No, the Kingdom’s youngsters didn’t have to show their full hand against the Lilywhites and will head to Croke Park in three weeks knowing the limits of their capabilities have yet to be tested.
For the Mayo eyes in Thurles, there will have been a few obvious realisations. The most important: starving Tomás Ó Sé of possession is paramount to thwarting this Kerry side. The Gaeltacht forward, a world champion Irish dancer, wreaked havoc on the Kildare rearguard — 1-2 pilfered and three second-half frees earned, which Killian Spillane converted.
O’Connor was impressed by the corner-forward’s contribution.
“He actually didn’t tog out for the last fortnight. He had a bit of a knock,” revealed the Kerry boss. “We thought the edge might be gone off him, but he proved today he was doing a bit of dancing at home to keep fit. He’s as good a footballer as he is dancer.”
It was Ó Sé’s goal which ultimately settled this contest, finishing a terrific individual move on 53 minutes. Fielding superbly a Brian Rayle delivery ahead of Kildare corner-back Alan Scully, Ó Sé slipped past two further white shirts before drilling low beyond keeper Tadhg Foley.
The score moved Kerry 2-12 to 1-7 clear, ending Kildare’s brief comeback effort. Substitute Shea Ryan, fed by full-forward Séan Dempsey, had fisted to the net on 50 minutes, reducing the gap to four points. they could not make any further inroads.
Indeed, Ó Sé’s goal was part of an unanswered 1-4 Kerry registered on the run for home, Spillane raising three white flags with the aforementioned corner-forward also splitting the posts.
I am delighted with our lads, they have answered every question that has been asked of them this year,” said O’Connor. “They weren’t as fluid as normal, but who cares about that?
“The main aim was to get to Croke Park along with the seniors, it will make for a great double-header along with the Kerry v Mayo senior game.
“Our aim at the start of the year was to have the lads playing into August and it is great to be bringing the lads back to Croke Park. There is a great sense of anticipation going up there.”
The winners opened smartly through Michaél Burns and Barry O’Sullivan. Kildare, though, enjoyed their most productive spell of the game thereafter, hitting four of the next five scores. Ben McCormack had the Lilywhites off the mark, with Conor Hartley, a Seán Dempsey free and a second from the right boot of McCormack adding to the tally.
Crucially, though, Brendan Hackett’s side would fail to score again until early in the second period — a 21-minute barren spell — and by which juncture they trailed 1-8 to 0-5, a seven-point swing.
Jordan Kiely pounced for the opening goal of the contest before the close of the first quarter, Spillane laying the foundation with a searing run along the end line and the corner-forward dispatching clinically beyond Foley.
Points followed from Liam Carey (0-2), Killian Spillane (free) and Micheál Burns, his third of the half; Kerry enjoying a 1-7 to 0-4 interval advantage.
The gap, as noted, was closed somewhat entering the final quarter nut the end result was never really in doubt.
Scorers for Kerry: K Spillane 0-6 (5f); T Ó Sé 1-2; J Kiely 1-0; M Burns 0-3; L Carey 0-2; S Ryan 0-1 (45), B O’Sullivan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kildare: S Ryan 1-0; B McCormack 0-3 (2f); S Dempsey 0-2 (1f, 1 45); C Hartley, E O’Donoghue, M Kelly 0-1 each.
KERRY: S Ryan (Rathmore); C Coffey (Kerins O’Rahillys), B Ó Beaglaíoch (An Ghaeltacht), T O’Sullivan (Dingle); D O’Donoghue (Spa), A Barry (Na Gaeil), B Sugrue (Renard); B O’Sullivan (Dingle), M O’Connor (Dingle); M Flaherty (Dingle), L Carey (Beaufort), M Burns (Dr Crokes); J Kiely (Dr Crokes), K Spillane (Templenoe), T Ó Sé (An Ghaeltacht).
Subs: B Rayle (Lispole) for Burns (38), L Kearney for (Spa) for O’Conor (41), R Wharton (Renard) for Sugrue (49), S O’Sullivan (Templenoe) for Carey (53), I Parker (Churchill) for Kiely (59), J Foley (Ballydonoghue) for O’Donoghue (59).
KILDARE: T Foley (Athy); S Healy (Moorefield), M Hyland (Athy), A Scully (Sarsfields); J Flynn (Round Towers), P Mescal (Maynooth), S Ryan (Sarsfields); R Feely (Athy), C Kavanagh (Sarsfields); E Flynn (Round Towers), C Hartley (Sarsfield), S Lawlor (Rathangan); B McCormack (Sarsfields), S Dempsey (Sarsfields), A McConville (Round Towers).
Subs: J Healy (Sarsfields) for S Healy (27, bc), M Kelly (Athy) for McConville (29), P Murray (Maynooth) for Lawlor (29), E O’Donoghue (Clane) for McCormack (42), M Brusey (Raheens) for Feely (Athy) (56).
Referee: N Cullen (Fermanagh).