Kerry face Westmeath in the Qualifiers

July 3rd, 2012
by Weeshie Fogarty

What significant has May 11th 1969 in relation to Kerrys forthcoming trip to Cusack Park to take on Westmeath in the qualifiers. Well to the best of my knowledge it was the only time the two counties have met in a competitive league or championship game. Kerry won that league semi-final in Croke Park 2-12 to 2-8. Indeed I have vivid memories of the match as I was in the dug out that day as substitute goalkeeper to my club mate Johnny Culloty. Brendan Lynch with 1-4 and Pat Griffin with 1-1 were the top Kerry scorers.  Kerry went on to win the All ireland that year.

This is in my opinion a fairly good draw for Jack o Connor and his men. A far worst draw would have been away to Roscommon, Armagh, Kildare or Tyrone. Westmeath lost to Louth in the championship but had a comfortable enough win over the same opposition last Sunday. The Leinster  men of course will be an awkward enough assignment and Kerry will treat them with the utmost respect.  They  are a county who will expect to win, make no mistake about that, and why not as they have contested three All Ireland quarter finals in the recent past, 2001, 2004, 2006, so the mind set of followers who will literally pack Cusack Park will be the expectancy of seeing their side pushing their renowned visitors the proverbial limit. The also had a fairly good league in division beating Galway, Derry, Monaghan. The home venue is worth a few points and you can be full sure that the passionate home following will let the referee and visitors know in no uncertain terms exactly what their feelings are.

However the experience, determination, far higher skill levels and detailed preparations, I have been studying the boys in training, should definitely see Kerry advance. Westmeath's two most famous and experienced sons of recent years, both All Stars, goalkeeper Garry Connaghton and Dessie Doolan for so long their brilliant talisman have both left the panel. Names we will now hear about such as 19 year old mid fielded John Heslin, Doran Harte, Ger Egan and Kieran Gavin are now their main men. Kerry will tread warily, remember that near miss at home in Tralee on a wet evening in 2009, a penalty save by Diarmuid Murphy denied Sligo at the last minute. And a hard battle with Longford in Longford that same year resulted in a four point win for the Kingdom.

Qualifiers can take on a life of their own and the Kerry management have some big decisions to make. Will they stay loyal to the tried and trusted warriors of the last decade are will they begin some of the younger lads champing at the bit for action.  Shane Enright, Brian Maguire, Johnny Buckley, James o Donoghue, Barry John Keane, and Patrick Curtin are all ready and waiting. Meath's stunning win over Kildare last Sunday was a direct result of starting six under twenty one players while eight of the side were under twenty three. Their full back line were all under twenty one.  Will the Kerry selectors now begin to plan for the future including of course this year when it will take six wins to reclaim the All ireland crown. Irrespective what they decide I expect a Kerry win, but what we will watch out for most of all is a display of speed, direct football and a strong finish. In our last three big games, Dublin in last years final, Mayo in this years league semi final and Cork in the recent Munster final Kerry faded in all three in the closing quarter of the games. The home venue, massive vocal noise and a continuation of the monsoon like weather would spur on the Westmeath men but Kerry will out score them. That is the bottom line for me.   

There is something fascinating about next Sundays Munster Minor final as All Ireland champions Tipperary face Kerry. And the unusual fact is that this is the very first time Kerry face up to Tipperary when reigning champions. The boot is usually on the other foot. The first time Tipp won the All Ireland minor title away back in 1934 for some obscure reason Kerry failed to field a team in the following years Munster championship so a clash back then did not materialize. However Kerry are now facing a mammoth task as their opponents have won their last  eight minor championship games in a row , including of course last years successful campaign. And from their panel of thirty four players of last year eighteen are young enough this year. Tipp have already claimed the scalps of both Kerry and Cork, (after extra time), already this season. Two of their proven performers Ian Fahey and T J Ryan are back from injury and will likely be included. Fahey was brilliant against Cork when introduced and will probably partner Steven o Brien at mid field. Watch out for Philip Quirke, John McGrath, James Lonergan, Greg Henry and Colman Kennedy, all proven winners, hightly experienced and big men to booth.

I have seen three of Kerry's games so far; they began their campaign poorly but have shown improvement as the year unfolded. However the loss as a result of a hand injury of centre back Ronan Murphy may force changes in defence. We might see star full back Gavin Crowley moved out to number six or Jack Barry Na Gael start there, while Kieran Murphy and Eanna o Connor  are most likely to form the mid field partnership and their clash with Stephen o Brien and Ian Fahey will be decisive. Up front for Kerry, Jack Savage has been superb at number eleven while Connor Keane, Gavin o Shea and Cillian Fitzgerald are beautiful natural forwards. Seeing Dara o Se, An Gaeltaght in action for school and club I will be surprised if he is not started, however the selectors are building up a nice panel of players and I suspect next year is their main objective. Nevertheless with highly experienced men like Mickey Ned o Sullivan and John o Keeffe on the line one thing is certain, Tipperary will have to perform to their very best to send Kerry through the back door. A victory for Kerry would be absolutely massive, they are the underdogs, Tipp are hot favourites, and should win and they have a second All Ireland victory fully in their sights. But Kerry in a Munster final as under dogs will surly suit them down to the proverbial ground. For me however the one burning question is, just how far have Kerry improved since that loss to Tipperary (2-9 to 0-8) in Austin Stack Park in the opening round back in April. We will soon see.

Fogra; With the London Olympics just around the corner I will present a special Kerry Olympic Terrace talk two hour program next Monday on Radio Kerry, 6-8 pm. My special guests, all members of a very exclusive club will be Kerrys six Olympians, Paul Griffin, Cathal Moynihan, Sean Casey, Gerry Kiernan and the oldest hero of all Ardfert legend Tom o Riordan.  Their stories should make compulsive listening.

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