It is down to the last four in the Kerry football championship this weekend.
Four-in-a-row chasing Dr Crokes, as expected are still standing. What was not expected, though, was that they’d be the sole club team competing in the penultimate round.
Strong divisional representation at the semi-final stage of the Kerry championship is nothing new. But for the divisions to be in such a majority as is the case at Fitzgerald Stadium tomorrow is the exception rather than the rule
East Kerry fell at this very hurdle last year. They’re looking to go at least one step further on this occasion. South Kerry, meanwhile, are making their third semi-final appearance in five years. It is no surprise to see either among the last four.
The same cannot be said for St Brendan’s.
This is a division, after all, who lost their two championship outings in 2015 by an aggregate total of 25 points.
These and many other hefty defeats during the first half of the decade meant St Brendan’s had to play a qualifier to gain entry into the championship proper in 2016.
Shannon Rangers were defeated in this fixture to secure them the 16th and final first-round spot, but they’d fail to win another game for the remainder of the season.
2017 brought a first championship victory proper in three years, followed, however, by a 22-point mauling against Dr Crokes.
So, how did they get from there to being an hour away from the divison’s first county final appearance in 27 years? 1992 was also the last occasion the division made it as far as the semis, a last-minute goal edging them into the decider at the expense of then All-Ireland club champions Dr Crokes.
Seamus Murphy was corner forward on that team - he is now well into his third season as St Brendan’s manager.
“We started off [in 2017] and it was tough enough to attract players to play for Brendan’s,” Murphy recalls.
“We put a bit of organisation and structure into it because we knew the players were there, the players are always there. There are pockets of talent all over Kerry. It was just a question of getting them out and building a bit of momentum.”
It all becomes an easier sell when 22-point hammerings are replaced by successive victories.
Nothing builds confidence and morale in a dressing room other than victories. We ground out the win against Legion the last day, despite not scoring for the last 12 minutes. They are an excellent bunch of lads and I am delighted to be associated with them.
Two significant factors in delivering St Brendan’s a rare semi-final berth has been Padraig Corcoran coming in as trainer for the 2019 campaign and the success of the division’s underage teams in recent years.
“Pádraig has plenty of inter-county experience with Kerry. It is his first year involved with us and the lads are responding really well to his training. He has made a difference, for sure. He is a good man in the dressing room, a great man at training. He is very sharp on the training field.”
The manager added: “Our minors reached this year’s county final, while the U21s reached the county semi-final. We have been very competitive at these two age grades the last few years. We had five U21s in our defence in the second-round against South Kerry. There is a good crop of youngsters there and then you have a few more experienced players who have soldiered with the Brendan’s for a long number of years.
“I needn’t mention the firepower East Kerry have at their disposal, but we are going to have a crack off them and see how we get on.”
What would significantly hinder their chances tomorrow afternoon is if midfielder Diarmuid O’Connor fails to overcome the ankle injury sustained last weekend against Legion. It was a game where the young Kerry senior kicked 1-2 from play. He landed three white flags the previous outing against Shannon Rangers and was their top scorer from play when they fell to South Kerry. In essence, they can’t do without him.
“He went over on his ankle after catching a ball,” Murphy explains. “He was doubtful earlier on in the week, but we are hopeful we will be able to strap him up.
“He is an excellent talent, a man of great ability who certainly gives us great value. We would prefer to have him going at full tilt. If he is unable to, we will have to reassess and make a call on Sunday morning. We will give him every opportunity.”