Rested Kerry should have enough to advance
TWO years ago at Minor level in an All Ireland semi-final these counties met with Kerry very much in the top level of the minor revival that has brought with it the last four Tommy Markham Cups.
They beat the Lilywhites so comprehensively at 2-26 to 0-10 it’s easy to forget that Kildare actually led the match by 0-4 to 0-2 after 11 minutes. 0-13 that day came from David Clifford and Seán O’Shea as Kerry enter Saturday without the services of two of the players who were the focal point of that 2016 winning team.
Kildare have regathered themselves well from that particular drubbing as some new faces have brought them what was a pretty impressive win over Dublin with Jimmy Hyland scoring 0-8 which included six frees.
Kerry are not solely drawn on the 2016 Minor winning side themselves with Stefan Okunbor, Fiachra Clifford and Donal O’Sullivan coming to the fore so far in the campaign, Okunbor’s successful conversion thus far to the full-back line one of the main features of the Under 20s’ run thus far.
Clifford and O’Sullivan featured in the 2017 All-Ireland Minor win and the Laune Rangers man certainly hasn’t looked out of place in what he has brought to the set-up thus far with O’Sullivan continuing to build on a lot of the promise he showed last year in the Under 17 and Minor sides.
Brian Lonergan is new also in terms of the goalkeeping role appearing to have gotten the nod ahead of Deividas Uosis in starting both the Waterford and Cork games. Back to what we know from 2016, however, and, while David Shaw and Dara Moynihan continue to be the most recognisable names in the forward line-up, both Cormac Linnane and Bryan Sweeney have given glimpses of their potential with Diarmuid O’Connor transitioning to midfield from the wing-forward role he occupied two years ago at minor level.
It’s the half-back line that is the main reason Kerry are in another All-Ireland semi-final though with the amazing work Mike Breen, Graham O’Sullivan and Daniel O’Brien did in keeping Kerry in control of a game Cork looked like winning at various stages.
The impact from the bench has been more than effective as well with Brian Friel pushing hard for a starting place each and every time he performs. Indeed with Eddie Horan and Seán O’Leary proving that they have something to offer like they did against Cork it is quite the choice for the Kerry management in deciding on their six replacements when the need arises.
Tony Archibold was the Kildare goalscorer in their win over Dublin last Friday evening in Tullamore with Padraig
Nash and goalkeeper Aaron O’Neill other huge performers in their win as the latter did well to keep Dublin at bay in finding the net.
For those that were involved in the minor match two years ago, you can imagine a desire to make amends for falling victim to a Kerry masterclass will be a motivational factor although it isn’t quite the same Minor side Kildare are coming up against this time.
What we can judge Kerry on in the main in the Munster Final performance and they had the right answers when the questions were asked but they are stepping out to a different environment now somewhat in heading to All-Ireland level without the home comforts of Austin Stack Park.
The Gaelic Grounds is as good a venue as you could want from a Kerry perspective in terms of neutrality as the more open confines should suit them more than Cusack Park in Ennis did for the Under 21 side against Galway last year.
We’ve seen how much things can change from Minor level though in last year’s highly rated Under 21 side not living up to people’s expectations of All-Ireland success, the physical and footballing changes to players maturing from a developmental level such a big factor in that.
Should the pressure come on this Saturday though it feels like Kerry have the perfect antidote in the knowledge Jack O’Connor has gained about Kildare in the past year.
If Kerry do play to their strengths Kildare have to produce something as special as they did against Dublin to come out on top. The Lilywhites do possess the tools to trouble Kerry with their athletic and physical build but if Kerry can move the ball fast and find the space for their forwards to score then it should work in their favour.
This should be a lot closer than minor level, but Kerry should still have enough to call on if the need arises this Saturday afternoon.
Kerry midfielder Mark Ryan in action against Limerick during the Munster championship last month Photo by Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile