Tuesday 21 January 2020

Eoin Liston: The hunger is back – so write off Kerry at your peril

Paul Galvin, Kerry
Paul Galvin, Kerry

Eoin Liston

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the third championship in a row that Kerry have begun without the mantle of All-Ireland champions. Believe me when I say that it hurts every GAA person in the county.

There has been some negativity surrounding the team among outsiders. People have suggested wholesale changes are needed, certain players are past it and we need to forget winning All-Irelands.

Such observations are way off the mark. Yes, the threat of relegation was very real mid-way through the National League. Eamonn Fitzmaurice, however, needed to establish himself in terms of a system of play and to integrate new blood into the panel – it was always going to be a difficult transition.

But, even through that period, there has been nothing but positives from the camp. The players have massive respect for Eamonn. They're really taking to his methods and happy with the direction the team is moving.

Players such as Paul Galvin, Killian Young and Tomás Ó Sé appear to have been given a new lease of life and there is a hunger to get back winning All-Irelands.

There are four very real options at midfield, something that has never happened before. Johnny Buckley had a fantastic league, Anthony Maher is a very consistent performer, while Bryan Sheehan is coming back into his own. David Moran will miss this game with an eye injury, but expect him to have a productive summer.


The positioning of Colm Cooper at centre-forward will reap rewards. He will supply the ammunition for James O'Donoghue, Kieran Donaghy and Declan O'Sullivan inside.

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Darran O'Sullivan has been studying in Dublin and has had to travel up and down to training, so he will be held in reserve as an impact sub if required.

The interesting thing, however, will be how they will implement a solid defensive base. I expect Donnchadh Walsh to be sweeping back and Galvin (right) will do something similar on the other side. Fionn Fitzgerald, who has been excellent for Dr Crokes, gets his chance and that will add another dimension to the full-back line.

Modern football dictates every player must be a defender when possession is lost. Eamonn will have been drilling this into the squad and we will see tomorrow if that message has soaked in.

Tipperary could be in for a tough day. There is young talent in the county, but as Galway showed last weekend, nurturing those players is more difficult in practise than in theory. Minor and U-21 is like a different sport compared to the intensity of senior championship. Last year, we played poorly and ran out six-point winners. This time, Tipp face a hugely motivated bunch out to impress a new manager, and I can't see anything other than a comfortable Kerry victory.

Up north, Donegal and Tyrone is the first real heavyweight clash of the summer and I think Tyrone will just get over the line.

Jim McGuinness' men must be suffering an All-Ireland hangover. The celebrations have been enormous, and deservedly so, but that can take its toll. People say they don't worry about the league and maybe that is so, but to be relegated from Division 1 is hardly ideal and their form has to be a concern.

Tyrone, on the other hand, were narrowly beaten in the Division 1 final. Mickey Harte has his team in good shape, with Sean Cavanagh and Stephen O'Neill playing their best football for some time.

Mark Donnelly impresses me any time I see him. Add to that, the likes of Peter Harte, Martin Penrose and the McMahons and there is class all over the field.

Donegal do most of their fouling a long way from goal. It is a clever tactic as it slows down play, allows them to build their defensive wall and then it takes an exceptional long-distance kicker to punish them.

What Tyrone have unearthed in Niall Morgan is just that. He will have a big say in the result here. The reigning champions may struggle.

Michael Murphy will be obviously the focus of the attack, everyone knows what he is capable of. Colm McFadden has enjoyed two terrific seasons, but has he the hunger to go again after so many years at inter-county level?

Paddy McBrearty is another I admire, but he still has a lot to prove. I think Tyrone will have enough to send the champions into the qualifiers.

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