| 18.5°C Dublin

new favourites Kerry are fuelled by hurt as they look to end Dublin's era of dominance

Shock loss to Cork last year and 2019 heartache driving Kingdom onwards

Close

Kerry players celebrate with the cup after the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Kerry and Cork at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney

Kerry players celebrate with the cup after the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Kerry and Cork at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney

Kerry players celebrate with the cup after the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Kerry and Cork at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney

I’ve been scratching my head all week. Back in November, after Cork shocked Kerry in the Munster football semi-final, Joe Brolly, Diarmuid Connolly, Marc Ó Sé and, indeed, much of social media went to town on yours truly. Why? Because I predicted that the Kingdom would win the match easily.

I wrote in these pages that Kerry would coast home in the meeting of the teams in 2021 – I am waiting for all those people to now acknowledge that I got it spot on this year. I suspect I’ll be waiting a long time for nice words of congratulations from any of them.

Last year’s Cork-Kerry result was a fluke. In horse-racing terms, it was Devon Loch and Foinavon combined, it was never going to happen again.

Do you know why? Because Cork’s senior footballers are no longer a top-tier team. They haven’t been in Division One of the league for years. They even spent time down in Division Three, and the fact that Mark Collins is the only current Cork player with a Munster senior medal says it all.

Innocent

Cork were innocent in defence last week, they tried to man-mark Kerry.

There are so many statistics from the match that damn Cork. Here’s just two. From the 17th minute to the final whistle, they were outscored 4-17 to 0-4. That’s a 25-point hammering.

And, in the second half, they converted only two of their 11 attempts at scores. That’s a scoring return of 18 per cent. And, even worse, than any stat, Cork threw in the towel.

Close

Paudie Clifford powers forward against Cork at Fitzgerald Stadium last Sunday.

Paudie Clifford powers forward against Cork at Fitzgerald Stadium last Sunday.

Paudie Clifford powers forward against Cork at Fitzgerald Stadium last Sunday.

Last year, Cork prodded the Kerry bear and even stole the goodies from his lair. This year, Kerry were angry and hurting over that.

They’d been waiting nine months for this match and it all ended in the biggest-ever winning margin over Cork in a Munster championship match.

Of the teams left in the championship, Kerry not alone have the best attacking record, but, shock horror, the best defensive record, too. Now that will surprise a few people.

Hurt

So what’s different about Kerry this year and makes them serious contenders for the All-Ireland? Well, the first quality is hurt.

They were hurt by what happened in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last year and hurt by the knowledge that they blew a great chance to beat Dublin in the drawn All-Ireland final of 2019.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

Now that they’ve dealt with the first issue, they have to wait a while longer to see can they sort out the second. They may or may not get the chance.

Kerry are better this year because they are focusing on their strengths – they are playing front-foot football and they kicking the ball more.

Close

Dessie Farrell's Dublin team have been eclipsed by Kerry as favourites for this year's All-Ireland. Credit: Sportsfile

Dessie Farrell's Dublin team have been eclipsed by Kerry as favourites for this year's All-Ireland. Credit: Sportsfile

Dessie Farrell's Dublin team have been eclipsed by Kerry as favourites for this year's All-Ireland. Credit: Sportsfile

They now have impact subs, ala the Dubs. For too much of the last five or six seasons, Kerry had no impact from the bench. Now they have.

And, finally, there is their strength and conditioning. When Jason McGahan took over as the county’s S&C coach three years ago, he warned the county board that it would be a three-year project with the county team, that it would be only then that the work he was embarking on would pay off.

Close

Kerry strength & conditioning coach Jason McGahan.

Kerry strength & conditioning coach Jason McGahan.

Kerry strength & conditioning coach Jason McGahan.

Well, this is year three and I’ve never seen a Kerry team that is faster, fitter or stronger. They are in incredible shape.

Finally, the team is now more ruthless and clinical and going for goals.

In eight league and championship games last season, Kerry scored just six goals in total, and failed to find the net in three of them.

They have played seven matches so far this season and have scored 21 goals, raising at least one green flag in every game. That is the difference in a nutshell, Kerry are more ruthless.

But a bigger test awaits against the Ulster champions in the All-Ireland semi-final.

As for the Connacht final, I can only think of the words of Jesus as given to us in the Gospel of St Matthew: ‘Oh ye of little faith’. I now realise I was a bit premature in writing off this Mayo team, and not for the first time either.

Ruthless

Their second-half display in their match against Galway two weeks ago was superb, winning it 2-8 to 0-3.

Yes, they were just as ruthless as Kerry and the same hunger for victory was obvious from the men in green and red, too. They hunted for turnovers and took the game to Galway.

As for Galway, I think it is a case of the less said about the second half, the better. They know it wasn’t acceptable as their leaders disappeared and, just like Cork, the towel was thrown in all too early and easily.

A county wanting to break through to the top ranks of football has to start with their fitness levels – they must now be supremely fit.

Kerry and Mayo showed that in their wins. Never mind the football ability, that was added to pace and power.

Any inter-county football team thinking of ascending the ladder in 2022 has to start right there, with the fitness work. Or else they can forget it.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices


Privacy