Though sympathetic to the time, effort and expense involved, Kerry manager Jack O’Connor is hoping his players will have a strong support in Croke Park in what is expected to be a plus-70,000 attendance on Sunday.
With the Mayo supporters famous for travelling in huge numbers, and always acting as a ‘16th man’ behind their team, O’Connor is hoping the Kerry public will be at Headquarters to drive their team on in what is expected to be a fiercely contested game.
“That’s what you’re hoping for but it’s a big ask for a Kerry crowd to travel on a Sunday for a four o’clock game. It’s tough going with the cost of living and that, but you’d be hoping they will travel because it’s really important because the players always feel it,” O’Connor said.
“[The support] was important in Pairc Uí Rinn, believe you me it was important. They really got behind the team when that game was in the melting pot.
“You’d be hoping for a big Kerry crowd because Mayo always travel in strength. Mayo supporters are unbelievable because they’ve had a lot of set-backs over the years and they keep coming back hoping to have that glory day, and they are fantastic supporters, no doubt.
“So, look, we’re hoping for a sizeable Kerry crowd to travel and really make themselves heard.”
Kerry travel to Dublin with not the best winning record of late for a county that has always been fancied to win the big championship games in Croke Park.
Since 2014 Kerry have won just five of 14 Championship matches at Croke Park, and have enjoyed just one win in the last eight games in Croke Park. It’s a record that O’Connor is only too aware of, which makes the League Final win in April taker on more significance that it might ordinarily do.
“Kerry’s record in Championship in Croke Park hasn’t been great the last few years,” the manager agreed. “While the League final was only the League you would still say it was an important enough game for our fellas because players are a bit piseóg like everyone else, you like to remember your last game in whatever pitch you played in as having good memories for you. So you’d be hoping that would be a bit of a lift for the lads but this is a different kettle of fish. Championship and League are miles apart but it certainly shouldn’t hurt morale to have won that league match.
“We feel the season is only starting now for us because if you think about it, particularly in Kerry, the League and Munster championship is kind of shadow boxing. The real stuff starts when you have knock-out championship and that’s what’s going on now.
“And as far as we are concerned, anything that has gone before this doesn’t count for very much. We need to get over the line next Sunday and hopefully progress on to a semi-final. That’s the way we look at it.”
As for the in-house training games Kerry have been doing over the last few weeks, O’Connor says they aren’t ideal, and Mayo do have the advantage of having played their two Qualifier games in the same time period.
“You do your best to try and make those games competitive and that but it’s a tall ask. You might be playing the football at a good pace but you’re not put under the same pressure that you would be in a championship game, which is knock-out.
“Mayo have had the benefit of two of those games and we haven’t. Both of their games were very competitive, Kildare you’d have to say fought very hard, and they really were in a position to push on and win the game until the last quarter.
“It is very difficult to replicate that in training but what do you do, you do your best, and that’s where having a good panel always helps because it improves the quality of the internal football, you’d hope.