The reason Dublin remain undisputed No 1 in football’s spring power rankings? Because at a stage of the season when other squads are in various states of dishevelment, the All-Ireland champions have better numbers through 16-30 than anyone else. And that matters.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice will take succour from the fact that when he gets players off injured reserve, up to speed, and back from Kerry U21 duty, his 30-man squad will compare favourably with most others.
For the moment though, the trick is nipping and tucking his way to as many Allianz League points as possible. How’s he doing so far? Not good in terms of points on the board. In terms of project players for the summer ahead? Well, tomorrow in Newry might help to inform that process.
Legion’s Podge O’Connor, Alan Fitzgerald of Castlegregory, and St Mary’s Aidan Walsh will have some more edges knocked off them tomorrow in an environment that will feel like a bear-pit at times.
Fitzmaurice was asked this week about the state of the Kingdom’s production line, but he took the question to an area of qualification more than quality.
“You are not a Kerry player really until you have played, and played well, in Championship. Everyone really needs to strive for that level. Our criteria is, ‘Is he one of the best 30 players in Kerry at the moment?’ And if we think so, it doesn’t matter whether they are 19 or 35, they will be part of our plans.”
Kerry’s one-strike-and-out efforts at U21 level in recent seasons will bite Fitzmaurice in terms of exposure to high-pressure game situations. “Their shop window has been quite narrow,” said Fitzmaurice, “but with the crop there this year, you’d be hoping they’ll have a bit of success, or that they might go all the way.”
The U21s, by the by, entertain Tipperary, last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists, in Tralee on March 9 in the Munster Championship. Hardly a gimme. Neither is tomorrow’s clash with fellow cellar-dwellers Down.
“A four-pointer,” accepts Fitzmaurice. “They’re in the same situation as us, so there will be an air of desperation about both teams to try and get two points on the board. But I wouldn’t be worried about relegation just yet. in 2013 we lost the first four games and stayed up with six points. This weekend should be instructive though. Mayo are playing Donegal and they are also looking for their first points.”
While there were mitigating circumstances in the games, the loss to Roscommon was as damaging as it was frustrating. Tasked with getting the job done, management and players flunked their tests.
“We all need to get it right Sunday and if two or three (younger lads) step up, it strengthens your hand for the championship. In 2014 and for a lot of last year we had a very competitive championship squad and we weren’t afraid to give fellas debuts. I’d see it the same this year.
“At times it can be a bit frustrating because, in the short term, we still have to go and win this game at the weekend in Newry. We are very much a work in progress, our chemistry isn’t where you’d need it to be. It’s too early to be judging any individual players.”
“Tommy Walsh doesn’t get a start tomorrow, nor does Colm Cooper, though both are on the bench. Colm is fine after his (shoulder) procedure. He could do with a bit of ball but everyone’s football has been hampered the last couple of weeks. After Roscommon, our plan was to play a lot of ball but it just didn’t materialise.”
KERRY (Allianz FL v Down):
B Kealy; M Ó Sé, M Griffin, S Enright; P. O’Connor, A. O’Mahony, F Fitzgerald; D Moran, B Sheehan; A. Walsh, P. Murphy, D Walsh; Darran O’Sullivan, A. Fitzgerald, S. O’Brien.
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