Strength in depth key for Dr Crokes

If recent games are anything to go by, then Micheál Burns will be the first Crokes sub called down from the stand tomorrow. Jordan Kiely will follow shortly after, with Tony Brosnan not far behind.

For those unfamiliar with the youngest members of Pat O’Shea’s matchday squad, Burns and Kiely, both 19, won All-Ireland minor medals under Jack O’Connor in 2014. Burns owned the number 12 shirt during that famine- ending campaign, while Kiely, similar to his role with the Crokes seniors, was one of the first sprung from the bench — he kicked two points when introduced at half-time in the decider against Donegal.

Twenty-year old Brosnan, on the other hand, never started a game for the Kerry minors. He saw the last couple of minutes in this year’s Munster U21 final against Cork at Tralee. Kerry senior boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice, though, saw something he liked and called the Crokes corner-forward into his set-up. He’d get the last four minutes of the All-Ireland quarter-final win over Clare.

Ponder that for a second: Kerry senior panellist with championship game-time under his belt but unable to make the club team.

Crokes selector Harry O’Neill, on the run into their Munster quarter-final away to Kilmurry/Ibrickane, admitted that these three players would walk onto most, if not all, club teams in the country.

“It is a very nice thing to be able to look over your shoulder on the sideline and know you have that strength behind you. It gives you a certain comfort,” he said.

Half-forward Brian Looney made the point after their county final win over Kenmare District that Burns, Kiely and Brosnan have provided the strength-in-depth that was missing, perhaps, during the failed All-Ireland semi-final attempts of 2012,’ 13 and ’14.

“When we saw the squad we had at the start of the year, we knew there was going to be lads disappointed,” said O’Neill. “We’ve probably finished with a stronger team than we’ve started with in every game.”

He’s not far off with the latter assessment given Kiely and Brosnan have been on the scoresheet in four of their last five championship outings, three out of five for Burns. Then again, those keeping them off the starting team — Johnny Buckley, Colm Cooper, Kieran O’Leary, Daithí Casey, Brian Looney and Gavin O’Shea — could hardly be classed as unknown quantities.

Edmund O’Sullivan, brother of county chairman Patrick, has looked after the club’s minor team for the past five years. A fifth consecutive East Kerry title was recently recorded. County championship glory, though, has so far eluded them, with the 2014 final defeat to Dingle as close as they’ve come.

At centre-back that afternoon was Gavin White, the 19-year old will line out at right half-back against The Nire. Just under 13 months separate the quartet and O’Sullivan likens them to Johnny Buckley, Fionn Fitzgerald, Daithí Casey and John Payne, this particular quartet arriving onto the senior set-up circa 2008.

“What most people don’t know about Tony is that had he been born a day or two later (December 30th is his birthday), he would have been eligible for minor in 2014 and would have won a minor with Kerry that year,” explained O’Sullivan.

“When he was younger, he used to come up to Crokes senior training with his father, Tommy. At 14, he was kicking off both legs and doing dummy solos. The works. Everyone knew about him and how his skill range was through the roof. He’d as much skill at that age as Gooch did when he was young.”

O’Sullivan continues: “In Tony’s last year minor in 2013, we played St Brendan’s back in Ardfert. They were one of the favourites to win the minor championship. Tony was centre-forward, Micheál was wing-forward, Gavin was corner-back and Jordan was corner-forward. We were down a couple of points but got a penalty right at the end to force extra-time. Tony was the oldest and looking to take it. Jordan got the ball, though, and had the temperament to put it down, bury the penalty and we beat them in extra-time. That’s the character of these lads.

“It can’t be easy for defenders to see these lads coming down from the stand with 20 minutes remaining and they mad for road. It’s fierce reassuring for supporters. You know these guys won’t let the cause down. If anything, they’ll bring something more to the equation.”

Blessed to have four such talented players come along together?

“This year, we’d four Kerry minors. David Shaw was full-forward, you’d Billy Courtney in goals, David Naughten at corner-back and Michael Potts at wing-back.”

Only Naughten was listed in the first 30 against Loughmore-Castleiney last time out.

They too, it would appear, will have to bide their time.

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