National League

Renewal of an age old rivalry in Croke Park

January 26th, 2016
by Weeshie Fogarty

And so it's a renewal of the age old rivalry in Croke Park next Saturday and while I can't talk for anyone else I certainly never get tired of a Kerry/ Dublin clash be in in league or championship and no doubt both sets of supporters will come out in force to see this re-run of the All-Ireland final under the Croke Park lights.  Both counties always seem to bring the best out of each other in headquarters but whether we like it or not Dublin have been the dominant force over the last number of years and by virtue of the fact that they are going for their 4th league title in a row bears this out in no uncertain fashion.

Minds will be cast back to that wet day in September when Dublin finished the stronger side to win the Sam Maguire and really until the teams are announced we will not know exactly how many of those players from last year's final will feature next Saturday.  Going for four-in-a-row  national league titles spell out one stark message; consistency of the highest order, and this is why Dublin in my opinion are again the favourites to retain that league title and also even at this early stage retain their All Ireland crown.  As always this league will separate the men from the boys as far as Eamon Fitzmaurice and his selectors are concerned. Dublin, Mayo, Cork, Monaghan, Roscommon, Donegal and finally Down will test the newer Kerry players to the fullest. However not alone will the younger guns, and we don't know just how many will be given their opportunity but the older players, those in their thirties and there are at least eight in that age bracket will be closely watched to see if father time has final caught up with a few.

Now I am not saying for one moment that because a player is over thirty that he career is finished, not by a long shot, I am on the road too long for that and have seen some great players in this older age bracket, but in to-days game, all about movement and defenders even corner backs joining in attacks it is crucial that every player from one to fifteen is equally fit, completely free from injury and I will even go as far as to say as the league commences a number of players were playing with injuries last year.  So there are some big calls ahead for the management team in relation to persevering with young talent coming through. The big trial for the men on the line in particular this year, mixing youth with experience.  I was at the game against Tipperary last Sunday week in Tipp Town and while there was nothing at stake it was a good run out for the players.

Killian Young was in superb form and South Kerry's run in the county championship seems to have brought him on a ton and especially as he is now completely injury free, he might well prove to be the lynch pin of our defence this year. Fionn Fitzgerald appeared to be returning back to his best form, Paul Murphy will start of course against the Dubs, and Podge o Connor will also start as will Brendan Kealy in goal. Brian o Beaglaoich is settling in nicely in the corner and its games like next Saturday that will help him and others develop and gain that senior experience that only Croke Park can give. I still believe Tommy Walsh should be groomed from the start for the full forward position, Kieran Donaghy will probably also be back and then David Moran, Johnny Buckley and Anthony Maher will swap the mid field pairings as the league folds.

Kerry was the last side to win four-in –a –row league titles, 1971-72-73-74, a truly remarkable achievement back then. Now many of the players who won the All-Ireland under 21 titles in 1973 and '75 and lost the '72 final were the back bone of those wins. That league experiences gained by names such as Mickey Ned o Sullivan, Mickey Sheehy, Paudie o Se, Tim Kennelly, John Egan Ogie Moran Sean Walsh, Pat Spillane and Paudie Lynch was a massive learning curve for all those young players and while they did not win a senior All Ireland in those four years Mick o Dwyer had them at his disposal for the start of the golden years in 1975.  So I pose the question, was it those league wins and the introduction and experienced gained by those young players in those league games which was the direct result of Kerry's total dominance in the years that followed under Mick o Dwyer. The answer appears obvious to me.

So just how valuable can this league be for Kerry? Have we the fresh young players to throw into the fray and test their mettle against who we face in the league. Of course we have but we don't know are they good enough that is the big question. A question that can only be answered by giving youth its chance backed up with the experienced players. Those two All-Ireland minor wins must be of massive encouragement to all involved.  Young proven Kerry men such as Killian Spillane, Jamie o Sullivan, Cormac Coffey, Marc o Connor, Gavin Crowley, Tom o Sullivan, Connor Keane, Connor Cox, Jack Savage, Philip o Connor, Alan Fitzgerald and others deserved their opportunity.  Barry John Keane, Darren o Sullivan, Jonathan Lyne, Aidan o Mahoney will also be available for the Dublin game so the selectors will have a wide enough pick.

Leagues are for playing in; championships are for winning, Barry John Kean's late great grandfather John Dowling remarked to me one time. Dublin have won their last three meetings with Kerry, a win for Eamon Fitzmaurice men would be a massive boost and set the template for the remaining games, a good start is definetly half the battle. I don't rule out a win because there is never much between these two greats of the game.

These upcoming seven league games will be a vital learning process for Kerry, Templenoe and St Marys players will also come into the mix and its turning out to be a pretty big mix of players. Now it's over to the selectors to decide what rout they intend to follow.  Youth and experience, league performance, return of injured players, seven league matches, all focussed on one thing, assembling the best panel without fear or favour for the All-Ireland series. It begins next Saturday.

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom