Jack O’Connor’s chief focus over the past two and a half weeks has been to find a carrot which he could dangle in front of his players. How successful was he? We should know around 6pm this evening.
It worries him that he had to go looking in the first place. There was no such searching required in advance of the Munster final. On that occasion, the Kerry U21s had a basket of carrots to choose from. No Munster U21 title since 2008. No championship victory away to Cork since 1997. There was also the 2016 Munster decider which had seen the Rebels raid the Kingdom above in Tralee.
Each motivational apparatus was drawn upon and O’Connor’s young charges routed the home outfit with 16-points to spare.
Galway are their opponents today and O’Connor, if he’s being honest, is stuck for an angle to gee up his troops. The Kingdom edged the westerners in last year’s minor decider, but with only three players from that game expected to feature here – Sean O’Shea for Kerry, Robert Finnerty and Dessie Conneely for the Tribes – it doesn’t carry a huge amount of relevance.
And with Kerry heavily fancied to advance to a first All-Ireland U21 final since 2008, the last thing O’Connor wants is a hangover from Páirc Uí Rinn.
“You look at the Kerry seniors who had a massive game against Dublin down in Tralee where they upped the stakes physically, tactically and every other way, and then they went up to Cavan and were a bit flat up there. It is massive that we have the players right for Galway,” O’Connor stressed.
“That game in Cork was set up for us because we were beaten last year and a lot of lads were very hurt over it. They were waiting a long time to have a go at Cork so it was easy to get up for that game. Some games are easier to get tuned in for than others. We have to find a different motivational tool for the Galway game because the same history is not there. That is a major challenge for us.
“Some players have no problem in getting motivated for a game. Seamus Moynihan was a player you never had to say anything to, even a challenge game and Seamus was chomping at the bit. Some players are like that, they are driven and self-motivated. You have to find angles for them and finding ways and means of getting them mentally tuned in.”
Whatever about motivating them, keeping the bunch grounded hasn’t been an issue. With Barry O’Sullivan, Micheál Burns, Jordan Kiely and Conor Geaney unable to break into the starting team for the Munster decider, the Kerry manager made it abundantly clear that no player – irrespective of his status or hype surrounding him - is sure of his place.
“We have 24 players that can fill in as we proved the last day when we made a few changes in personnel and positional switches. They are a pretty versatile group so I don’t think any fellow is going to be getting ahead of himself because it’s about what you can do in the here and now, not what the media say you can do.”
Full-forward Matthew O’Sullivan has again been successful in holding off a number of capable footballers to retain his spot on the edge of the square. The sole member of the squad who doesn’t have an All-Ireland minor medal in his possession, O’Sullivan went some distance towards repaying the faith shown in him by management with his 1-1 Munster final tally.
“Matthew is not a one-trick pony in the sense that he has good pace and is good to show for the ball from the front as well. It just gives us different options. It’s never any harm to have a big man in and around the edge of the square.
“Even going back to my time with the seniors, we had John Crowley there in ’04, we had Donaghy there in ’06 and we had Tommy Walsh there in ’09. You can never go too far wrong when you have a target man that enables you to vary the play a bit because backs like everything in front of them so if its aerial, it keeps them guessing. It’s good to have the potential to vary the delivery at different times.”
Switching to the opposition, O’Connor added: “Games between Kerry and Galway are traditionally open games, the one that stands out for me is the 2008 quarter-final played during a monsoon. I have had great jousts with Galway going back to Coláiste na Sceilge against St Jarlath’s, Tuam in 2002.
It was the day I first set eyes on Michael Meehan. So Galway always produce stylish footballers and I suppose we like to think we are in the same boat, even though some experts are saying that we are not.
“There are always great games between Kerry and Galway and I expect Saturday might well carry on the tradition.”
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