'The first day out the result is more important than the performance' insists Brick

All Ireland Under 21 B HC Round 1: Kerry v Down, Saturday, July 7, Cusack Park, Mullingar 4.45pm

Kerry manager Ian Brick
Kerry manager Ian Brick

Jason O'Connor

An enhanced competition this year for the Kerry Under 21 B Hurlers as they are one of eleven teams competing for the Richie McElligott Cup with a Preliminary Round game with Down their first assignment in defence of the title they won last September against Wicklow in Thurles.

Kilmoyley's Ian Brick remains in charge of the side with continuing input from senior manager Fintan O'Connor as they travel to Mullingar to face the Mournemen this Saturday evening.

With the change at Football level to Under 20, Hurling has remained Under 21 with Brick feeling the possibility of hurling following football in making the change to Under 20 making this year's competition feel a bit unique.

"This could be some fellas' last year Under 21 depending on what's decided so it makes things that bit more significant even if you would feel sorry for those who are due to be Under 21 next year as well and it is changed," Brick said of the possibility.

Kerry's task is made difficult for their opening game by the unavailability of Brian McAuliffe, John Buckley, Jack Goulding and Liam Mullins for their opener, but they were able to combine their preparations with those of the senior set-up during the latter part of Joe McDonagh Cup.

"We've 10 of the senior panel with us and we did a lot with them in the final few weeks of the Joe McDonagh Cup before the County Hurling Championship started off. We haven't done anything with the players recently in leaving them to the clubs while the County Championship was on but with no County Championship for a month now we should be able to get more work done the longer we can stay in the competition," Brick said.

Match fitness is not a major concern for Brick giving the players have been involved with their clubs but he does feel the challenge is more making the panel work as unit.

"We all know how good he players are individually, but the challenge is to make the gel together as team. Our main knowledge of Down stems from meeting them three years ago at minor level.

"It was a very tough game in Newbridge, one we eventually won but they were ahead of us for a good share of that game and the fact they have done a training camp this year tells you how seriously they are planning on doing in this competition," the Kerry Under 21 Hurling Boss feels.

Last year's All-Ireland A semi-finalists Derry entering the grade this year does make it more competitive and Brick feels that any success for Kerry will be one that will be well earned as the victor on Saturday faces either Kildare or Wicklow in the quarter-finals the following weekend.

"The first day out the result is more important than the performance but if we do get over Saturday I would be confident about improving when the lads do get more time with each other to work together on what we want to do with them."

Three straight rounds of action followed by a week off for the Finalists ahead of the decider on the August Bank Holiday weekend make for a quick completion. Kerry ended a five year wait for an eighth title overall last year, but this appears a more difficult task this year with an earlier start and a more rushed look to the competition.

Meath, Roscommon, Mayo, Tyrone, Donegal and Sligo are the other six teams taking in the grade this year. Playing as the curtain-raiser to the A Final at Under 21 level has been given the competition a nice profile as well as featuring on television.

The first day is always the most difficult day out for any side but if Kerry settle early in Westmeath then they should have a major chance of advancement to a possible repeat of last year's decider at this year's quarter-final stage.

All-Ireland Minor Football winner from last year Barry Mahony along with Shane Conway, Darragh Shanahan, Tomás O'Connor, Michael Leane, Robert Collins, Evan Murphy Jason Diggins, Eoin Ross, Eric Leen, Maurice O'Connor and Jordan Conway will be some of the key figures for the side this year as they face an interesting test in Mullingar this Saturday against the Ulster side.

Verdict: Kerry