Time was when Kerry beating Cork at minor equated to a provincial title. Not any more. O’Connor is acutely aware of the threat posed by Tipperary in tomorrow’s noon provincial decider.
“We played them up in Thurles last year and we know how good they are. They are a big physical side and they will relish coming down to Killarney. I saw them against Clare and I was impressed. Football is going real well in Tipperary and they went within a hair’s breath of winning an All-Ireland U21 recently, they have won an Ireland minor in 2011, so they will travel with confidence.”
The chattering classes had it that Kerry’s minors aren’t a patch on last year’s All-Ireland winners, but they ground out a win against a fancied Cork side in the semi-final. John Mark Foley may be out, but Andrew Barry and Bryan Sweeney are back in the mix for selection. All in all, no serious injury stress for Kerry.
O’Connor reflected: “It was well touted in advance that Cork had a serious team this year, especially their forwards. But we dug in on the night and we played well in patches. The big thing for us is that we showed a lot of heart and a lot of spirit and that was key to winning the game.
“We are just hoping that the belief will show in their performance the next day. But it’s all the play for because Tipperary football is very much on the up and they are no longer the minnows; in many ways they have been more successful than Kerry at this level over the past five or six years.
“Coming up to the Cork game, it was purely about that one game and winning it; win or lose on Sunday, you know you have football until August. Players training for at least two months longer, I think, is very important in their development.
“We have very good defenders, who are unlucky not to be starting. Jack Morgan came in for Tom O’Sullivan for the Cork game, and it was a very tight call. Dara O’Shea, Graham O’Sullivan and Andrew Barry, who was coming back from injury, are all very good players as well.
“So it’s just the way it has fallen this year. We probably had more competition up front last year, whereas we have more competition in the backline this year.” O’Connor will take over Kerry’s Under 21’s next season, but how great of a leap was it from senior back to minor? “Maybe it was a bit of a culture shock to me, coming from managing the seniors, where you do have more time. There are many calls with the minors, Colleges, the country leagues and there are two rounds of the championship going to be thrown at them after the Munster final.
“We like to think that we do vary our training from day to day, so that our players do not get stale or they don’t get bored.
“But there is no danger of overexposure with the minors, because we do not have a huge amount of contact time with them. Then the contact we have with them, we have to work hard and keep changing the type of drills and stuff that we do. So I think that the big thing is that they enjoy what they do, that they enjoy being together and that is crucial.” Meanwhile the Tipperary team shows four changes from the team that defeated Clare in the semi-final. Tadhg Fitzgerald (Moyle Rovers), Liam Fahy (Rockwell Rovers), Aiden Buckley (St Patricks) and Alan Tynan (Inane Rovers) all come in for Mark Keheo, Jack Delahunty, Ross Peters and the injured Stephen Quirke respectively.
C Manton, (Fethard); T Fitzgerald, (Moyle Rovers), M Irwin, (Moyle Rovers), T Lowry, (Arravale Rovers); L Fahy, (Rockwell Rovers), D Owens, (Moyle Rovers), J Skeehan, (Holycross- Ballycahill); J Kennedy, (Clonmel Commercials), T Nolan, (Drom & Inch); A Buckley, (St Patrick’s), B McGrath, (Loughmore Castlieny), E Moloney, (Drom & Inch); S Power, (Galtee Rovers), A Tynan, (Inane Rovers), B Martin, (Kilsheelan-Kilcash),
Billy Courtney (Dr Crokes); Darren Brosnan (Gneeveguilla), Jason Foley (Ballydonoghue), Jack Morgan (Austin Stacks); Gavin White (Dr Crokes), Mike Breen (Beaufort), Daniel O’Brien (Glenflesk); Mark O’Connor (capt, Dingle), Andrew Barry (Na Gaeil); Brian Ó Seanacháin (Ballydonoghue), Cormac Linnane (Beale), Sean O’Shea (Kenmare); Stephen O’Sullivan (Templenoe), Michael Foley (Spa), Conor Geaney (Dingle).
Eoghan O’Brien (Churchill), Bryan Sweeney (Listowel Emmets), Tom O’Sullivan (Dingle), Dara O’Shea (Kenamre), Ronan Buckley (Listry), Graham O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses), Brandon Barrett (Ardfert), Jack Goulding (Ballyduff), Evan Cronin (Spa).