causeway's Dan Goggin featured at corner-forward - but the vast majority of the team was experienced.

In fact the vast majority of the team are likely starters for the National Hurling League opener against Antrim at the end of the month (January 26 in Cushendall). If everybody is fit and well we can expect a similar enough starting fifteen for this weekend.

Pádraig Boyle, who impressed off the bench against the All Ireland champions, will likely come into the starting fifteen for the game - many observers felt the Kingdom lacked a little physicality in the full-forward line on December 20.

A big boon to Kerry's hopes for the season is the return to the fold of Michael O'Leary. The Abbeydorney man wasn't involved last season, but his presence on the half-forward line in Austin Stack Park raised spirits amongst the Kerry hurling faithful.

His two points from play showed he's lost none of his sharpness since he last donned the green and gold during the 2017 campaign. Add him into a forward unit that includes Shane Conway, Jordan Conway and Jack Goulding and you've got the beginnings of something special.

Interestingly O'Connor looks set to continue with his policy of playing Mikey Boyle on the half-back line. O'Leary's return probably allows the management team even greater latitude to do so.

At midfield it was a case of carrying on with where the Kingdom left off last year with the hard-working Dáithí Griffin lining out alongside All Ireland minor football championship winner Brandon Barrett.

The chances of an upset are relatively slim we would suggest. Fintan O'Connor and his management team will treat this game as a high class challenge match and won't set too much store by the result in the strictest sense.

Yes it would be nice to win - it would be magic actually - but by the same token defeat is a perfectly acceptable outcome, as long as the margin of defeat isn't too damaging. To score a goal or two would be a real boost.

Kerry's chances of topping the group and playing in the final, meanwhile, are all but gone. Were all three teams to finish with two points each it would come down to score difference, putting Kerry (at minus fifteen points after their first game) at a serious disadvantage compared to their rivals.

Even if Kerry were to score an upset victory on Saturday afternoon the chances of them doing so by a large enough margin to overhaul Limerick's plus twelve is somewhere between slim and none and closer to none than slim.

That, of course, doesn't mean this isn't a worthwhile exercise. It absolutely is. Kerry will be up against it though.

Verdict: Tipperary