And why wouldn’t they?
Peter Keane, taking over from Jack O’Connor after the 2015 season, matched the back-to-back All-Ireland titles his predecessor masterminded and now aims to go one better.
However Keane is no longer overseeing U18 footballers, with the minor age-group having dropped to U17. He is not a fan of the change
“Taking it from U18 to U17 was seen by some people as a positive move, but personally, I would not see it as a positive move,” he said last year.
“I think 17-year-olds are physically a year shy of that level. Below that, you are going to have lads who are involved in the Junior Cert.”
Kerry open the defence of their Munster and All-Ireland minor crowns this evening, with a provincial quarter-final away to Tipperary.
They’re bidding for a sixth consecutive Munster title and an unprecedented five-in-a-row of All-Irelands.
Across both competitions, the county is 24 games unbeaten at minor level, stretching back to August 4, 2013.
“This is a whole new ball game,” Keane asserts. “Last year, I could compare that team to the year before. This year is different. You have young lads going out, putting on the Kerry jersey in a competitive environment for the first time. You’ve no idea how they will respond or react. You hope you can prepare them as best you can, but you’ll only know what shape they are in when you get into the battle.
“This is brand new, this is a blank canvass. You can’t make comparisons (with the past).”
Despite taking charge of the Kerry U17s last year, on top of his minor duties, Keane made a conscious decision not to dip into the U16 pool when putting together that panel. It means he’s never worked with any member of the current panel prior to this season.
“In previous years, you were introducing lads into the set-up to prepare them for the following year. You’d be giving them an education and they’d know then when they’d come in the following year what’s expected. They’d know us and we’d know them, whereas now you are starting from scratch and it is a blank canvas. You’ve got to get to know the guys, you’ve got to get to know where they are at. You are watching senior and junior schools football, you are watching U16 club football. You are watching minor football. You are watching a lot. But it is the same for every county.”
The involvement of three Kerry schools in the latter stages of All-Ireland post-primary competitions — Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne (Hogan Cup), Pobalscoil Inbhear Scéine (Senior B) and St Brendan’s, Killarney (Junior A) — meant there haven’t been too many occasions in
recent weeks where Keane has had his full panel together at one time.
“Ultimately, all you can do is try work around it as best you can. It is pretty much the same as last year when we wouldn’t have had the Sem (St Brendan’s) guys until the first game in Munster. We had 12 fellas involved between the three teams. We were disappointed for the two senior teams that they couldn’t get to Croke Park for their respective All-Ireland finals. We’ve had them back for the last couple of days. They are
getting to know us and we are getting to know them. We are trying to prepare as best we can for the Tipperary game.”
M Kelliher (Glenflesk); C Flannery (Dingle), K O’Donoghue (Legion), O Fitzgerald (Gneeveguilla); C Moriarty (Annascaul), D McCarthy (Kenmare), D Murphy (Rathmore); D Rahilly (Rathmore), D Lyne (Legion); P Walsh (Brosna), P O’Shea (Kilcummin), K Falvey (Annascaul); P D’Arcy (Glenflesk), J Kennelly (Ballydonoghue), R Ó Beaglaoich (An Ghaeltacht).
K O’Leary (Kilcummin), J O’Connor (Beaufort), J Lenihan (Churchill), D Mangan (Laune Rangers), S Quilter (Austin Stack), D Dineen (Rathmore), J McCarthy (Kenmare), D Geaney (Dingle), J McVeigh (Listowel Emmets).
C Scully (Nenagh Éire Óg), T McDonagh (Cahir), S Lowe (Moyne-Templetuohy), C McDonagh (Cahir), M O’Meara (Grangemockler-Ballyneale, captain), K Hayes (Moycarkey-Borris), J Ryan (Arravale Rovers), B Murphy (Kilsheelan-Kilcash), K Ryan (Upperchurch-Drombane), M Hackett (Moycarkey-Borris), A Flannery (Galtee Rovers), D Ryan (Knockavilla-Donaskeigh Kickhams), C English (Ballyporeen), K Shelly (Moycarkey-Borris, vice-captain), E Daly (Knockavilla-Donaskeigh Kickhams), C O’Mahony (Ardfinnan), J O’Sullivan (Galtee Rovers), C Power (Ballina), G Meagher (Inane Rovers), C Whelan (Mullinahone), R Byron (Galtee Rovers), J Holloway (Carrick Swan), D Farrelly (Clerihan) and S O’Connor (Clonmel Commercials).