Kerry should have what it takes to make final

All Ireland Under 21 FC Semi-Final, Kerry v Galway, Saturday, April 15, Cusack Park, Ennis 4.30pm

Damian Stack

This is where a management team earns its corn.

After the victory over Cork in Pairc Uí Rinn the level of expectation on this Kerry side has sky-rocketed beyond even the high expectations people had for them before it.

Kerry are pretty close to unbackable favourites for the semi-final with Galway this weekend at 2/9 following that crushing victory over the Rebels a fortnight ago. None of which will much come as music to Jack O'Connor's ears.

Then again he's so experienced at preparing sides for big games that it'll probably be as water off a duck's back to the Dromid man. You could probably say the same of this bunch of Kerry players.

Despite their tender years these guys know a thing or two about being favourites for big games at this stage. They've been favourites for practically every game they've played at inter-county level since 2014.

The only time they weren't was probably last year's Munster Under 21 final with Cork and that was only because they didn't yet have the experience of the grade or the physicality for it.

They'll know too that the odds of their success are probably nowhere near as high as the bookies would suggest. How often is an All Ireland semi-final an eighty / twenty proposition? Not very.

The players from last year's minor campaign will certainly know not to be taken in by talk of that nature. All they have to do is recall the experience of last year's All Ireland minor final where, supposedly, all they had to do was turn up and collect the cup. Football doesn't work that way and Galway pushed Kerry all the way.

The Galway team Kerry face on Sunday shares a little of the same DNA as last year's minor side. Corner-forwards Robert Finnerty and Dessie Conneely will again attempt to shoot the Kingdom down.

Gerry Fahy's side are, by all accounts, a hell of a lot more expansive a side than last year's minor side. Their scoring return in the Connacht championship has been impressive, but they've also been prone to spells where they fade out of the game, which would be a very dangerous thing to do against this Kerry side. It's possible they'll drop men back behind the ball if necessary this weekend and given the firepower Kerry have at their disposal that wouldn't be a bad idea.

Galway will come into this game with a bit of momentum not only from their Connacht campaign - they won the final with Sligo after extra time a couple of days after Kerry triumphed over Cork - but from last weekend's National League Division 2 success over Kildare.

Remarkably it was Galway football's first victory in Croke Park since their All Ireland triumph over Meath in the 2001 decider. Three of their side for Saturday's game featured for the seniors during the National League.

Half-back Cillian McDaid, midfielder Peter Cooke and centre-forward Michael Daly all featured during the competition. Daly, who was probably the find of Galway's league campaign, started four games and McDaid one. Cooke featured on occasion off the bench.

Daly's performance, meanwhile, off the bench against Kildare is bound to have caught Jack O'Connor's attention. In less than fifteen minutes on the pitch he kicked two points and was, arguably, the difference between victory and defeat for the westerners.

Another man to watch out for is Seán Kelly. He came off the bench against Sligo in that final in place of Antoine Ó Laoi - no slouch himself - and scored 2-1, demonstrating the strength in depth of the squad.

Is it comparable to Kerry's? Probably not. Kerry really do hold the aces in this contest. The likely loss of Brian Sugrue is a blow, but as he showed on replacing him in Pairc Uí Rinn Jack Morgan is no bad replacement.

Could we see the return of Barry O'Sullivan to the fold for this game following his bout of flu before the Cork game? Given the strength of Galway's midfield it's possible, even if Kerry dominated Cork in his absence. If Andrew Barry has half a good game again Kerry will be well set. Kerry are too good to let this chance slip.

Verdict: Kerry


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