Okay, we’ve had our weekend off and now the focus is firmly fixed on Tralee this coming Saturday night. There, at Austin Stack Park, Kerry host Mayo in a top of the table National League Division One match, which throws in at 7.30pm. The match will be broadcast live on RTÉ2 and Kildare’s Brendan Cawley is the ref for it.
We always seem to eye League trips to Kerry with a significant degree of caution but our spring record against them down there belies such pusillanimity. Our recent record there is excellent, with wins in Tralee the last two times we played there, in 2019 (on our way to the League title) and also in 2017.
Before that, we beat them in Killarney in 2015, drew with them in Tralee in 2012 and beat them in Tralee in 2010. You have to go back to March 2009, all of thirteen seasons ago, to find our most recent League defeat to them on their turf. Aidan O’Shea, a substitute for Alan Dillon, is the only current player to have featured for us in that game.
We lost to them in Killarney, of course, on a scorching hot day in the Championship in 2019. That, though, was one of those daft Super Eight matches, a game we knew we didn’t really have to come out on top in while they knew they simply had to win. And win they did but both of us ended up getting out of the group and both of us eventually met our end at Dublin’s hands that summer.
But that was then – what have the Kingdom been up to since?
Last year, with Peter Keane still in charge, they had a positive League campaign, sharing the Division One spoils with Dublin, before cantering through Munster in the Championship and then coming unstuck against Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final.
In the League they were in Division One South last year, along with Dublin, Galway and Roscommon. They hammered Galway by a chastening 22 points in the opening round before drawing a rather madcap second round match against Dublin. They then had a comfortable seven-point win over Roscommon to qualify for the Division One semi-final.
That was the game in which they banged six goals past Tyrone, a result that, despite Peter Keane’s best efforts to downplay the size of his team’s 16-point win (by proclaiming that, the goals aside, there was nothing between the sides), placed Kerry on a pedestal. It was also a result that came back to haunt them badly a few months later.
Kerry’s standing as the team that might finally down the Dubs was given further lustre by the manner in which they breezed through Munster. Seventeen points to spare over Clare, eleven over Tipperary and a yawning 22 over Cork, Kerry reached the All-Ireland semi-final completely untested.
Tyrone – unable to play on the appointed date due to a Covid outbreak in the camp – sensationally got the better of Kerry, however, in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final. I was at that game and it was great fun altogether, not least from our perspective. Having beaten Dublin, we now wouldn’t have to take on Kerry in the final. But then Tyrone outfoxed us as well and suddenly it didn’t seem so amusing at all.
The Kingdom’s defeat to Tyrone ultimately cost Peter Keane his job, with Jack O’Connor back this year for a third stint in charge. A tenure with one thing and one thing alone on the agenda – a first All-Ireland victory for Kerry since 2014.
As Dublin’s descent from dominance has turned into a freefall slump this spring, Kerry’s star under O’Connor continues to rise. Like us, they are unbeaten in Division One after four matches and they come into Saturday night top of the table on points difference.
Like us, Kerry drew their opening round game in this year’s League. That was, ironically, against Kildare – where O’Connor was manager until he got the siren call from down south – with the Lilies fighting back late to claim a stirring share of the spoils.
Kerry got their first win in the second round, beating Dublin by seven points in Tralee. Another home game followed, this time in Killarney, where they beat a hugely disappointing Donegal by nine points. The trip to Iniskeen to play Monaghan last time out had the making of a tricky encounter but they came away from that one with an eight-point win, thanks in no small part to Rory Beggan’s wanderings away from his goal line, which was the root cause of each of Kerry’s three goals in that game.
Now they’re back on home turf on Saturday night, where doubtless they’ll be eager to demonstrate to us what our respective places are in the current pecking order. As, I’ve no doubt, we will too.
Kerry, despite that poor recent record against us, will be favourites to extend their unbeaten run further and, in the process, take a step closer to the League final. We’ll travel south with a fair bit of understated confidence, however, knowing that we’ve managed to get under their skin more than once in recent years and doing what we can to do so again under the lights on Saturday night.
So, then, how do you think we’ll fare out in Tralee the next night? Let’s finish with a vote on that.
How will we fare out against Kerry?
- Win (46%, 422 Votes)
- Lose (35%, 324 Votes)
- Draw (19%, 177 Votes)
Total Voters: 923