Kerry’s 17-point trouncing of Ronan McCarthy’s side was the county’s largest Munster final win over Cork since 1938. O’Connor, who managed the Kingdom to three All-Ireland senior titles, believes the influx of youth has instilled “real belief” in Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s side, with six players making their Munster final debut at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
“It was a massive performance, but I’d rather give Kerry credit than say Cork underperformed,” O’Connor said.
“Kerry are playing with real belief, now, because a lot of these young fellas that have come in have won two minor All-Irelands. That gives you real belief. The young lads would have come across a lot of those Cork players at underage and got the better of them. A lot of these new fellas wouldn’t have any great fear of Cork.”
Kerry’s average winning margin across their two provincial outings was 19 points. Their new training base at Currans, O’Connor reckons, has been central to their promising early summer form.
“It is very exciting times for Kerry football. The new centre of excellence at Currans has given a real lift to the players. You can’t underestimate what that does for morale. It makes the players feel they have a top-class facility.”
PaperTalk Munster final podcast with Anthony Daly and Ger Cunningham
With Mayo, plagued by injuries, not exactly sailing through the qualifiers, and Ulster champions Donegal having lost Paddy McBrearty to a torn cruciate, Kerry’s Munster final performance sees them marked out as the most likely challengers to Dublin’s four-in-a-row bid. O’Connor says it would be “dangerous” to invest too much focus on dethroning Jim Gavin’s side.
Tomorrow’s Munster U20 football final (Austin Stack Park, 7.30pm) also pits Kerry against Cork. Kingdom U20 boss O’Connor has claimed the absence of David Clifford and Seán O’Shea has lessened expectation surrounding a team which is packed full of All-Ireland minor winners.
“The lads aren’t under as much pressure [to back up their minor successes] as they think. Now, that said, every time a man puts on a Kerry jersey, he is under pressure. That’s a good kind of pressure. It keeps standards high.
“In a strange way, the fact the two boys aren’t with us — David Clifford and Seán O’Shea — has lowered expectations a small bit. We are compensating for that with teamwork, togetherness and team spirit.”