Cork v Kerry Tonight: Pairc Ui Rinn, 7.30pm
Overrun last March, narrowly edged out the two years previous, humiliated in the spring of 2009 and ’11 and dare we mention the 2010 Munster final defeat by Tipperary on home soil.
There is simply no dressing it up, the recent output from Kerry’s U21 production line has been nothing short of abysmal.
The latest bunch to don the green and gold head east along the N40 this evening, bidding to move a step closer to ending the county’s seven-year wait for provincial honours.
Blocking their path once more is Cork — the Rebels having nudged Kerry through the trap door every spring since 2011.
Hardly an acceptable run of results for a county of such tradition, but as Mike Quirke pointed out earlier this year, success has never been linear as far as Kerry were concerned
“In 2011, our U21 side were beaten by Cork. They were seen as one of the worst U21 teams that ever came out of the county,” he recalled. “Between last year’s All-Ireland senior semi-final and final, nine of that team featured. This was the same team beaten by 22 points by Cork. Three years later, they were All Star recipients and James O’Donoghue was footballer of the year.”
Kerry selector John Shanahan insists past failures carry no relevance this evening.
“Certainly in our camp there has been no talk of those past defeats,” he asserted.
“Our motto on records is they are there to be broken. You play for the present. You don’t play for the past, you don’t play motivated on the past. I don’t know any team or management that focuses on the past. This group of players is about the present. Hoping we get the break of the ball and the rub of the green, you never know what might happen and the past will be history just like it always is down here.”
One noticeable difference to previous campaigns is this current Kerry crop is packed with All-Ireland minor-medal winners, manager Darragh Ó Sé handing a first U21 start to six of last year’s all-conquering team.
“They are still very young so it is hard to know how they will handle the step up. This age group covers 19, 20 and 21-year-olds and what you are hoping for is that their overall development won’t happen in just one year.
“If they deliver silverware, great. Any bit of success is always welcomed, but you are building a team for the future. Their overall development is most important to us, that they are maturing as Kerry footballers they way we want them to mature and gelling as a team.
“It is next year and the year after, when these lads straight out of minor have had more experience at U21 level, that we would hope to reap the fruits of that squad.”
Greater expectation, perhaps, by comparison with previous years such is the giddiness surrounding the potential of Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Barry O’Sullivan, Matthew O’Flaherty and Michael Burns.
“You can’t wrap up expectation in this county, that’s our biggest problem.
“The overall development of the player and to make sure we are progressing them in the right way as a Kerry footballer, that is most important. Success is obviously important too. That bites the man for more hunger. You get a taste for success, as our minors did last year, and inevitably they are hungry for more.
“We would be hoping this year is the start of something at U21 level for Kerry, that over the next two to three years we could really progress down the road.” Not content to centre their entire championship preparations on a handful of challenge games, Kerry were successful in seeking entry to the Hastings Cup.
“I feel myself the ratio of training to games isn’t properly balanced. That is solely because the games aren’t there for U21’s. Lads want to play football, they don’t want to be training.
“Our participation in the Hastings Cup meant we were getting competitive games over five successive weekends. It meant the panel were travelling together on match days, allowing them to bond as a group. We are tighter as a group because of the Hastings Cup, no question about it.”
Shanahan added: “We haven’t played a championship game, Cork have. Hastings Cup was, at the end of the day, only league. That is going to stand to Cork. They were able to experiment in a championship situation and have had time to tweak where they saw fit. We won’t know where we are until our lads cross the white line tomorrow and the ball is throw-in.”
CORK (U21FC v Kerry): M Martin (Nemo Rangers); M McSweeney (Newcestown), J Davis (Douglas), S Cronin (Nemo Rangers); T O’Rourke (Carbery Rangers), S White (Clonakilty), K Crowley (Millstreet); A O’Donovan (Nemo Rangers), D Murphy (Valley Rovers); B O’Driscoll (Tadhg Mac Cárthaigh), K Davis (O’Donovan Rossa), R Harkin (Mallow); C Vaughan (Iveleary), P Kelleher (Kilmichael), S O’Donoghue (Inniscarra).
Subs: A Casey (Kiskeam), D Quinn (St Finbarr’s), K Cremin (Boherbue), C Kiely (Ballincollig), D O’Callaghan (Clyda Rovers), C Hyde (Naomh Abán), C Horgan (Nemo Rangers), C McIntyre (Carrigaline), M Hurley (Castlehaven).
KERRY (U21 v Cork): S Ryan (Rathmore); C Coffey (Kerins O’Rahillys), G Crowley (Templenoe), B Ó Beaglaoich (Gaeltacht); R Murphy (Beaufort), D Daly (St Mary’s), C Ó Lúing (Gaeltacht); J Barry Na Gaeil), B O’Sullivan (Dingle); B Crowley (Templenoe), J Savage (Kerins O’Rahillys), M Burns (Dr Crokes); M Flaherty (Dingle), D Roche (Glenflesk), C Keane (Legion).
Subs: D O’Shea (Ballydonoghue), C Murphy (Rathmore), G Horan (Austin Stacks), C Jordan (Austin Stacks), G O’Sullivan (Listry), K McCarthy (Kilcummin), E Ó Conchúir (Gaeltacht), D Maher (Kilcummin), L Carey (Beaufort).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved