That Kerry take the junior football grade as serious as they do has been a blessing for Kieran Murphy.
Part of the county minor team in 2011 and 2012, the Kilcummin native was midfield on the Kerry U21 side in 2014, but injuries thereafter derailed his progress.
In most other counties where there are no steps between U20 (or U21 as it was) and senior, that would have been that for Murphy as far as inter-county football was concerned.
In Kerry, though, many players, including Kieran’s brother Shane, use the junior grade to keep themselves relevant on the inter-county scene.
“I haven’t played inter-county since I was with the Kerry U21s back in 2014. I had a few tough years with injuries since and you do wonder if you are going to get the chance to play in a Kerry jersey, but I am happy to get the opportunity again this year with the juniors,” says Murphy, who captains Kerry in this afternoon’s All-Ireland final against Galway in Cusack Park.
“The captaincy is a great honour to have as well because of Kilcummin winning the intermediate. It’s a great time for the club with Paul O’Shea captaining the minor team at the moment.”
Kerry are bidding for four-in-a-row of an All-Ireland junior four in a row crowns, with manager Jimmy Keane forced to assemble a new team after the 2017 success. It is a job, says Keane, made easier by the talent pouring through from underage.
“Sometimes, you feel the rule where you have to field a new team the following year when you win is harsh but it does make you go out there and find the talent you need to replace them,” he says.
“I would use Paudie Clifford and Evan Cronin as examples. They were unlucky to miss out last year but they have taken their chance this year to show what they can do.
“We’re actually very lucky to have the conveyor belt of talent coming through with all the underage success, especially so when we were not able to pick U20 players this year with all the competition changes.
“I’m very happy, though, that we have a similar set-up to last year in players that want to force their way into the senior level and feel that we have a nice even balance to the side.”
On the challenge of Galway, Keane says: “I spoke to Kilmoyley’s Christy Walsh who is in charge of the Kilkenny team they beat in the other semi-final. He rates them higher than he did last year’s Meath team that we beat in the final.
“We know we have to up our game now to meet the challenge Galway will bring.”
The one thing we must do is up our workrate because despite the start we made against Kildare in Navan we did get a bit lax afterward and that allowed them to come back into it.”