Clare, Tipp, and now Clare again.
Manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice, mind you, would have us believe he is neither concerned nor bothered that it is a familiar outfit which will greet them in Croke Park on Sunday. Genuinely.
Fair enough, Clare managed 0-17 as the sides clashed in the Munster semi-final back in early June. Turn over the coin, though, and you’ll find that Kerry were 2-2 to 0-1 clear seven minutes in and had 12 to spare at the finish.
Surely with August looming and a potential semi-final clash with Dublin, Fitzmaurice would have preferred to sit an exam they had not already aced this summer?
“Absolutely, and last week that’s the way I would have felt about it,” admitted the Kerry manager, before adding, “but having seen the games and of the three teams we could have played, undoubtedly, Clare are the best.
“So from our point of view, they’re going to give us a strenuous test. They’ve improved since June. The last day against Roscommon they played very well and probably should have even scored a bit more than they did. They’ll have serious momentum. They’re playing with fierce energy and verve, and confidence now, given they’ve got three wins under their belts
“Derry would have given us a new challenge and a different challenge, but not a better challenge. Clare are better than Derry.”
And they’ll travel with motivation too, lest we forget. In the immediate aftermath of Tipperary’s victory over Derry last Saturday evening and the realisation that Kerry would again play Clare for a place in the last four of the championship, words like ‘farcical’ were banded about. Granted, such blatant disrespect pales mildly by comparison with Ger Loughnane’s “gutless” swipe at the Galway hurlers, still, the Kerry manager is in no doubt that Colm Collins’ side will have bottled the disregard towards them over the last couple of days.
“I think they’d know the respect we have for them and the way we’ll treat them is the same as if we’re playing any other team, but, of course, they’ll harness anything that they can use to give them that added motivation.
“And having won the league final earlier on in the year against Kildare, they have that Croke Park experience as well, so they won’t be one bit afraid of it.
“They’re in a great position from the point of view that they’ve a shot to nothing in a way. People, outside of their camp, aren’t going to expect them to win. From a motivation and a psychological point of view, they’re in a positive place and that’s why we have to be at our best. It’s as simple as that.”
As was evidenced in their win over Clare, midfielder Gary Brennan is the most central cog in their wheel. To quote Dermot Earley, if the All Star team was being picked this week, Brennan would be one of the first names on the list.
As Fitzmaurice is quick to point out, though, it is not as if Kerry don’t have decent midfield options of their own. Kieran Donaghy and Bryan Sheehan more than held their own against Brennan and Cathal O’Connor in Killarney, and then there’s the 2015 partnership of Anthony Maher and David Moran to come in off the bench if the middle sector isn’t going their way.
“They have a serious midfield and it was something we identified before we played them in June. It’s going to be an important area. We’ll have to chat about it and get it right on Sunday.”
The depth of options available to management in this area is a microcosm of the squad as a whole. Case in point being the Munster final, where despite using 21 players, a footballer of Marc Ó Sé’s quality wasn’t amongst them.
“All the lads want to play. When there is disappointment there, to be fair to our lads, I have yet to have a negative response from a player. Of course, [players left out] are annoyed and annoyed with me, but they react positively and that drives training because you have players that think they should be on the team not on the team going at it. I have to commend the lads because they are excellent in that regard.”