Kerry U21 selector Noel Kennelly does not feel the underdog tag means his side will approach tonight’s Munster U21FC quarter-final against Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn any differently than usual.
The visitors, seeking to stop Cork achieving a three-in-a-row of provincial titles, are rated as outsiders by the bookmakers but Kennelly, for whom the game is a first competitive engagement in a backroom role, believes that doesn’t remove any pressure.
“I don’t think that’d ever be the case,” he said.
“Any day you put on a Kerry jersey there is a pressure to perform. We mightn’t have had a good record at minor or U21 level in the past few years but there have been some close matches with Cork in that time, last year it went to extra-time and Cork got a goal which was crucial.
“Whenever Cork play Kerry it’s pretty much a 50-50 call and a game like this will always focus the mind. We saw last week with Dublin against Longford that you can’t afford to let your concentration drop and we’ll be making sure that doesn’t happen.”
Kennelly was appointed selector by new U21 manager Darragh Ó Sé upon his appointment last summer, and admits that it was an easy decision.
“When Darragh came to me last June or July, I suppose it was a big surprise in a way as I was still playing club football,” he said.
“I’d have a good relationship with Darragh from playing with him and once you’re asked to get involved with a Kerry team at any level you’ll be willing to give it a go.
“I talked it over with my wife as we have two young children and once I got the back-up from home it was great to be involved. For the second part of last year it was a case of watching matches in North Kerry and seeing what players were available and making sure that we were aware of everybody out there.
“It took a while to get used to it, though once we picked a panel and got together for collective training in January it was a bit easier.”
Since then, Sigerson Cup, Corn Uí Mhuirí and Allianz Football League commitments have made planning difficult for the U21 side. A defeat tonight would mean that their campaign would be over, but while Kennelly would like to see some kind of a back door in operation, he accepts that fitting in everything is difficult.
“You’d like if there was something that could be done,” he said.
“We came back in January and have basically been preparing for what could be one match, whoever loses will be finished for the year, which isn’t ideal.
“The longer you have with players, the better they can develop, but if the championship programme was extended over a longer period then it might lead to greater fixture headaches.”
In contrast to Kerry’s new management team, Cork boss John Cleary is embarking on his sixth season in charge, with three Munster wins and an All-Ireland claimed in his tenure to date.
While Cork have a large contingent of the side which beat Kerry in last year’s final in Tralee, the Castlehaven man feels that such facts should not be over-emphasises.
“It helps, but the key thing at this level is that young lads can maintain their form,” he said.
“Sometimes, for whatever reason, guys can go off the boil, and just because they were there last year doesn’t mean that they’ll be 100% successful this year, it’s not a given.”
That the clash with Kerry is a quarter-final game rather than later on in the championship does not concern Cleary, especially as it is a first outing for each team.
“The main thing is that it’s the same for both sides,” he said. “A couple of years ago, we played Kerry and they had a game under their belts, so at least this way neither team has an advantage.
“When we got the draw, we knew it’d be like this and we’ve focused on nothing else, it has all been geared towards this.”
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