Saturday afternoon in Austin Stack Park saw Kerry’s footballers claim silverware, but as midfielder Micheál Quirke put it last week, they won’t be ferrying the trophy around local schools in celebration.
Still, the pre-season fare has been useful for the Kingdom. As Quirke confided, the competitive games have eliminated the “bad petrol out of their system” and some newcomers have staked a claim in Jack O’Connor’s future planning.
Saturday’s McGrath Cup decider saw Aidan ‘Shine’ O’Sullivan produce a display of quiet efficiency at right half-back, while Tuosist’s Alan O’Sullivan moved well around the park and assisted his attack with three sweetly-struck points.
But the most sparkling show was from James O’Donoghue, another inventive and nimble corner-forward to have rolled off the Killarney production line. The Legion youngster chalked 1-3 and struck up a fine rapport with Kieran Donaghy, most notably in the ninth minute when a swift exchange of passes saw him finish with poise to the net.
His afternoon concluded on a low note when he sustained a leg injury in a collision with UCC goalkeeper Ken O’Halloran but manager O’Connor was upbeat about the prognosis afterwards.
“I don’t think James is too bad, he just stubbed his foot. He kicked some great scores, it was all new to him and he showed tremendous appetite. That’s the key.
“We’re looking for young, enthusiastic guys to come on board and put the heat on the older fellas.”
The emergence of new players has become more critical for O’Connor as he faces into the start of the NFL campaign against Dublin next weekend with a panel that is shrivelling by the day.
“We reckon we’re down 17 players from the All-Ireland final panel. It’s been disappointing that the likes Dave Moran, Bryan Sheehan and Anthony Maher haven’t been available, as it would have been a great time for them to get competitive football.
“The first two games in the league have come a bit early and definitely we’ll be struggling panel-wise.
“But the McGrath Cup has worked out well for us because our panel is shook at the moment. We’ve brought in new guys and that’s why these matches were important.”
From the moment O’Donoghue rattled the UCC net, Kerry never looked like being defeated on Saturday but one must not forget their opponent’s hectic playing schedule. With a firm gaze on Wednesday’s Sigerson Cup tie against NUIG, UCC started with just five of the side they fielded against DIT last week.
It’s been an unfortunate byproduct of the January big freeze that the provincial and third-level fixture programmes are now merging and it’s hard to blame UCC’s decision to rest big stars here.
“The Sigerson Cup next Wednesday is our main concern,” admitted UCC selector John Corcoran. “We’d a tough game last Wednesday and lads were tired. But I wouldn’t ascribe anything to the changes we made today. Kerry looked in fine shape for a team back from holidays, they took their scoring chances and deserved to win.”
Kerry’s 1-6 to 0-4 half-time lead was an accurate reflection of the first-half trends. Their defence led by Tommy Griffin was resilient and goalkeeper Ger Reidy, despite being rarely troubled, was solid in his handling and kickouts. UCC’s attack may have struggled to impact but elsewhere Ken O’Halloran and Peter Crowley did fine jobs in embellishing their reputations. Full-back Donal Óg O’Donovan had a tough task in containing Kieran Donaghy, who looked sharp, but the defender did compete well with the Austin Stacks man.
By the close of the third quarter Kerry had moved 1-9 to 0-6 ahead and even the late dismissal of Aidan O’Mahony for a second yellow card did not interrupt their progress.
It was notable throughout that UCC’s attempts to bridge the deficit were impeded by their difficulties in adapting to the new hand pass rules. Corcoran was glad afterwards that UCC no longer have to contend with the experiments and his views got support from the opposition camp.
“It was unfortunate for UCC that they got pulled for the hand-passing,” said O’Connor. “They’re playing under the old rules in the Sigerson and it must be extremely difficult for them. As long as there’s a strike action, I don’t think there should be a problem with the open hand pass.”
Scorers for Kerry: J O’Donoghue 1-3 (0-2f), Alan O’Sullivan 0-3, K Donaghy 0-2, D O’Sullivan, P O’Connor, D Walsh 0-1 each.
Scorers for UCC: D O’Callaghan 0-2 (0-2f), D Casey, M Griffin, D Goold (0-1f), B Shanahan, R O’Hagan, C Daly (0-1f), S Kiely 0-1 each.
KERRY: G Reidy: P Reidy, T Griffin, P Corridan; Aidan O’Sullivan, A O’Mahony, K Young; M Quirke, Alan O’Sullivan; P Galvin, D O’Sullivan, D Walsh; J O’Donoghue, K Donaghy, Paul O’Connor.
Subs: Padraig O’Connor for P Reidy (35), BJ Keane for Paul O’Connor (40), S Scanlon for Quirke (45), B Looney for Walsh (51), K O’Leary for D O’Sullivan (51).
UCC: K O’Halloran (Cork); L Jennings (Cork), D Óg O’Donovan (Cork), S Enright (Kerry); P Crowley (Kerry), A Greaney (Kerry), B Daly (Cork); M Mennis (Cork), B Shanahan (Cork); D O’Callaghan (Kerry), M Griffin (Kerry), D Casey (Kerry); L Shorten (Cork), D Goold (Cork), C Daly (Cork).
Subs: E Hegarty (Cork) for Enright (inj) (21), R O’Hagan (Cork) for Goold (half-time), S Kiely (Cork) for Mennis (40), B McPolin (Cork) for O’Halloran (58), S Martin (Cork) for O’Callaghan (58).
Referee: Maurice Condon (Waterford).