More so than trying to prepare a team for this year's minor football championship when last year's competition concluded only 12 days ago, the main challenge for Kerry minor manager James Costello was assembling a panel for the 2021 campaign with very little to go on.
Now in his third year as Kerry boss, the previous two panels Costello and his management team put together were picked off schools form and development squad involvement at U16 level.
The ongoing pandemic, however, meant post-primary games never got off the ground during the most recent academic year, while development squad activity was shelved in 2020.
It meant Costello and his management had to take a different path in selecting their 2021 panel, which included widespread consultation with various individuals involved at grassroots level.
“I would be a big believer in seeing fellas play schools football. Schools football is a great basis for selecting a minor panel and obviously we didn’t have schools football this year,” Costello explained.
“So when you are used to seeing lads playing the big games, the Corn Uí Mhuirí and the Frewen Cup, which are a great breeding ground for minor football because you see players under pressure and you see how they get on playing a better calibre of player, not having that this year was certainly a disadvantage.
“As well as that, we had no U16 development squads last year because of Covid so we leaned heavily on matches we saw in the county championship last year and we also consulted clubs, schools, divisional teams, GDAs, and development squad coaches in terms of picking our squad.
“The boys [picked] have knuckled down well after doing an awful lot of remote work first, which was difficult. You would love to have done a bit of work with them first and then gone remote, but that wasn’t possible. But since we got back together as a group, things have gone exceedingly well and I am delighted with the progress.”
Given Cork’s underage rise these past few years, Costello said a “big test” awaits his charges in this evening’s Munster semi-final against Michael O’Brien’s side (Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 7.30pm).
“Cork GAA at underage level is very much on an upward curve at the moment, with all their hurling and football teams doing well. Páirc Uí Chaoimh is the best stadium in the country at the moment and I love going there because it’s an amazing place. It will be a big test for our lads, but, at the same time, it’s an exciting time for the lads who are really looking forward to taking on Cork in their own backyard.”
The manager described his 2021 group as a “very typical Kerry team”, “very skilful and clever footballers” who “like to play on the front foot”.
“If we can get that foothold around the middle, then you would be hoping a performance would follow. But with all minor games, it will ebb and flow. And like all Kerry-Cork underage games, there probably will not be a lot in it.”
There is one change to the Cork team from last week's quarter-final win over Waterford, with Olan Corcoran coming in at corner-forward for the injured Ross Corkery.
M O’Connell (St Michael’s); D Twomey (Ballinascarthy), S O’Connell (Kilshannig), P O’Grady (Killavullen); S Copps (Mallow), C Twomey (Carbery Rangers), D O’Brien (Glanworth); M McSweeney (Knocknagree), R O’Shaughnessy (St Michael’s); J O’Neill (Castlehaven), N Kelly (Newcestown), C Gillespie (Aghabullogue); O Corcoran (St Mary’s), J O’Driscoll (Castlehaven), H O’Connor (Newmarket).
D Walsh (Douglas), M Hunt (Macroom), C Cusack (Nemo Rangers), A Kelleher (St Colum’s), D Crowley (Urhan), J Cunningham (Douglas), L O’Herlihy (St Michael’s), N Daly (Ilen Rovers), B Hayes (Nemo Rangers).