Sem manager is relishing the chance to take on Cork kingpins Rochestown in Saturday’s final in Mallow
St Brendans College, Killarney manager, Kieran Herlihy, and his backroom team have quietly put in an amount of unseen work behind the scenes, and it's starting to show real dividends in the style of play, but injury has done them no favours along the way, and they will again be missing a top player for the final.
“Charlie Keating won't be back from injury in time for the game, which is really unfortunate for him,” the Sem boss said.
"He showed against Bandon that he is coming into serious form. He'd actually sacrificed a chance to play Kerry Under 20 hurling to commit to the football.
"The Sem's journey was his priority, but look, it's down to the other lads now to give Charlie another day out, but at this imminent time he's out of the equation.”
The change in age grades in recent years has seen a shift from the Corn Uí Mhuirí featuring Under 18 prospective minors to prospective Under 20 players.
That could be logistically awkward, but in Kerry it's managed very well and Kieran confirms that there is great cooperation between management teams.
“We have players in with the Kerry Under 20s, and it's a very good relationship between the two managements, very open and very honest. The workload is agreed, and so far, so good. It's on a game to game basis, planning the schedule in between,” Herlihy said.
"There's actually a slightly bigger issue starting to rise on the horizon, and Kieran is aware of the long term implications.
“There is a challenge for the GAA though, in terms of the importance of the Sigerson and the Corn Uí Mhuirí. It's inevitable that there is going to be games put off with weather at this time of the year.
"It's fine having a split season and squeezing the calendar, but you'd want proper facilities to ensure that games can go ahead as scheduled. For example, the Centre of Excellence up in Connacht, you probably need something like that down in our part of the country.
"We played twice in Banteer, which has a great all weather pitch, and it's a credit to them.”
People sometimes forget that, while contesting at Corn Uí Mhuirí level is a steep enough learning curve for the players, it's also a challenge for a management team, and it's one that Kieran relishes.
“Well, we're a new management team as a group, a couple of us were immersed in the club scene over the last couple of years, and none of us have worked with these players at any grade. There's a huge freshness.
"They are learning from new with us, and we are learning from new with them. We're getting energy off them and they are getting energy off us. We have a new identity as a unit, and because we are starting off new, we laid out specific targets for early in the year and build on that foundation then. You can't build a house in a day, but I'm getting great energy out of watching this team build.”
When the Corn Uí Mhuirí groups were first drawn, more than a few eyebrows were raised when the Sem, Mounthawk, Coláiste na Sceilge, and Ballincollig were drawn together.
Calling it a 'group of death' was a little bit over the top, perhaps, but it wasn't too much of an exaggeration in the circumstances. It suited Kieran fine, though, with the opportunities for lessons in game management coming fast and often.
“Absolutely coming out of the kind of group that we did is going to stand to us, it has to. I mean, that game back in Keel against Coláiste na Sceilge, that was a real gut-check for us.
"You had serious drama at the end of the game after building ourselves into a good position. But our reaction was good. We took over the ball then, recycled it, worked it up the field, and stuck the goal when we had to. That's character building.
"You have to harness that as a management team. We keep going back to that, keep reinforcing it. Sceilge were one of the best teams we have met this year, there is no doubt about that.
"So yeah, we do keep referring back to the likes of that game, because the principles that we are trying to get across actually led to us rescuing that game.
"You want players to remember that game so that they are thinking ‘yeah, it's worth the extra effort here’. The collective, even without some key players, is what brought us out of that one and that's what we are building and promoting all the time. It's not about individuals, it's the collective.
"Mounthawk asked questions of us in the group stage, and they asked even harder questions last Saturday [in the semi-final]. It was an important early save by Shay O'Meara, but that's what Shay is there for, that's what he works on. He stood up well, he covered his angles perfectly.
"The good thing about that was that even if it had gone in, we had a lot of sixty minutes to rescue it. Back in Keel, we only had three minutes to rescue it. So while there are pivotal moments in a game, just as pivotal was Callum Cronin working a chance himself and slipping through, but the final pass to Luke Crowley was just a fraction away.
"You can argue the toss in terms of significance, but those are moments that we can work and improve a small bit on. You're not gong to win a game if you keep giving away the kind of turnovers we did last Saturday. And those turnovers were from us not making the right decisions, not recycling, not using the width of the pitch.
"A good bit of our work is going to be focusing on that, we have to use the expanse in those situations. Sometimes if conditions are a certain way, we might have to be more patient, but certainly we can't be going for option A every time. We need to make sure that we have options wide. We're always looking for a small bit more from them, but you can see that they are up for it.”
The Sem has a record four Hogans and comfortably tops the Corn Uí Mhuirí roll of honour, with household names lining out for the school over the years. That tradition is built on very solid foundations, though, and Kieran is quick to give credit where it is due.
“The Sem does have a great tradition in football, and tradition certainly does help, but we are very lucky with the efforts that are put in by the clubs in East Kerry. As you can see around you here [the press briefing was hosted by Spa GAA], there's fabulous investment by the clubs in facilities.
"When guys come into us in first year, they wouldn't be roaring and shouting about it, but they would have quiet aspirations, so we have to have our house in order. We have things organised up through the grades.
"We work on retaining guys so that we have the numbers when they reach senior, and we try to organise things professionally so that lads know that this is serious.
"What makes our job easier is that these guys want to end up on the wall with their collective, with their panel, and say ‘I was one of those guys’. When they have sons and grandsons in later years, they want them to see them on that wall, and that lights a fire for them.”