Our panel is ferociously strong, warns Kieran O’Leary

There wasn’t a whole pile more Kieran O’Leary could have contributed to Dr Crokes’ near-perfect Munster semi-final performance.

Our panel is ferociously strong, warns Kieran O’Leary

There wasn’t a whole pile more Kieran O’Leary could have contributed to Dr Crokes’ near-perfect Munster semi-final performance.

And yet, the 31-year old former Kerry footballer will spend the next fortnight “looking over his shoulder”, keenly aware that no starting forward is safe of their spot, certainly not while Colm Cooper continues to spend the first 40 minutes of games above in the stand.

O’Leary provided the defence-opening pass for Crokes’ two first-half goals against St Finbarr’s; was a central figure in the creation of their fourth goal; kicked a point from play, as well as setting up a pair of Tony Brosnan white flags early in the first period.

A fine afternoon’s work, but such is Crokes’ embarrassment of riches on the sideline, O’Leary is taking nothing for granted. He knows there aren’t too many who’d argue with Colm Cooper being restored to the starting team, irrespective of how those in the attack are motoring.

Cooper and fellow replacement Jordan Kiely kicked 1-4 from play during the combined 34 minutes they were on the field at Lewis Road.

In the Munster quarter-final, the Crokes bench supplied 1-1, while on the afternoon of their county semi-final victory over Kerins O’Rahilly’s, it was Kiely, again coming off the bench, who delivered the two game-changing goals. As St Finbarr’s manager Ray Keane put it on Sunday, there’s not a team in the country that would have Cooper, Kiely, Michael Potts, David Naughten and Eoin Brosnan sitting on the bench.

“The biggest thing for us is our panel because it means that every fella is looking over his shoulder,” said O’Leary.

“We always had a good panel, but we have a ferociously strong panel this year and we’re really using it. Colm [Cooper] came in and kicked three points so who knows who’ll be starting the next day. It’ll all be on training, which is a fantastic thing.

“Training is fairly intense. Pat [O’Shea] would go eight days in the week if he could. There are 30-odd lads training and there have been numerous changes on the team throughout the year. It’s been fantastic.”

O’Leary insisted there are still aspects of their game which require improving, despite them running up 5-20 from play at the expense of the Cork champions.

“[We’re] never satisfied. We were at the losing end of a few so we’re always seeking the perfect performance. Nemo really blitzed us last year and we came out with our tails between our legs after thinking we had prepared really well for it.

“We just went back to the drawing board. Thankfully, that stood to us against the Barr’s and will stand to us for preparation for a Munster final in two weeks’ time.”

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