Colm Cooper has dismissed the theory that the success of Kerry’s senior footballers are papering over the cracks at underage level.
The Munster champions begin the defence of their title against Tipperary in Thurles on Sunday — the third year running they have opened their provincial campaign against the Premier County.
The counties also meet in next month’s Munster minor final but Kerry have already lost to Tipperary in the opening round and are expected to do so again.
With the U21s losing out to Cork in their provincial decider last month and concern about the conditioning of underage players, there are genuine fears about the future.
Coopers acknowledges things have been far from rosy at minor and U21 level and they should be competing better but said: “I don’t feel like we’re compensating, to be honest.
“We look at the underage structure and it hasn’t been too good. We haven’t won a minor since 1994.
“The U21s? Okay, we won one in 2008 but I suppose the only things that we can take from that is that we’ve had one or two guys coming into the squad every year.
“Even though they haven’t been winning All-Irelands, that’s all you really need, one or two or maybe three if you’re lucky, to come into the squad and integrate.
“I’m not too sure would I go as far as to say papering over the cracks. I definitely think it takes a while for a young fella to come through in Kerry into the senior set-up.”
Twice (2005 and ’08) Cooper has faced Tipperary in a Munster opener in Semple Stadium and twice Kerry’s winning margin has been double-digits, 15 in ’05 and 12 two years ago.
He maintains it’s a good time for Tipperary to face one of the “perceived big guns” because they haven’t played in weeks. But as for Tipperary’s underage success suggesting they might soon challenge Kerry and Cork at senior level in Munster? He isn’t so certain.
“In a county like Tipperary, hurling is probably going to be always number one. They’re going to be fighting a battle there,” he said.
“I think in counties like that, teams come along in cycles and you can be very, very strong for a couple of years and it might go back again a little bit. At the moment, Tipperary underage is higher than I’ve ever seen it. I could see them getting stronger but whether they can maintain that is the big question, I think.”
Even though, there is also the distraction of playing the curtain-raiser on Sunday, it’s the second successive occasion they’ve played lower on the bill (last month’s Kerry v Mayo Division 1 semi-final was the first of two games).
“Sometimes it’s a bit strange to come out and the stadiums are half-empty or nearly empty and playing in different surroundings than we’re used to.
“I think we’re around long enough now to be able to perform no matter if there are 100 people there or 50,000. It shouldn’t make that much of an impact.”
Cooper was delighted to see his former Kerry team-mate and friend Tommy Walsh mark his first Sydney Swans start in style on Saturday. but he reckoned his ties with Kerry were difficult to cut.
“I certainly know at times he found it difficult because he wanted to play. Every player wants to play. Sometimes in Ireland we’re a bit naive thinking Tommy Walsh has gone to Australia and you expect him to play.
“You ask yourself ‘why isn’t he playing?’ but it’s a long road to break into an AFL squad.
“I’m not too sure if there was an element of homesickness but certainly he missed home and playing for Kerry. He’s a lot of buddies with Kerry and a lot of club buddies in Kerins O’Rahillys so he probably missed that side of it.
“I’m not too sure if I ever thought he would come home. I actually feel he’s the perfect specimen to play out there. I always felt he was going to make it. Whether it would take one, two or three years I wasn’t too sure but I always felt he would so I didn’t see him coming back as much as I would have liked.”
Meanwhile Tipperary footballers have suffered a massive double blow ahead of next Sunday’s Munster SFC quarter-final clash against Kerry with forward pair Brian Mulvihill and Conor Sweeney both ruled out. Former team captain Mulvihill, 27, will miss out after having his appendix removed while Sweeney, 22, has suffered a dislocated shoulder.
Sweeney was injured against Clare in a challenge match last Thursday and his absence will be keenly felt, with talismanic forward Barry Grogan out for the season after heading to Boston for the summer.
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