Kerry manager Jack O’Connor believes that whoever emerges victorious from this weekend’s four provincial football deciders may well be at a significant disadvantage heading into the All-Ireland quarter-finals, compared to the four qualifiers that will come through the back door.
With the Kingdom boss preparing his charges for Saturday’s Munster Final against Limerick at Fitzgerald Stadium (3pm), the winners of the game will then be facing into a four-week period without a competitive fixture, as will the Leinster, Connacht and Ulster champions.
In the same time span, the first weekend of the qualifiers are scheduled for June 4 and 5, including the blockbuster clashes of Armagh v Tyrone and Mayo v Monaghan, with the four subsequent victors engaged in battle with the provincial runners-up the following weekend to decide the eventual make-up of the last eight.
With such a scenario, the four teams that successfully navigate the back door system will have the benefit of two championship matches back-to-back, followed by a two-week preparation time for the knock-out quarter-finals on June 25 and 26, while all the provincial kingpins are left kicking their heels for a full month.
“I know myself when I went through the back door a couple of times with Kerry in the past that it stood us in good stead. It can help you get your form back but look, that is the system that is there and we are hoping to go the direct route if we can,” he said.
“It’s there in front of us and it’s up to us as a group to manage it as best we can. But I agree that it can be a huge disadvantage to travel the direct route and we will manage it as best we can if it comes to it.” In an overall context, the Dromid Pearses man understands that the biggest problem for inter-county players and management teams is the often long wait between fixtures. While the three-week gap between the Cork and Limerick clashes is fairly manageable, anything longer than that can become an issue.
“Obviously there is going to be a different system there next year. The only thing that is a bit disconcerting is the length of time you are waiting around. I mean eight games in the league in ten weeks and potentially three games in 12 weeks in the championship, so that had to be fixed anyway,” he added.
“That is the big problem and I suppose you would have to say that three or four of those games that we played in the league were played in mini hurricanes, two in Austin Stack Park and one in Killarney. So, I don’t have all the solutions, but it’s the waiting around that you would be disappointed with.” Meanwhile, O’Connor confirmed that Kerry will again be without wing-forward Dara Moynihan for Saturday’s game as he continues his recovery from the quad muscle injury that saw him miss the Pairc Ui Rinn tussle with the Rebels.
The Kerry boss is confident, however, that whatever the outcome of the weekend clash with Billy Lee’s improving side, the Spa attacker will be available for Kerry’s next match in the competition, while Stefan Okunbor, Dan O’Donoghue and Mike Breen (for the season) also remain sidelined.
“Dara Moynihan is still rehabbing his injury, which is a quad injury. With Dara, it’s not the same injury as he had in the Sigerson Cup, it’s a different one. It’s just one of those things, he’s an all-action player, he doesn’t hold back, maybe he puts the body under a bit of stress. I wouldn’t think he would make the panel for the Munster final, but he should be in contention for the next game after that.
“Stefan injured himself in the warm-up against Cork, which I would say is probably a product of the fact that he had been sitting exams for the week. He injured his calf, so he hasn’t trained since. Dan is back training, he played a bit of football the other night, so that’s a positive, and it’s good for him. But obviously he will need a bit more football, and possibly a club game or two if we can manage it.”