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Daniel Spillane questions whether Kerry, a.k.a. the Kingdom, can go all the way this year.

As the final whistle blew at Fitzgerald Stadium yesterday afternoon, one small target had been reached for new Kerry maestro Eamonn FitzMaurice. The Kingdom had emphatically laid a marker for the season with a credible performance against a Tipperary team who had given them a potential scare 12 months previous in Thurles. But despite coming away from the match with such a vigorous win compared to a year previous, does this mean we are to witness a return to Glory and a 37th All Ireland title for the Kingdom?

Since their last All Ireland victory in 2009, every season following has been disastrous for Kerry for different reasons. 2010 saw Down defeat Jack O’Connor’s forces in the All Ireland Quarters in a surprise result, with Kerry having been in 6 All Ireland finals previous to the season. Dublin defeated Kerry in the All Ireland final of 2011 despite Kerry having one hand on Sam with 10 minutes to play, only for a comeback that no one saw coming. 2012 was very much a recovery season from a team who were clearly still reeling after having a Celtic Cross grabbed from their hands so surprisingly, they struggled through the Qualifiers only to be defeated by eventual Champions Donegal in the Quarter finals. With the news that Eamonn Fitzmaurice was to take over the management of the team during the off season, it was believed that 2013 was going to be a year of transition for the Finuge man and his forces.

This transition is evident given the amount of younger players that are now on the panel, and the fact that there are so many old faces still in the starting 15. Colm O’Rourke suggested to Seamus Moynihan during yesterdays “Sunday Game” that Fitzmaurice did not find enough talent to break through to the senior ranks for the future, and prior to yesterday’s game, one may have found it hard to argue with this: Aidan O’Mahony started at full back yesterday, despite having played more freely at centre and wing back during his peak years, maybe he doesn’t have the legs to play further up the pitch? The O’Sé brothers were also present as well as Paul Galvin and Declan O’Sullivan, and while they have more All Ireland medals between them than most of the teams they’ll play this year, their best years may be behind them. Regarding the youth on the panel, Fionn Fitzgerald and Peter Crowley were making their Championship debuts and the likes of James O’Donoghue and Johnny Buckley are not as experienced as their teammates, especially Tomas O’Sé, who made his 84th championship appearance yesterday.

The management had raises a few eyebrows around the county with their policy of training “behind closed doors”. The tradition of allowing the public to watch their inter county team training was always popular for GAA fans, especially for children who wished to watch their heroes training in advance of big matches. And while Fitzmaurice and new coach Cian O’Neill may have wanted to hide their plans from potential spies, it did not go down well with the Kingdom’s support base. In addition, what their supporters witnessed from Kerry in the league was immensely substandard, as they nearly got relegated from division 1 only for a strong finish against Tyrone in the final fixture. Fitzmaurice and his backroom staff had received some major criticism from analysts and fans alike with their approach. It seemed that before a ball was even kicked in the Championship, Kerry were destined for failure.

Roll forward to last Sunday, and things were quite different to what was expected. While Kerry were sometimes guilty of complacency with some loose passing, we can forgive them when playing against a team 3 divisions below them. There were so many positives to take out of this game, in every aspect of their play, with some great attacking and defending, and a new hunger and intensity could be seen in their work rate. Their defence was solid in their ability to smother any attacks without having to adopt a full blanket defence, and once possession was won back, every player endeavoured to move forward and help with the attack. Tomas O’Sé rolled back the years with some excellent attacking play and equally made some great tackles throughout the pitch. Kieran donaghy was used quite sparingly during the game, suggesting that a long high ball for him to contest will only be used as a “Plan B” for the season. The most noticeable change in approach during the game was the choice to play Colm Cooper at centre forward instead of the corner. “The Gooch” very much aspired to this more spacious role which allowed him to create more play than he usually would be able to in the full forward line. He was also frequently drifting into the centre of the pitch to win breaking ball from midfield, while also managing to account for 4 points on the scoreboard. This role could suit him for the season, he could easily take centre backs such as Graham Canty for a chase if he stays in constant movement during a game. One would have to wonder if he was to come up against an attacking back like Karl Lacey, and would he be as effective in his creativity while having to track back and defend on a regular basis. All of this was achieved with Darran O’Sullivan and Bryan Sheehan beginning on the bench, while David Moran and Paul Geaney are long term injury absentees for the season.

While it is important not to get carried away having defeated such a lacklustre Tipp outfit, Kerry fans cannot help but be optimistic about the season. Bar a massive shock or miracle on Saturday night coming, Kerry should account without much hassle for the challenge of Waterford, setting them up for a Home Munster final against Cork or Clare. Presuming that the rebels will advance to the decider, History would balance in the favour of the Kingdom, as Cork, despite having won impressively against Limerick last weekend, have not won in Killarney for a considerable amount of time. If this proves to be true, Kerry would advance to the quarter finals as Munster Champions thus avoiding Cork (as provincial losers) and other provincial champions who we assume will be Mayo, Donegal and Dublin. Winning the quarter final would bolster their momentum further and with such experience still prevalent in the panel, it could be quite possible that the final would not be out of their reach. To expect Kerry to win in Fitzmaurice’s first season would be asking a lot, but they seem to be on the right road.

Sport Is Everything. Daniel Spillane.

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