It’s another day closer to our All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry and so time to look in a bit more detail at what Sunday’s opponents have been getting up to over the last while.
While this is our seventh semi-final appearance in succession for Kerry it’s their fifth on the trot. Back in 2012 Donegal took them out in the quarters on their way to claiming Sam that September. Since then the Green and Gold were beaten by Dublin in the 2013 semi-final, won the All-Ireland in 2014, lost the final to Dublin in 2015 and lost again to Dublin last year, this time in the semi-final.
Kerry remain the only county to make it to at least the All-Ireland quarter-final stage every year since the current structure was put in place in 2001. While they never managed to come out on top in the championship against Tyrone in the first decade of the new century and have been fairly comprehensively eclipsed by Dublin this decade, they remain one of the most consistent and hardest to beat counties in the country. Their 37 All-Ireland titles confirm this.
Last August, Kerry came close to toppling Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final but the champions, via late points from O’Gara and Connolly, eventually wriggled clear to win by two. That semi-final defeat saw Kerry legends Marc Ó Sé, Aidan O’Mahony and Colm Cooper make their final championship appearances.
We saw early evidence this year of how Eamonn Fitzmaurice was planning to refresh his panel. New faces such as Jack Barry and Jack Savage did well for them in that League meeting down in Tralee in February and it’s no surprise to see Barry nail down a midfield place alongside David Moran in Kerry’s first fifteen this summer. Another newcomer, Kevin McCarthy, didn’t play that evening in Austin Stack Park but he has since established himself on the first fifteen.
But it’s not all change down South, far from it in fact. Indeed, if you compare the list of Kerry players who were involved in Limerick in 2014 with the current panel it’s basically most of the same lads. By my reckoning, 19 of the 24 players Kerry fielded that evening are still there – the exceptions being Marc Ó Sé, Aidan O’Mahony, Pa Kilkenny, Kieran O’Leary and Declan O’Sullivan (as well as Gooch, who was an unused sub at the Gaelic Grounds). Incidentally, we’ve roughly the same number of survivors from then as well.
Turning to how Kerry have got on this year, they’ve obviously been motoring well. After an up-and-down Division One campaign that saw them finish level on eight points with three other counties, ourselves included, scoring difference unexpectedly propelled them into second place in the table and into the final against Dublin.
They made the most of this development too, finally ending the Dubs long unbeaten record and recording a first win over them at Croke Park in quite a while, in the process garnering their first League title since 2009. Quite a nice day’s work.
Since then they’ve only played three times in the championship. Curiously, this summer we’ve also met all three counties they’ve beaten on their way to this year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
First up for them were Clare, with that meeting – like our Round 3A qualifier – taking place in Ennis. Kerry lost Donnchadh Walsh to a second yellow before the break that June day and they needed the injection of class off the bench from James O’Donoghue to see them home on a 1-18 to 1-12 scoreline.
We bettered that six-point margin of victory by a point when we met the Banner lads in the qualifiers the following month. How we fared in our games against Cork and Galway, however, was in marked contrast to the no-nonsense manner in which Kerry swatted both of them aside.
Cork were particularly abject in the Munster final, where Kerry didn’t really have to raise any kind of serious gallop in winning by 1-23 to 0-15. Galway and their lovely forwards ran at the Kingdom in Croke Park in the quarters and they should have done better in the process but the Munster champions were never in any danger of losing that one either, eventually emerging victorious on a scoreline of 1-18 to 0-13.
So, Kerry already have in the bank a League title and three routine championship wins from three outings this year. Little wonder, then, that this serene form sees them installed as 1/2 favourites to prevail on Sunday against a side that has already lost once and came damn close to losing again on three separate occasions in this campaign.
But, as they say, past performance is no guarantee of future success. Our battle-hardened troops will take the field on Sunday against the game’s aristocrats in fine fettle and with every confidence in their ability to get the job done. Let’s, then, finish with a poll on how you think this compelling showdown will go.
Will we conquer the Kingdom?
- Yes (75%, 845 Votes)
- No (25%, 281 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,126