Billy Keane: Kerry kids are maturing fast as Banner flies at half-mast
The Clare supporters came over by boat yesterday morning for the big game against Kerry. The Shannon is all that separates us from the Banner but in another way the big river links us.
There has always been a tradition of North Kerry teams travelling the six or so miles to Clare.
The day was fine enough for silage and barely sunny enough for the beach. More than 16,000 showed up at Killarney in ideal football weather. They came to check on the kids and the kids did just fine. Kerry are contenders now. This is a summer team.
The huge combines are working day or night to get in the fodder in for the days when the grass stops growing. The last few weeks of fine weather ended the longest winter ever and there still soggy fields. The land is green now and a wonder.
This is the fast-ground time when players who were bogged down in the soft going of winter time are bouncing off the ground. Some of the big stars of the league are often caught for foot this time of the year. Kerry though are fast and speed is the only thing you cannot teach.
Kerry went for pace this year and it seems our mentors are now fully aware you will nothing without kids. Think Con O'Callaghan last year and the Leinster leanbhs in rugby. Boys are maturing quicker now what with better diet, the gym and bigger mothers and fathers. Six feet was a huge man one time.
circumnavigated The two O'Dwyer brothers from Emly travelled specially to Clonmel for a game between Tipperary and Kerry but also, more so even, to get a look at the great Mick O'Connell who at six feet towered over all. The Dwyer boys circumnavigated and inspected the great man from head to toe.
His neck, they said, was "as sinewy as a jennet's" and that was meant as a great compliment. Now all our sons are taller than us, and in many cases the daughters too.
As a man said to me one time, "We must have been only half-fed". But of course this was not true, in most cases. Kerry are a big team. Are they made into men yet though? It takes time to physically mature. I have no worries about the new players' mental ability.
But before go any further we must cross the Shannon. The landing of the Clare cars on the Kerry side at Tarbert was like D-Day, the 74th anniversary of which is on Tuesday next.
The ramp came down and the saffron and blue flags heralded the invasion. Clare were well beaten but their football people will never give up. It's in the blood, you see, bred into them, for better or for worse. And every now and then the loyalty is rewarded such as in 1992, when Clare beat us fair and square in the Munster final.
There has never been any animosity between Clare and Kerry. Maybe it's because we aren't touching lands and I think of poor Tipp surrounded on all sides by hurling rivals, fierce and unbowed.
There's a shared madness too. Like stress, there is good madness and bad madness. Clare is full of good madness.
All the teams have played now and there seems to be a sort of inevitability about the result of the All-Ireland. Dublin are a superb team. You would have to fancy them big time for the four-in-a-row. They will play most of their games at home, which is a huge and unfair advantage. The GAA must ensure Dublin are made to play their quarter- and semi-final matches in places like Cork or Thurles.
But this Dublin team have the character, composure and football skill to win anywhere. The only thing that will beat Dublin now are injuries and absences. Good luck to Diarmuid Connolly who is taking a break. I have heard so many rumours as to why he is on the missing list. My view is leave him alone.
Just because Connolly is a big name doesn't mean he forfeits the right to privacy. Bernard Brogan is trying to get back from a cruciate injury. I hope he does. He is a very decent man who has never left his ancestral home down when it comes to good deeds. But here's a question that must be asked. Would Dublin have beaten Mayo in last year's final without Connolly or Brogan? Dublin are still the best and hopefully they will not lose any more players to injury. The All Blacks had to send for an out-half who was gone fishing to bail them out at the 2011 World Cup.
Dublin have massive strength in depth but footballers are a finite resource who need to see plenty of game-time to get them up to speed.
The other contenders are Mayo, who will go close again this year. Mayo are a fast-ground team. Don't write them off.
Galway are improving but have they a Plan B? If they are cut loose Galway will be right up there with the best,
avoid Monaghan will be hard to beat but hard to beat is still beaten. Most teams would love to avoid Monaghan in the Qualifiers as they can beat anyone on their day.
Last year Cork brought Mayo to extra-time and that form is exceptional. I was at that game in Limerick and Mayo had 90pc of the support. Cork are improvers and could be the team who might shock Kerry or Dublin.
Kerry are the main danger to the four-in-a-row. Provided we attack. It's summer time, you see, and the football is easier. The scouts I sent to the game are very hopeful.
Dublin are still the best team in the land but Kerry are improving. The question is will the Kerry kids improve fast enough? I think they will go very, very close.