Bosses tip Kerry to play it again Sam

JACK O'CONNOR joked that the other three managers who attended yesterday's Bank of Ireland football championship launch in Dublin had ganged up on him by each nominating Kerry to retain the Sam Maguire Cup - but he wasn't complaining.

It was all good-natured fun, except for the serious business of O'Connor, Joe Kernan, Paul Caffrey and John Maughan assessing their team's chances for the assembled media.

The four were asked to nominate the likely All-Ireland champions outside of their team's prospects. Armagh have impressed with the quality of their forward play in the concluding stages of the League and are arguably the most highly-rated side after the All-Ireland champions.

Kernan's reply reflected that view.

"If we are not there, I'd have to say Kerry.''

John Maughan, manager of the Mayo team which lost last year's final, made the interesting observation that there were five or six counties whom he reckoned had "as good if not a better chance" than his own side.

"Joe talked about the minefield that is the Ulster championship. They are going to have to peak about 10 times before they hit Croke Park. For that reason, I think it might be a bit beyond them. I think Kerry will win,'' he said.

Paul Caffrey, who accepts that his team is lacking high-quality forwards of the type that Kerry and Armagh possess, was more circumspect. His prediction was it would be "either Kerry or Armagh".

"We face a steep challenge and people have to be realistic. Dublin have not won a minor All-Ireland since 1984 and have only once won the U-21 title. Of the last nine Leinsters we have only been successful in one. We don't have exceptional forwards, but forwards we hope will work very well together.''

When it came to O'Connor's team, he did a neat sidestep.

"I'll return the favour to Joe and say it will be Armagh. You would have to be impressed by the way they played in the League. They played great football and got some great scores.''

Kernan, who revealed his players had not celebrated to any great degree after their emphatic League final win over Wexford, remarked that it puts them "in good shape" for this weekend's meeting with Fermanagh in the Ulster preliminary round.

"The win won't do us any harm, but it won't count for much unless we perform on Sunday. It will be a huge challenge to get out of Ulster, but we hold the championship in high esteem. Our players have won four out of the last six and we would like to win another one, but we are not looking beyond this game. Past experiences have made us wary.''

When asked to explain his team's unexpected failure to Fermanagh at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage last year, Kernan attributed it to "complacency".

Kernan agreed that it was difficult to predict if one of the lesser lights could make an impact like Fermanagh did last year.

"The day they defeated Cork they opened a lot of peoples' eyes. It will take a few qualifier games before you could say if any one particular team might make a breakthrough.''

O'Connor feels Derry could make a big impression, saying they never got the credit they deserved for running Kerry to six points in the All-Ireland semi-final last year.

The managers also responded to comments made by Association President Sean Kelly in response to the recent Congress going close to agreeing to a return of the fisted pass (in place of the hand-pass). Interestingly, both Kernan and Caffrey said they would have no problem with the rule being changed, whereas O'Connor and Maughan were of the view that there was nothing wrong with the game.

"I would have no problem if the fisted pass came back. I think it would be a good idea," said Kernan.

"It can be very hard to define and it's often frustrating for referees, frustrating for players and certainly frustrating for managers. At least we would all know where we stood if the rule were to be changed.''

While Caffrey pointed out that he had grown up on "a diet of the Dublin team of the 70s" - and the hand-pass - he said that the interpretation of the hand-pass rule at club level was often "very dodgy".

"The ultimate frustration is to see a move break down because of a hand-pass being penalised at the end."

As far as the Kerry manager was concerned, he said he didn't have "a huge issue" with the hand-pass.

"You hand-pass in areas where you can't kick," he said.

"Some teams may use the hand-pass to work the ball from one end of the field to the other, but my view is that it helps to speed up the game."

Maughan recalled that Mayo - and Trevor Mortimer specifically - had got scores from fisted passes in a good few of their games last season. But he agreed that there was no "major problem" with the game.

"If you talk about Congress almost agreeing to that motion to change to a fisted pass, you should look at the age profile of the delegates. Most of them would have grown up in the era of the fisted pass and not too many of them would have been under the age of 30. I'm all for youth being involved in administration - young fellows like Sean Kelly!"

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