The visit of Cork will be a real acid test for Kerry's development

Relegation avoided for Kerry, a semi-final spot still possible, the upward graph of the younger Kerry players still on the rise, substitutions that made a telling impact on the game in Mullingar last Sunday and on the previous day Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne qualified for the All Ireland Colleges Hogan Cup final.

It was certainly a very good weekend for Kerry and PCD manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice as he guided his two teams to very impressive and comprehensive victories.

On the Saturday in Nenagh the West Kerry lads turned in a scintillating display of football in shocking conditions to defeat the Mayo side St Gerald's College. They stamped their authority on this semi-final from the very first minute but eventually the game was decided in a five-minute spell just before half time when the Kerry lads stunned their opponents by hitting 2-3 before the short whistle sounded. The winners showed wonderful skill, team work, patience and deadly finishing to end the game as a contest.

It was a joy to watch these young Kerry lads in action and what a wealth of talent is being nurtured back West. Now all their boyhood dreams will come true when they race on to the green sward of Croke Park in the final against St Pats Maghera from Derry, who are the defending champions.

It's going to be a cracking game and while the Northerners will probably go in as favourites Kerry youngsters are born to play in Ireland's finest stadium and the wide open expanses of headquarters will suit this squad of beautiful players right down to the ground.

And, of course, with the steadying hand of Fitzmaurice on the proverbial tiller I believe the only reason they might not win is the fact that the Derry lads will simply be a better team.

We wish them well. It will be a very special, emotional and proud occasion for the renowned Radio Na Gaeltacht commentator, the outstanding Padraig O Se as his son Tomas, a world champion dancer, is the Chorca Dhuibhne corner forward. He scored a brilliant goal last Saturday to set his side on their winning way.

Mullingar is always a difficult venue to come away from with a win and indeed last Sunday as the clock approached the 42nd minute of the game the home side, courtesy of a Callum McCormack point (he raised three white flags), led 0-10 to 1-6. Then very similar to what we had see in the college game the previous day the contest was turned on its head in the space of a few minutes.

James O'Donoghue exploded into life; he had been well marshaled in the first half being double marked most of the time. Now, however, as Westmeath went ahead he was fouled going through and pointed the free. Then he and Darran O'Sullivan combined to set up the outstanding and every improving Paul Geaney for a goal, and when O'Donoghue pointed from play Kerry, as they say, "were out the gap".

The home side's brittle resolve crumbled and the Kingdom strolled to their third win in a row.

The teams were level at half time and indeed Kerry had been playing second fiddle to the home side. Urged on by their supporters Westmeath were working much harder than Kerry, were winning most of the breaks around the middle and looked hungrier and sharper. Denis Glennon was causing a lot of trouble for the Kerry defence. A beautiful player (it was mystifying and wrong to take him off in the second half), he kicked three superb points and he, with Callum McCormack on the wing, were excellent.

The Kerry goal was as a direct result of some great play from Stephen O'Brien. The Kenmare lad continues to improve with every outing. He took a quick free to Geaney, took the return, and showing great vision and awareness set up his captain Kieran O'Leary who raised the green flag.

In the second half O'Brien scored a superb point when he twisted and turned past opponents right on the endline to punch over the bar. The full forward line of O'Brien, Geaney and O'Donoghue scored 1-10 between them.

So whatever was said in the dressing room at half time certainly did the trick as we saw a different Kerry approach in that second half. The work rate increased greatly. David Moran began to dominate the middle of the field while the half back line of Peter Crowley, Fionn Fitzgerald and Marc O Se was excellent.

So the development and restructuring of a new Kerry squad continues very nicely. The selectors are building a lovely, compact, competitive group, and under the new game of all action, all movement football due to the threat of the black card young stars such as Paul Murphy, Mark Griffin, Jack Sherwood, Shane Enright, Brian Kelly and Daithi Casey, who made a huge impact when introduced, and others are settling in and growing in confidence with every game.

And then we had the subs. Darran O'Sullivan, Donnchadh Walsh, Anthony Maher and Aidan O'Mahony are names that spell experience, know how, knowledge and skill. And with Kieran Donaghy, Killian Young and Declan O'Sullivan yet to return to the fold the selectors will be happy.

So it's the big test next Sunday as the young Cork Rebels ride into town buoyed up by their new manager Brian Culhbert. They are playing great, expansive, high scoring, all action football, and are already qualified for the semi-finals and sitting on top of the league table.

It promises to be a cracker and it's a big test for the lads. Westmeath were a poor side really and a win there was never in doubt, but this Sunday will prove a real acid test.

Not having seen this new Cork side in action I really just don't know what their capabilities are but a Kerry win would be a massive tonic for all involved and even to lose out following a cracking encounter would also satisfy the hungry Kerry supporters.

Kerry versus Cork never ceases to set the pulses racing.


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