Peter Keane wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear Jim Gavin regard his Kerry side as a team of the now, rather than one for the future. And not alone did he disagree with the sentiments of the Dublin manager, the Kerry boss used every available opportunity to draw attention to the fact that so many of his players are not two years on the inter-county scene.
At Dublin’s All-Ireland final press conference at Parnell Park, Gavin expressed the view that there is plenty of experience in this Kingdom set-up, claiming Kerry’s time “is right now, it’s not next year”.
Gavin’s words were relayed to Keane at their pre-final press gathering the week before last in Currans and the Kerry manager responded frankly.
“For God’s sake, what do you think he’s going to say? Of course, he’s saying that,” began Keane.
“Sure, he’s going for five-in-a-row. We haven’t been in a final since ‘15, with a team that has no resemblance to this year’s team. Sure, what else is he going to (say)? For God’s sake, you’re not that naïve.”
Let’s tease it out a little to see if there’s merit in Gavin’s comments, or if Keane is right to rebuff them.
From the Kerry team which started their semi-final win over Tyrone, and in stark contrast to the multitude of medals and September minutes in the Dublin pockets and legs, only five players - Paul Murphy, Shane Enright, David Moran, Stephen O’Brien, and Paul Geaney - have played in an All-Ireland senior final.
Expand the net to include the six subs introduced last time out and only the returning Tommy Walsh meets the criteria to join the above-mentioned group of five.
From that light, Gavin is wide of the mark to state this Kerry side is one that is developed, rather than developing.
“The big thing we wanted to do [this year] was to put experience into the team,” continued Keane.
“If you look at our team, was it 14 or 15 players have got [championship] debuts over the last 15 months?
“A lot of fellas retired during the off-season, and fellas had walked away the previous year. Added to that, you had Jonathan Lyne who came back in, Jack Sherwood came back in, and Tommy Walsh came back in. So, there’s been a huge transformation in personnel. While it mightn’t be huge from my perspective because I wasn’t with them before, there is still a lot of learning gone on there.
We’re going in with a team who don’t have a whole pile of experience. And I know there are fellas trying to say that we do – we don’t.
The three-time All-Ireland minor-winning manager added: “You’ve some guys who have only four, five, and six championship games played for Kerry. Adrian Spillane, he’s played six; Gavin Crowley, six; Shane Ryan, six. David Clifford must be only around 10.
“You’re up against a team that has fellas… Cluxton has played 100-plus championship games for Dublin. That’s the type of experience that you’re up against. And this was the whole thing, to try and get experience into players; get fellas used to each other; get them used to us, and try and formulate some kind of a squad.
“The one thing I’ve probably learned about this is that the longer you’re at it the easier it becomes because the players know you better, you know them better, and you know what you can trust and can’t trust.
“So, we’re on a fast track here and we’re hoping that we won’t fall off the track.”
The aforementioned Sherwood and Walsh, who are enjoying second and third comings in the green and gold, made significant second-half contributions off the bench against Tyrone, with Keane admitting there is a satisfaction in bringing a player back into the equation who may have thought their inter-county days were behind them.
“You get that out of any player you have, whether ‘tis a young lad or a more mature guy. Whether it’s a David Moran doing very, very well and playing like he did against Mayo – or how he finished out the game the last day. You get enjoyment.
“Sure, come here, I’m the luckiest fella ever. I’m over in Fitzgerald Stadium or here in Currans watching these fellas at night training. Sure, Jesus, what else could you ask for?”
Not alone are Keane’s charges seeking to return Sam Maguire to the Kingdom for the first time since 2014, there’s also the small matter of stopping Dublin’s drive for five. Keane didn’t agree with the view that the historical feat which Jim Gavin’s side are chasing adds value to the game from a Kerry perspective.
“An All-Ireland final is an All-Ireland final. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. You want to win it.
“Dublin were hugely impressive [against Mayo]. There is nothing else you can say. These guys are going for five-in-a-row and unlucky in 2014 to be beaten in the semi-final by Donegal as they were up a good number of points 20 minutes into the game.
“This is probably the team of the ages and all we are doing is trying to go against them.
“Our lads, they’re not thinking that they’re in bonus territory – that’s not the way their psyche is.”