Kerry players made a conscious decision not to celebrate their Joe McDonagh Cup survival out of respect for their relegated Offaly opponents at Austin Stack Park on Saturday afternoon. The Kingdom’s victory secured their place in hurling’s second grade but sent the Faithful County — All-Ireland SHC champions in 1998 — tumbling down to the third tier.
But Kerry boss Fintan O’Connor said their joy was tempered by “the disappointment and hurt etched on the faces of the Offaly players.”
He explained: “The Kerry lads did not want to celebrate in front of the Offaly lads because they knew how they felt because we were probably feeling that way all week.
“We came off the field quickly because while there was satisfaction in winning, there is no satisfaction in watching the disappointment and hurt etched on the faces of the Offaly players after the huge effort they put in with 14 men for almost 70 minutes of that game.
“There was a puck of the ball in it at the end. It means an awful lot to us because I can turn around to this group next November and say to them that we will have to get a lot better at this... to compete in 2020.
O’Connor revealed the efforts made to have star Shane Conway fit for the tie, after he suffered a hamstring strain against Laois a week earlier.
“I brought him to Ennis this week to the Cryotherapy Centre to try get his hamstring right, as we needed Shane to play. We knew he’d play on one leg if required. So I was with him for about six hours in the car on Monday and we were just having a chat. At one stage (when he was probably sick of me talking hurling) Shane turned to me and said ‘I’d just love to play in Croke Park. We must get to play in Croke Park; I want to play in Croke Park.’
“He is no different to any other Kerry young lad, hurling or football, they want to play in Croke Park. That is why I felt our league final should have been played there like all the football ones. I would love to be part of this group that would make Shane’s wish a reality and we could reach Croke Park.”
O’Connor, who has two of his three-year term to serve, is looking forward to the future with this group.
“It’s enjoyable and if they all love coming in training and fighting for each other and trying to do their best for Kerry, then that is a success. There were ten or 12 young fellas in the dressing room looking for sliotars (Saturday) and hopefully those young fellows will go home and practice and play for Kerry when they are older. That could be termed success.
“What Shane Conway is doing in UCC is success for Kerry hurling because everyone (on the outside) are saying — ‘look at the player they produced in Kerry’. It has given it a massive lift.”