Saturday’s win over Meath was the county’s third consecutive All-Ireland junior title — and a record 18th in all — and with Tadhg Morley, Gavin Crowley, Adrian Spillane, and Jason Foley having been drafted into Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s panel off the back of junior wins in 2015 and 2016 respectively, Keane is expecting students of the 2017 class to follow suit.
“Brian Sugrue at corner-back was outstanding, Daniel O’Brien is another young fella who did really well. Tomás Ó Sé, too, is a great young fella. They are just a few young lads who can keep moving up. There are a few more there, and Éamonn could have worse inside with him,” said Keane.
Ó Sé was corner-forward on the 2014 All-Ireland minor-winning team but with his focus shifting to Irish dancing thereafter, he wasn’t seen again in the green and gold until this summer.
And what a campaign he’s had, 2-4 in the Munster final, 1-1 in the All-Ireland semi-final and 1-2 here.
Indeed, it was his 43rd minute goal — the Gaeltacht forward rose highest to punch a Philip O’Connor delivery to the net — that proved the decisive score, moving Kerry into a 2-12 to 0-9 lead.
The lively James Conlon kicked a point in response, but the next three scores arrived via the boot of Conor Cox. And at 2-15 to 0-10, it was game over.
Cox finished with 1-8 beside his name, 1-5 from play, to collect his third All-Ireland junior medal — he and half-back James Walsh were part of the 2012 and 2015 winning sides.
“I am delighted for Conor,” continued Keane. “He’s been there and done it before at junior level. He has also got a run with the seniors. It would have been very easy for him to say, ‘no thanks’ when I asked him in. A player of his quality is a major asset to you. He would make an awful lot of inter-county teams. It is just unfortunate that the county he is living in, that he doesn’t get the break.”
Cox’s goal 14 minutes in came gift-wrapped as Meath ‘keeper Johnny Lynch kicked possession straight to the Listowel Emmets man and he duly punished the error. That nudged the reigning champions into a 1-5 to 0-3 lead.
Three points from Ben Brennan (0-2 ’45’s) and Kevin Ross pared the deficit back to two approaching the break.
Meath, however, were left frustrated as successive goal chances were repelled by centre-back Pa Kilkenny and goalkeeper Tomás Mac an tSaoir.
The Kerry defence wobbled slightly during this period but Meath’s failure to find a green flag meant the Kingdom’s struggles were never highlighted on the scoreboard.
The Kerry goalkeeper produced two fine second-half saves and when he was eventually beaten by Séan Reilly three minutes into stoppages, it was a case of too little, too late.
The winners finished with 14 men as Eanna Ó Conchúir was shown a straight red card late on.
“There were a few doubts and a few question marks after the Leitrim game. But all the lads stepped up to the plate today and we got the performance we wanted,” Keane said.
“Every All-Ireland is hard won. Any All-Ireland that comes to Kerry, be it club or county, it is appreciated an awful lot. This is basically a development squad and we are trying to get as many of these lads into the frame for the senior set-up.”
C Cox (1-8, 3 frees); T Ó Sé (1-2); K Spillane, P O’Connor (0-3 each); E Ó Conchúir, P Kilkenny, I Parker (0-1 each).
B Brennan (0-6, 2 ‘45s, 1 free); J Conlon (0-4); S Reilly (1-0); K Ross, D Rowe, D Healy, W Carry (0-1 each).
T Mac An tSaoir (An Ghaeltacht); E Kiely (Brosna), J McGuire (Listowel Emmets), B Sugrue (Renard); J Walsh (Knocknagoshel), P Kilkenny (Glenbeigh-Glencar), D O’Brien (Glenflesk); R Ó Sé (An Ghaeltacht), B O’Sullivan (Valentia); P O’Connor (Cordal), J O’Donoghue (Glenflesk), E Ó Conchúir (An Ghaeltacht); K Spillane (Templenoe), C Cox (Listowel Emmets), T Ó Sé (An Ghaeltacht).
L Carey (Beaufort) for O’Donoghue (38 mins); M Foley (Ballydonoghue) for Kilkenny (51); S O’Sullivan (Templenoe) for Cox (58); I Parker (Churchill) for B O’Sullivan (58); PJ Mac Laímh (An Ghaeltacht) for Walsh (60); DJ Murphy (Gneeveguilla) for Kiely (63).
J Lynch (Moynalty); L Moran (Trim), M Flood (St Brigid’s) A Lynch (St Colmcille’s); D Toner (Curraha), W Carry (Drumbaragh), D Healy (Longwood); A Flanagan (Clonard), C Farrell (Dunderry); N Shorthall (Curraha), K Ross (Castletown), C McConnell (Bective); J Scully (Oldcastle), D Rowe (Syddan), B Brennan (St Colmcille’s).
J Conlon (St Colmcille’s) for Scully (19 mins); S Coogan (Dunderry) for Ross (41); S Reilly (Moylough) for Farrell (46); C O’Rourke (Trim) for Carry (49); C Moriarty (Curraha) for Shorthall (53); S Coogan (Dunderry) for Rowe (57).
J Hickey (Carlow).