JACK O’CONNOR’S immediate priority is not so much to try and take the Allianz NFL title from Derry on Sunday week as to build up the fitness levels of his squad in advance of their anticipated June 7 Munster SFC semi-final meeting with holders Cork in Killarney.
“We trained hard since the Dublin game and it showed at times against Galway,” he commented. “Our fitness was good. We’ll train hard again now, because when the league is over, there is the club championship for three or four weeks. We really won’t have a lot of time together before the championship — maybe just three weeks. So, we’ll have to do a bit of work now.”
The Kerry boss expects Declan O’Sullivan to be out of action for three or four weeks after pulling a hamstring on Sunday. Among the other players ruled out for the game, defender Pádraig Reidy is given a good chance of being fit for selection. Seamus Scanlon has an ankle ligament problem, both Marc Ó Sé and Aidan O’Shea have resumed light training, while Daniel Bohane has to cope with a recurring back problem.
Apart from going through the campaign unbeaten (something he hadn’t managed during his previous spell in charge), O’Connor is especially pleased he has achieved his stated objective of “freshening up” the panel.
“There is good competition for places. The boys can’t afford to slacken off because there is some other fellow after their slot. It’s been good so far. We just hope we can keep it going for another fortnight, get a nice bit of training under our belt and see how we get on against Derry then.
“We (management) take training very seriously. The way fellows are going determines how we pick the team. Darran O’Sullivan came on and played awfully well. He was like a fellow anxious to stake a claim — that’s the way we want it. We want fellows pushing the next fellow. That’s the only language fellows understand — is there a fellow after my spot or is there not?”
Ronan Ó Flatharta, who took over instead of Pádraig Reidy at the weekend, testifies to the competition for places. “Everyone is trying to get their own spot in the panel, not to mind the team,” he said. “Things are going well, it’s a good thing to have a big panel.”
Meanwhile, in welcoming the return to competitive action of Darragh Ó Sé, O’Connor said the fact that the Gaeltacht man is coming back late means he has a bit of catching up to do. “He’s knuckling down and working hard in training. He just needs a bit of football,” he commented.
Expressing a preference for Croke Park for the final, he is expecting a tougher test from Derry than they got in their third-round clash in Bellaghy, which Kerry won 0-12 to 0-10. “They will throw something different at us. We found it hard to break them down that day. Eoin Bradley only played for 20 minutes and Paddy Bradley wasn’t even playing. They’ll be a different proposition with those two boys.”
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