FOLLOWING their outstanding display in the floodlit game in Croke Park which marked the inauguration of the 125th year celebrations, All-Ireland champions Tyrone looked a good bet to be involved in the concluding stages of the NFL.
But, with competition in the group so tight, no play-off games and losing Stephen O’Neill to injury, they were glad to finish mid table in Division One. Kerry’s opening round couldn’t compare in terms of the Croke Park glamour and glitz but, with Jack O’Connor back at the helm, they sent out a message of intent in their win over Donegal. And they achieved a tremendous level of consistency in their seven-games campaign which saw them qualify for tomorrow’s final in Croke Park with a match in hand.
It would not be entirely correct to suggest holders Derry qualified by default, because they had to beat Donegal in the last round to have any chance of being involved. Ultimately, however, they only managed it because Kerry put Galway out of contention by beating them convincingly in Tralee.
O’Connor and co-selectors Ger O’Keeffe and Eamonn Fitzmaurice have every reason to be pleased with progress to date. Getting to the final is something of a bonus, but the real satisfaction — as the manager pointed out in Croke Park this week — has been the strengthening of the panel.
O’Connor recognised that bringing in a few players and giving them plenty of game time was the key to building a foundation for the championship.
New Derry manager Damien Cassidy set himself a similar target, except that he introduced nine new players to his squad. And in a bid to maximise the potential of his available forwards, he engaged in a policy of rotation which saw Paddy Bradley — still their leading score-getter — left out for a few games. But perhaps the biggest change was to take Barry McGoldrick out of the half-forward line and plant him at centre-back, he excelled.
It’s not an easy game to predict, because it’s so early in the season and, more specifically, there are question marks about the fitness of a few players on either side, notably Fergal Doherty (outstanding for the northerners in last year’s victory in Parnell Park) and Colm Cooper.
However, based on the evidence of their more recent games, it’s clear that Kerry have more to offer in terms of greater stability and (still) a bigger scoring threat. So, in the expectation of seeing them perform to their potential and be further motivated by the desire to avenge last year’s defeat, I expect Jack O’Connor to be a winner for the third time in this competition.
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