Thursday 22 August 2019

Keane: There will always be big pressure in Kingdom

Growing pains: Peter Keane feels it will take time for Kerry’s young guns to match the likes of Mayo and Dublin in the physicality stakes. Photo: Sportsfile
Growing pains: Peter Keane feels it will take time for Kerry’s young guns to match the likes of Mayo and Dublin in the physicality stakes. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

On Saturday night the last of football's big boys will be welcomed to the dance. We've already seen that Dublin are in no mood to take their foot off the gas with a 26-point win over Louth in Leinster; Tyrone have played twice and Galway progressed to a Connacht final more than a week ago.

Kerry, however, have had to wait their turn. And this weekend in Ennis they take on Clare in a Munster semi-final.

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They'll start their Championship far away from the bright lights. A fixture clash with the Champions League final, which starts just an hour after they take to the field in Cusack Park, will see to that.

However, in the GAA world at least, all eyes will be on Keane's Kerry to see what sort of challenge they can mount.

There's a strong consensus that Kerry are tomorrow's team, but in the Kingdom they demand their success early and often.

It seems a strange thing to say about the league finalists, but Kerry remain something of an unknown quantity. It's only 12 months since Kerry handed out seven Championship debuts against the Banner and Eamonn Fitzmaurice's decision to step away hastened that pace of change.

Senior players like Kieran Donaghy, Darran O'Sullivan, Donnchadh Walsh and Anthony Maher all stepped away and Keane agreed that the league, which ended with defeat to Mayo in a final, amounted to a trip into the unknown.

"I was a new manager coming in, a brand new management came in, there was retirements of senior players, there was a lot of new players that came in last year and this year. So you had to throw all them into a pot and stir it up and see how it went," Keane reflected last month.

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"We had to find out about them and they had to find out about us. There was a huge learning curve throughout the league.

"Did I plan at the start of the year to get to a league final? Not particularly. Did I rule it out at the start of the year that there was no hope we can get to a league final? No I didn't. I was taking every game as it came and seeing where it brought us.

"Was I gutted after losing a league final? No I wasn't, because there was a learning, there was a plus to have gotten to Croke Park, and to have gotten the day out, the stay overnight, get the bus and another night together.

"So there was a pile of learning throughout the league, not just the final."

The weeks after the league final were Keane's first chance to take a breath since taking the helm last winter.

"I am (enjoying it) even though it is very busy, particularly in that period where it's game after game. Yeah I'm enjoying it. If you don't embrace it you are in right trouble, because it will get the better of you."

In the end, Kerry emerged from the spring in credit. A confidence-building win over Dublin and the experience of a league final appearance was banked before the players were released back to their clubs in April.

However, both their defeats came at the hands of a more streetwise and physically developed Mayo side, with Keane admitting his side were bullied to some extent in the league decider.

"What I would say is that if you look at us we're young, we're slight, we're light. Is that (getting bullied) going to happen? Of course it will. Why? Because we're young.

"Compare a Kerry Diarmuid O'Connor to an Aidan O'Shea and put the two of them side by side. Sure Aidan must have 10 or 12 years under his belt doing strength and conditioning versus our man.

"So it is going to take that bit of time to get to that physicality. So was I shocked by that? No. It is going to take time. The question is how long will it take to get there."

Clare posed plenty of questions for Kerry on their last visit to Ennis, but Keane's men will be expected to take care of business in Munster again with little fuss.

Beyond that it remains to be seen whether his young team are ready to take the scalp of Dublin or one of the other big sides.

Keane is typically circumspect.

"I remember learning to drive and I remember going out the main road. I was inside in the car with my father and we were driving out the road from Caherciveen and we were heading out to Valentia Island.

"We were at the Points Cross, which was only a short bit out, and I started asking a question about a road that was about two miles out. And he chewed me and said: 'We'll worry about that when we get there, at the moment we'll worry about this.'

"So there's about as much point as me worrying about a Dublin or anyone else worrying about a Tyrone or a Mayo or someone else. We have Clare in the first round and we'll worry about that."

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