For Sean O’Shea, there was no bedding-in period. No cameo appearances off the bench to ease him into life at the top grade. Thrown in at the deep end by then manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice, O’Shea, such had been his prodigious showings at minor level, was simply expected to tread water.
This evening at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the 20-year-old centre-forward will make his 20th appearance in the green and gold shirt. You’d have to go back to March 25 of last year, a dead-rubber above in Healy Park, Omagh, to find the last time Kerry took to the field without him.
He’s started each of the county’s 14 league and championship games since, lasting the pace and course for eight of their nine outings this year. It would have been nine from nine had he not picked up a bang two minutes into injury-time at the end of Kerry’s Munster semi-final win over Clare earlier this month.
A teenager when handed his league debut in January of last year, O’Shea, rather tellingly, rose seamlessly to the occasion, kicking 0-7 (four frees) as 14-man Kerry fell across the line with a point to spare over Donegal. “I thought the free from Sean in second-half stoppages was a great kick because there was a lot riding on it,” said Fitzmaurice of the 19-year-old’s weighty contribution at Fitzgerald Stadium.
The Kenmare native would start their next four games, top-scoring in two of them. Injury, rather than any dip in form or failure to continue holding his own at senior level, prevented him from maintaining this run. Nonetheless, he’d finish 2018 with 0-45 (0-26 frees, 0-7 45s) beside his name. The UCC student has already surpassed that total this season, kicking 1-55 (0-40 frees, 0-4 45s, 0-2 sidelines) to finish as the league’s second-highest marksman, as well as 0-5 (all frees) in their championship opener.
Fair going for a young lad who doesn’t celebrate his 21st birthday for another four weeks.
“I really enjoyed my first year,” says O’Shea, reflecting on that whirlwind debut season. “I suppose, as a young fella, you dream of playing for Kerry and when you get a chance, then, at the start you’re kind of thinking that it’s come very quickly and you don’t know how to take it, but no, it’s very enjoyable. It’s definitely a very enjoyable atmosphere to be in, it’s a great place to be.
I joined the set-up late in 2017 but learned an awful lot during that time. Things certainly do move quickly once you’re in there.
This evening’s Kerry team, which goes in search of the county’s seventh consecutive provincial crown, contains just one player — David Moran — aged 30 or older. But is it too much to expect of young Seanie, despite his consistency of selection and contribution to take on a leadership role within the group?
His inter-county ledger may have many pages yet to fill, but when you consider that one-third of the Kerry team are this evening starting their first Munster final, O’Shea, clearly, is already ahead of the curve.
“I wouldn’t overly [feel any burden of leadership]. You just go out and play the way you’ve always played. Everyone has different personalities. That’s what makes a team, really, the different personalities coming together. If everyone brings their own individual bit, things will probably click into place then.”
Having won a Sigerson Cup earlier this year with Cork seniors Mark White, Kevin Flahive, and Cian Kiely, a UCC set-up that also included Nathan Walsh, O’Shea is well acquainted with some of the players he will face at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Mind you, such has been the Kingdom’s total dominance over their neighbours in recent times, he has never lost a competitive fixture to Cork at any level.
“Cork showed at the start of last year’s Munster final how dangerous they can be, so we’re well aware of the danger they can pose to us. We’ll have to be at the top of our game. Last year, they did get that great start, but, thankfully, we played quite well after that.
“We know if they get a good start again this year, it could be too late for us, so we’ll probably focus on trying to get a better start and continue on from that. No question but it’s still a massive rivalry.”