Paul Murphy reckons the newer members of the Kerry football panel did themselves no favours by performing as well as they did during their first spring campaign at senior inter-county level.
Kerry open their championship account away to Clare this Saturday, with goalkeeper Shane Ryan, defender Graham O’Sullivan, midfielder Diarmuid O’Connor, and the half-forward pair of Dara Moynihan and Gavin O’Brien in line to play their first championship football for the Kingdom. Tomás Ó Sé, used off the bench in three of Kerry’s Division 1 league games, is another hoping to make his championship bow in the weeks and months ahead.
Ryan (seven starts), O’Connor (six starts), O’Brien (four starts), and Moynihan (seven starts) quickly became first-team regulars during their maiden league with Kerry, but their collective inexperience in no way hindered a new-look side who racked up five wins on the bounce to advance to the Division 1 decider. Murphy, who is in his sixth season with Kerry, believes the newcomers, owing to their league exploits, will be “marked men” this summer.
“[They] probably did themselves no favours as they played too well in the league. That will mean they will be marked men now in the championship, but I am sure they will be itching to rise to that challenge,” he said.
In a bid to dampen expectation, though, Murphy was mindful to point out that these young lads keeping their heads above the waterline in the league is no guarantee they’ll make the championship grade.
“You would not judge a guy over one league campaign.
You would probably judge him as a senior player over a couple of years, so from that point of view, it probably takes more than one league [to get to the pace of inter-county level and integrate yourself at senior inter-county level].
"There is also a difference between league and championship. There are countless examples of fellas in Kerry and around the country who lit up league campaigns and, for whatever reason, it just did not happen for them in the championship.
“But I think the lads who have come in have done well. They have a great attitude. They want to prove themselves as a championship player and that is probably the test for most players — to cut it in the championship.”
The 2014 All-Ireland final man of the match does not agree with the suggestion that, whereas Murphy and other Kerry footballers in their late twenties are primarily concerned with silverware, the first priority of the younger crop is to build up the necessary bank of experience so as to establish themselves at the top level.
“You could say the lads need a bit of experience at senior level but the best way of gaining experience, surely, is winning things. There is no guarantee that young players coming through now will be winning trophies four years down the line. It might not happen.
"Things can change in people’s personal lives, things can change injury-wise, so you cannot be waiting for things to happen in a couple of years’ time.
It’s about seizing the moment, going for it, and not waiting around for things to happen in the future.
“We brought in a lot of new players [for the league] and you did not really know what you were going to get. But we won five-in-a-row and at that stage, then, you are thinking let’s keep this going, there is a league final there for us. As for the league final, it was very disappointing because we had put ourselves in a good position with 20 minutes left. If you were to look back at the league as a whole, you would have to say there were more positives than negatives in it for us.”
Murphy’s own championship preparations weren’t helped by an ankle injury sustained while on club duty in mid-April, leaving him sidelined in recent weeks.
“I have worked myself back to fitness but I did miss a few weeks with Kerry. You can be tipping away on a bike but you are never going to be up at the same pitch as you would if you were out running. But I am happy enough where I am fitness-wise.”
That he won’t have Peter Crowley behind him this summer is a setback for the defence and, indeed, the team as a whole.
“Peter is a huge loss to us because he had done a very good job at corner-back in the league. He is also a good presence in the dressing room. He has high standards and if you are not meeting the standards, he will not be long letting you know. His injury opens the door for somebody to come in and, hopefully, they will seize their opportunity.”