Yesterday’s McGrath Cup semi-final over Limerick marks three successive wins in three successive weeks, albeit all on home turf in Killarney, the opposition becoming more testing in every game. First it was IT Tralee, then UCC, yesterday it was their first inter-county opposition of this competitive year, all dismissed with equal aplomb by a Kerry team featuring a plethora of new faces. It all combines to make Fitzmaurice a very happy man.
“The real value of the McGrath Cup is that they’re getting a sustained run which is good for the likes of Jack (Sherwood) at centre-back as that helps his development and his confidence, just getting used to the lads around him.
” We’re very happy with the way they’re progressing so we’ll keep at it. The idea of the McGrath Cup was to look at the younger players and give them a few games which would strengthen our hand and strengthen our panel.
“We’ve definitely accomplished that and we have a game again next week (McGrath Cup final against Tipperary) and that’s great for us. I don’t know exactly how many players we’ve used over the past number of weeks but it’s certainly in the high 20s so that’s great, considering there are a lot of absentees at the moment.”
Marc Ó Sé and Aidan O’Mahony were picked to play yesterday but neither started (Aidan came on as a late sub, as did Tomas Ó Sé), though yet another of the veterans, midfielder Bryan Sheehan, did make an earlier than expected return.
“Aidan is a bit asthmatic, had a bit of a reaction yesterday so we didn’t start him; Marc had a hamstring problem all week and we decided not to risk him when the day was so cold. We hadn’t expected to see Bryan for a good bit longer to be honest but he trained very hard on his own with Paudie Corcoran, who works with the injured players in the background. Paudie, the physios and the medical team did great work with Bryan, so we were able to give him a run-out today.”
Some run-out. With Sheehan and Anthony Maher dominating midfield, a strong five minutes before half-time during which they scored 2-1 helped Kerry to a two-goal half-time lead (2-7 to 0-7), even while playing into a stiff breeze. The dashing Darren O’Sullivan had the first major, his blistering pace taking him in on goal while James O’Donoghue had the second with a superb finish after snapping up a breaking ball.
Given that they themselves were also fielding an experimental side, it left Limerick with a small mountain to climb. “We were caught in a Catch 22 situation,” explained unhappy manager Maurice Horan: “We had to rest our experienced guys, the likes of Pa Ranahan, Stephen Lavin, Mark Riordan, Eoghan O’Connor, Stephen Kelly, and Ger Collins. If the game was next week they would all be available to us but we just cannot jeopardise the league.
“We’re on the back of two injury-ravaged league campaigns so we want to try and keep all our main players as injury-free as possible. The two goals before half-time were killers, particularly the second goal but the biggest problem for me today wasn’t the loss, it was the three lapses in concentration in the second-half after we had come back to within three points — suddenly it was an eight-point gap again.”
Limerick did start the second half well, a fine goal by youngster Darragh Treacy then a pointed Ian Ryan free bringing them with a single score (2-7 to 1-7). Then came those concentration lapses by Limerick and in a 12-minute purple patch Kerry scored 1-8 without reply — O’Donoghue getting his second and Kerry’s third goal.
Sets the Kingdom up nicely for the final next week, albeit in Tipperary, but also strengthens Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s hand with the league opener against Mayo just a week later.
Scorers for Kerry: J O’Donoghue 2-5 (5f); D O’Sullivan 1-1; M Geaney 0-3; BJ Keane 0-3; B Sheehan 0-2 (2f); M O’Donoghue 0-2; P Curtin 0-1.
Scorers for Limerick: I Ryan 0-6 (5f); D Treacy 1-0; D O’Connor, D Neville, J Riordan, J O’Meara, L O’Dwyer, 0-1 each.
KERRY: B Kelly; F Fitzgerald (c), M Moloney, D Culhane; J Lyne, J Sherwood, K Young; A Maher, B Sheehan; M Geaney, D O’Sullivan, M O’Donoghue; J O’Donoghue, P Curtin, BJ Keane.
Subs: K O’Leary (O’Sullivan inj. 53); T Ó Sé (Sheehan 54); A O’Mahony (Moloney 61); B Looney (J O’Donoghue 61); A Garnett (Maher 61).
LIMERICK: B Scanlon; C Cody, J McCarthy, P Browne; L O’Dwyer, M Sheehan, J Riordan; T Lee, B O’Brien; J O’Meara, D Treacy, D O’Connor; D Neville, S O’Carroll, I Ryan.
Subs: M O’Keeffe (Sheehan 33); P Kinnerk (O’Brien 54); S Sheehan (Neville 65); D O’Dea (Lee 67); B McCarthy (O’Meara 69).
Referee: C Lane (Cork).