Kerry ready to finish job

Hard as you can for as long as you can — the words printed on a giant Kerry flag tacked to the dressing-room wall in Newbridge last weekend as the players exited for action.

Kerry ready to finish job

If you’re wondering whether the players actually took note, consider the following; Kerry’s quite stunning 6-27 scoreline was comprised of 3-13 in the first half and 3-14 in the second.

It’s been the mantra ever since losing their second Christy Ring Cup final in a row almost exactly a year ago to the day. Kerry came into that contest as favourites but leaked 4-18 to Kildare and lost. Few saw it coming.

“We were just gutted,” recalls Mikey Boyle. Looking back, the experienced forward believes Kerry were caught out mentally more than physically that day. For whatever reason, they weren’t tuned in. A lesson learned.

Clearly, that 6-27 tally born in Kildare last weekend was conceived at Croke Park a year earlier, the ultimate act of revenge. Yet if Kerry don’t finish the job in today’s final, their monstrous semi-final win will count for precisely nought. Three final defeats in a row, allied to the one-point loss in 2010, doesn’t bear thinking about.

Boyle insists the players are acutely aware of what’s at stake and won’t be clouded by complacency against first time finalists and considerable underdogs Derry. It means too much to everyone involved, like Kerry manager Eamonn Kelly, the Tipperary man who was set to quit last year but couldn’t walk away after such a sickening defeat. He returned with redoubled efforts and demanded the same from his players.

“Winning this means an awful lot to Eamonn, he wants to win it, full stop,” said Boyle. “He’s done a terrific job with us in fairness, getting us up to Division 1B in the league this year, an unbelievable job.

“He gets all the heads right, it’s enjoyable just to go training every night. He’s a bit of craic, he’s everything. If he walked, we’d really miss him.”

It is hard to imagine that Kelly is prepared to walk away this year if Kerry beat Derry today. The prize, agreed upon at Congress last February, is a huge one, automatic qualification to the Liam MacCarthy Cup for 2016. The exact specifics of it are that Kerry will compete in the Leinster championship’s qualifier series next year. Having already defeated Westmeath, Carlow and Antrim — three of this year’s four qualifier teams — in crucial league games, there’s no question Kerry are ready for the step up.

“That’s the goal, to play Liam MacCarthy hurling, to get up there,” said Boyle.

“It’s always been the target. We’ve been to how many Christy Ring finals now and just let it slip each time, last minute goals and points, we’ve just fecked up. But I don’t think it’ll happen this year. I think our heads are right and we’re going to go all the way.”

There is of course Division 1B hurling to look forward to next spring, regardless of what happens today, and games against Clare, Limerick and Wexford. The sense Kerry hurling is on the up is palpable. It has not happened by accident either. As Kelly has demanded more from those around him, so too have the county board delivered. That’s not always been the case in football-dominated counties but this Kerry team wants for nothing.

Just ask Patrick Kelly, their All-Ireland medallist from Clare or James Logue, their ex-Tipperary panellist. Or perhaps have a chat with Darragh O’Connell who played midfield for Kerry in last year’s final and has since seamlessly transitioned to Dublin, featuring already for them in the championship. “Everything we ask for, we get,” said Boyle.

“People have their own opinions I suppose on it being a football county. Within that we’re a small pocket trying to raise the game of hurling but we’re doing all right. We definitely can’t claim that we’re not given a fair chance or anything like that.”

Nobody in the Kerry team right now is doing it much better than Boyle. The Ballyduff man’s four goals against Kildare last weekend were all expertly crafted, demonstrations of power play and accuracy combined. He will be a marked man for sure at GAA headquarters. “Will I? I don’t know,” he shrugged.

“All I can do is try my best and keep doing what I’m doing and hope it comes off. All I can do is keep trying hard.” And will Kerry win? Modesty doesn’t prevent Boyle from giving an authentic response.

“You know, we set out our goals at the start of every game for hooks and blocks and goal chances that we want to create — I think we broke every one of those targets against Kildare, we hit a personal best in all of them and that’s what we’re looking for every week, a personal best. I think if we can get that personal best, no team will play with us. I said we were caught last year, mentally. I don’t think we’re going to be caught this year. Our heads are in the right places at the moment.”

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