Kerry’s defence of their All-Ireland minor football crown has been hindered by a lack of competitive summer fare, according to Kingdom manager Jack O’Connor.
The reigning champions breezed into tomorrow’s semi- final by virtue of their 2-12 to 1-6 win over Sligo earlier this month.
A relative stroll too was their Munster final victory over Tipperary and what concerns O’Connor is that, in essence, they haven’t been properly tested since the mid-May extra-time triumph over Cork at Austin Stack Park.
Tomorrow’s opponents, on the other hand, have come through a series of searching assignments since comfortably dismissing Down in their opening bout, fending off the challenges of Donegal, Cavan and Longford — their greatest winning margin standing at three-points.
Advantage then to Derry? “Yes,” believes O’Connor, “Derry had a very close call in their last game against Longford and were in a bit of bother at half-time when they trailed by four-points. They were still behind with 15-minutes to go and they dug out the result, they actually kicked the last six points. They are a serious and a dogged team.
“The big win for Derry was over Donegal in the Ulster championship because Donegal were favourites for this competition before a ball was kicked. I was talking to lads who were telling me Donegal were better than they were this time last year. So for Derry to beat Donegal tells me they are a serious outfit and they have a very good team.
“They probably will have an edge in size with the likes of Conor Glass. Everybody knows about Conor, the Aussies have him under observation, and they have two other midfielders who are very big and are very mobile players. Then up front, Shane McGuigan is racking up big scores for them.
“The big game for us was the Cork game. I don’t think we’ve hit the heights since that we hit on that day because that was a serious Cork team. We had to be at our best that night to win that game. We feel we dipped our performance levels a bit against Sligo. I would only rate our performance against Sligo as six out of ten and no more.” The three-time All-Ireland winning senior manager expects the Ulster champions to adopt a defensive approach tomorrow and says Kerry must box clever in countering the mass wall of red shirts they’ll meet along the Derry 45m line.
“Their seniors are definitely very defensive and club football is the same up there. Sligo were defensive the last day so we hope the lads will have learned from that. Tipperary were also defensive in the Munster final and we coped with that so we are hoping because Croke Park is such a big pitch that we will still be able to find room there to move the ball smartly.
“Defensive systems demand you play clever football. You know kicking the ball away stupidly now is a kind of a cardinal sin because you might not get it back for a couple of minutes. So it’s about being clever, there are times you can kick it and there are times you have to carry the ball. Then there are times you’ve got to slip a hand-pass to a team-mate and maybe take it back and kick from further in. The modern game demands you are clever on the ball and that you are a good decision-maker which means the key is that you have training set-up in such a way that the players are forced to make decisions on the ball without having a lot of time or space. You can cope with it once you simulate in training, that’s the key to it.
“Good accurate kicking will always beat soloing or hand-passing. But it depends, because sometimes the space is not there to kick it. You must play it as you see it happening in front of you. You cannot go in with any pre-ordained ideas and bombard balls in on top of the full- forward because there might be two or three men marking him.”
Captain Mark O’Connor, having missed the Sligo game with tendonitis, is named on the bench here.
“He has trained away since the Sligo game and is training well. We are hoping he will be okay.”
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