O'Connor plays down Kingdom League hopes
All-Ireland football champions Kerry returned to training last night with manager Jack O'Connor seriously downplaying their expectations in the early part of the season.
O'Connor admitted he would be "amazed" if Kerry were to win their fourth League title under his command though he acknowledged the link between their previous spring successes and subsequent All-Ireland glory. All three All-Ireland titles that Kerry won in O'Connor's four years had been preceded by League success in 2004, 2006 and 2009.
O'Connor's first priority last night, two days after their return from a team holiday in New York and Jamaica, was a roll call of who was going to be available to him over the next couple of months.
"Obviously there are one or two who have to decide if they are coming back or not," said O'Connor who admitted he has had no major discussion with Darragh O Se or Diarmuid Murphy on the issue.
O Se, an inter-county footballer since 1994, is the most likely Kerry player to retire but is still understood to be harbouring thoughts of a return.
He didn't come back training until early March last year and saw very little League action thereafter so that still gives him time.
O'Connor expects Tomas O Se, Tom O'Sullivan and Mike McCarthy to all recommit for another year but is resigned to being without them for another few weeks yet.
"There are a few I wouldn't expect to see in January and maybe some of February. It worked well for Tomas O Se and Tom O'Sullivan last year and I'd see them being absent early on again.
"I'd fully expect Mike Mac to make it back too. Like the other two, Tomas and Tom, he finished last season on such a high.
"There may be one or two more seeking to delay their return but we won't establish that fully for the next couple of weeks."
O'Connor does envisage Kieran Donaghy being involved early on however after missing most of last year's championship with a fractured bone in his foot.
On their League effort, O'Connor said he wouldn't be putting his "few bob" on his own team to retain the title.
"We'd be thrilled to stay in Division 1 this year and find a player or two. That's not playing things down purposely. I genuinely think we'll have to keep something in reserve early on.
"We won last year's League without having the foot to the floor and that was great. The League is a good competition to win once you don't have to push the boat out too far. And we didn't have to push it out too far last year. But there was a lot of shadow boxing going on."
Kerry have Dublin in Killarney for their opening League fixture on February 7, a game that offers Dublin a pathway on the road to recovery after last year's dismal All-Ireland quarter-final defeat.
O'Connor must plan without Tommy Walsh and Tadhg Kennelly who have both taken up AFL contract offers and O'Connor sees Walsh in particular as a considerable loss to Kerry football.
"Tommy had a great All-Ireland final and was only going to get better but his decision is made and the best of luck to him on it. We have to find players that will step into their positions and that's the challenge of this League."
David Moran, Barry John Walsh and Anthony Maher are players Kerry will look to step up again while Aidan O'Mahony, Mike Quirke, Donnacha Walsh and Bryan Sheehan may show sufficient resurgence to put pressure on those already there.
Sean O'Sullivan has already announced his retirement.