Carey out to build new Kerry hurling Kingdom
When Kerry play the final round of the Munster hurling league on January 24, it will mark the end of a schedule which few, if indeed any, of their predecessors ever completed.
They will have played Limerick, Cork, Clare and Waterford in the space of 21 days, leaving new manager, Ciarán Carey with a very clear idea of how prepared his squad are for the start of the Allianz League on February 14.
Things are different in Kerry nowadays. Instead of planning for Division 2A and Christy Ring Cup campaigns, they are looking ahead to the much more exciting worlds of 1B and Liam MacCarthy Cup.
"It's like night and day compared to other seasons but the lads are up for it. They want to compete against the best and they're certainly going to get that experience this year," said the former Limerick All-Star.
The prospect of leading Kerry on a new adventure was one of the aspects which appealed to Carey when a managerial vacancy arose following Eamonn Kelly's departure last year.
The Tipperary man had steered Kerry to promotion to 1B and to the MacCarthy Cup tier before leaving.
He was later appointed manager in Offaly, who will face Kerry in both league and Leinster Championship later on.
Bridging the gap between the second and top tiers is going to be one of the real tests for Kerry, a process which Carey believes will be greatly enhanced by this month's Munster League games.
They lost to Limerick by 11 points last Sunday but, significantly, did most of their best hurling in the second half, which they won by 0-13 to 1-9.
"It took a while to adjust to the intensity and the pace that you meet against the likes of Limerick but the lads did that in the second half. We play Cork (in Killarney) next Sunday and hopefully last Sunday's experience will be a big help.
"Then it's on to Clare (next Wednesday), followed by Waterford. We'll have learned a lot by the end of the month. It's worth any amount of training," said Carey.
His respect and admiration for the Kerry hurling community is immense, since they operate in a county where football will always be utterly dominant.
"It would be easy for those who love hurling in Kerry to just go through the motions but they're a long way from that. Their devotion and passion for the game is as good as anything you'll get in Kilkenny, Tipperary, Limerick or anywhere else.
"That's why I was so delighted to get a chance to take over as manager. The players too have been brilliant so far, putting in a huge effort and are prepared to do whatever it takes to get better," said Carey. With Clare, Limerick, Wexford, Offaly and Laois also in 1B, it will be a huge achievement for Kerry to avoid finishing last, especially since they have three 'away' games.
However, the level of performance in every game will be very important for Kerry, whose prospects of success in the Leinster 'round robin' look brighter.
With two from Kerry, Offaly, Carlow and Westmeath to qualify for the quarter-finals, Carey's men look to have a good chance of booking a place against either Laois or Galway.
Ironically, the second-placed 'round robin' team will play Laois whereas the winners play Galway, so there's a clear incentive not to finish top of the group.
Carey says he hasn't looked that far ahead.
"I'm setting no targets for league or championship other than to try and improve the players individually and as a team.
"If we manage that, then the results will take care of themselves," said Carey.
Kerry's progress was acknowledged last month when John Griffin travelled as a replacement All-Star for the exhibition game in Austin, where he looked very much at home in the company of the game's top stars.
"It was a deserved honour. Lads like him deserve recognition and hopefully there will be more of it for Kerry in the coming seasons," said Carey.