Pádraig Corcoran wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t sound a note of caution.
Yes, it is wonderful, and fantastic, and whatever superlative you’re having yourself that his Dingle side have back in their ranks Mark O’Connor and Deividas Uosis.
What club manager wouldn’t be doing cartwheels at having their panel strengthened by a very recent AFL premiership medalist and a less recent All-Ireland minor winner.
And as for the timing of their return, sure they couldn’t have planned it better had they tried, the pair landing back into the Dingle field and fold days out from a county quarter-final against the most consistent club team in Kerry for the past decade and a half.
Corcoran has done his cartwheels. The time now is for realism, for squeezing the break on the runaway train that is local expectation.
Mark O’Connor, for all he has done on the other side of the world with an oval ball in his hand and sleeveless Geelong shirt on his back, has not played Kerry county championship in exactly four years, three in Uosis’ case.
That’s a fair bit of time removed from the environment they will be thrown into at Austin Stack Park later today.
For those expecting O’Connor to not only help Dingle past Dr Crokes but serve as the grain of rice that tips the destination of the Bishop Moynihan Cup away from champions-in-waiting East Kerry, the message is to cool the jets.
“They are good footballers,” Corcoran begins, “but just a note of caution that they haven’t played football in quite a while. The expectation level on them is to hit the ground running. But we have to respect that they have been away from the game for a few years.”
This time away poses selection questions for Corcoran and his management.
Use O'Connor from the off and hope he can last the hour or hold him in reserve for deployment as an impact substitution? And where to use him? Four years ago, he was deployed at full-back in a quarter-final man-marking job on Stacks’ Kieran Donaghy. Could O’Connor be the full-forward targetman for this latest quarter-final appearance if management don’t think there’s a full hour in him at midfield.
“It is a fantastic headache to have. As a management, it’s a headache we’d rather have than not have. Whatever we do, we do for Dingle’s best.”
What is far more clear-cut and requires no deliberation at all is the lift the 2015 All-Ireland minor winning captain has given to the Dingle set-up by the simple fact of being back on West Kerry soil. And as Corcoran explains, that “huge lift” stemming from his return home last weekend is not exclusively tied to what the 25-year-old offers inside the whitewash.
“The way Mark carries himself; he is a huge presence. When they come home, these guys love to play with their club. I am sure they would have loved to play with their club last year, but for different reasons they couldn’t. Mark was injured last year and as everyone knows he had got the all-clear to play with Kerry in 2020 but was in quarantine for the Cork defeat.
“Certainly, it gives the other players a massive lift to see them come into training. They lead by example. Mark would be first in the gate, first into the dressing-room, as he was on Tuesday for his first session back. That rubs off on the other players.”
Dingle have not been to the last four of the county championship since the 2018 season in which they reached the decider. For a line-up that includes Tom O’Sullivan, his namesake Barry, Geaneys Paul, Mikey, and Dylan, and Matthew Flaherty, there’s a sense this is a side that too often fails to maximise on the very obvious potential that is there.
“In 2018, you could say they performed very well and that is what got them to a county final. But obviously, they were beaten by Crokes. The age-profile of the guys that came out of minor in 2014 and 15, they are probably more experienced now than they were in 2018. Certainly, we have a lot of talented players and lads with a lot of experience. I hope that experience will stand to them on Saturday.
“After a disappointing club championship, we got a good start to the county championship by winning our first two games against Spa and Kerins O’Rahilly’s. We performed well the last day against East Kerry but didn’t come out the victors.
“I hope the graph is going up and will continue to go up because we’ll need a huge performance on Saturday.”