It has been a magical few weeks in Kerry as we bask in the aftermath of our All-Ireland success.
A new King has assumed the throne. Hail King David, the best Gaelic footballer on the planet.
And Seanie O’Shea is not far behind Clifford in the adulation stakes.
Rumour has it that a statue in the square in Kenmare will be built to commemorate his famous free-kick against the Dubs.
The Sam Maguire Cup is very visible – it even turned up at Listowel Races last Wednesday. Jack O’Connor is a messiah (again).
All the players have been wonderful role models – turning up at every event and freely giving their time to sign autographs and pose for selfies.
A well-earned squad holiday is the next item on the agenda. Though it is hard to penetrate the circle of trust, whispers suggest they’re heading to South Africa and Mauritius in December.
Optimistic Kerry fans – trust me there are a lot of them about these days – are even talking about a five in a row. Don’t even go there.
Anyway, it’s happy days in the Kingdom.
But then everybody down here got a timely reality check at 6.16pm last Sunday week when Dublin manager Dessie Farrell nonchalantly announced on Dubs TV that Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey are re-joining the Sky Blue squad next season.
Even the most optimistic Kerry fan would acknowledge this makes the champions’ defence of the title a lot trickier.
Let us not gloss over the reality; had Con O’Callaghan featured in this year’s semi-final Dublin would probably have won.
Now they have two more players available who, on form, possess the x-factor.
McCaffrey’s pace and brilliant link play makes Dublin’s transition from defence to attack unstoppable at times.
And in terms of his ability to score points, Mannion is right up there with David Clifford and Shane Walsh.
Páidí Ó Sé used to talk about the grain of rice which could tip the balance in a team’s favour. The appointment of Paddy Tally as Kerry’s defensive coach was arguably the grain of rice that made the difference for Kerry this year.
Could the return of McCaffrey and Mannion be Dublin’s grain of rice in 2023?
I am not acting the cute Kerryman when I suggest Dublin now ought to be favourites for the 2023 All-Ireland.
Right now, Kerry are 6/4 favourites with Paddy Power, while Dublin are 2/1.
Judging by what I’ve witnessed so far in the Dublin and Kerry club championships – and I have watched a lot of games – there is a huge gulf in standards. The Dublin series has produced far more quality games.
Dessie Farrell named-checked a number of players who have caught his eye in that TV interview.
These included Shane Clayton the Ballyboden full-back, and Ben Millist, the centre back from Balinteer St John’s.
Interestingly, they play in positions where Dublin probably need new faces in 2023 given the ageing profile of the current defence.
I was also impressed by the Cuala midfield pair of Peadar O’Cofaigh-Byrne, who has previously featured for Dublin, and Peter Duffy.
Another Dublin squad player, Conor McHugh, has been in outstanding form for Na Fianna.
But the player who really caught my eye was dual player Eoghan O’Donnell, who has huge potential as a full forward.
It will be really interesting now to see if Micheál Donoghue can retain him for the hurling team next season.
Of course, the new format for the 2023 All-Ireland, with extra games and a round-robin format in the early stages of the All-Ireland series, could make the series a bit of a lottery.
I believe there are as many as eight counties who have genuine aspirations of going all the way.
I have already written about Dublin so here’s a quick review of the other seven contenders.
The monkey is off their back and they will be a more confident team in 2023. They have finally solved their defensive issues – conceding just one goal in the series.
But they got the balance right ending up as the leading scorers in the championship as well.
Yet essentially they won the All-Ireland because their star player David Clifford delivered in the final.
They face new challenges next season. They will be a hunted team, and nobody knows for sure whether they can replicate the hunger, work rate and intensity they had this year.
On a practical level, they will be playing catch-up in terms of their training.
All their rivals will be back training in December when they are on holidays.
Centre field is a work in progress, and one wonders if can they squeeze another year out of David Moran, Stephen O’Brien and Paul Geaney.
The standard of football in the Kerry County Championship has been very disappointing so far with little sign of new talent emerging.
Against Mayo and Dublin, three of Kerry’s starting forwards didn’t score from play.
In the final, four of the forwards scored a bare 0-2 from play between them. And as a unit Kerry seem to struggle to break down blanket defences.
So, Jack O’Connor has much to ponder during the winter.
Having come so close to beating Kerry, their confidence levels will have soared. They tick all the boxes required for championship success: athleticism, physicality, pace and skill.
Yet I have a gnawing feeling that they played above themselves in the final due to Kerry failing to fire on all cylinders.
I don’t believe their present forward line is capable of delivering an All-Ireland.
But for the individual brilliance of Shane Walsh in the final they would they really struggled for scores.
The appointment of a new management team under Kevin McStay gives them grounds for optimism.
It looks like they will address two key weaknesses, gaps in their coaching set-up and psychological issues.
The presence of Donie Buckley, Stephen Rochford, Liam McHale as well as Maurice Sheridan ought to address the coaching issue while new team psychologist Niamh Fitzpatrick might do for Mayo what Caroline Currid has been doing for Limerick hurlers since 2018.
The older Mayo players are in Last Chance Saloon territory. Their warrior-like spirit will only take them so far, though on the plus side, the likely return of Tommy Conroy after injury is a big bonus.
McStay needs to persuade Lee Keegan to stay involved and find a defined role for Aidan O’Shea, almost certainly at full forward.
Furthermore, they need to adjust their running game – it has become too predictable and opponents have learned how to tag their key runners and blunt their attack.
Ever since their breakthrough to the All-Ireland semi-final of 2011, Mayo’s Achilles heel has remained unchanged. The one statistic which will haunt them forever is that they converted just 37 percent of their chances from open play in the 2021 All-Ireland final against Tyrone. Therein lies your real problem, Kevin.
Winning the Ulster title for the time since 1998 will have boosted their self-esteem and confidence.
They were arguably the fittest and best conditioned team in the championship and probably had the most consistent centre field pairing in Gareth McKinless and Conor Glass.
Superbly organised by Rory Gallagher, every player knew precisely what his role was.
But kicking on is easier said than done. Like Dublin, they will be operating in Division 2 in the Spring, this could be a hinderance. But the key issue is how limited their options are due to their game plan.