We’re back in National League action this evening, in what’s an eagerly anticipated clash between the top two teams in Division One this year. It’s Kerry we’re up against at Austin Stack Park in Tralee (throw-in 7.30pm), the match is live on RTÉ2 and Kildare’s Brendan Cawley is the ref.
It would be tempting to ascribe – as many have done – too much importance to tonight’s meeting. While it’s a useful sense-check for both teams to assess how they’re moving, no definitive conclusions can or should be drawn from how this game pans out.
This is, after all, just a League clash between two teams who have already done enough to retain their Division One status and whose ambitions in this competition will be – as they must – secondary to their preparations for the Championship. While the League throws up plenty of good contests between evenly-matched teams, ultimately everyone’s eyes are still fixed on the main prize they’ll be fighting for later in the summer. So, while this game matters in terms of our respective standings in the Division One table – and our respective prospects of making the final – that’s solely the extent to which it does.
From our perspective, it’s another test for us, in a campaign where we have somehow managed – having not been playing all that well for the most part – to stay unbeaten after four rounds. Our late comeback the last day enabled us to put an end to Armagh’s unbeaten run and now we get a chance to inflict a first defeat to Kerry this spring.
Although we both sit on seven points, Kerry can lay stronger claims than us to be the form team so far this year. We’ve both beaten Dublin and Monaghan but they did so with greater ease and they also thumped a Donegal team that really should have beaten us in the opening round.
While we could easily have found ourselves pitching up at Austin Stack Park tonight with only a point or two in the bag after five rounds, Kerry are full value for the seven points they have on the board coming into this game. Jack O’Connor’s team may still be a work in progress – aren’t we all? – but they’re moving well and their highly-vaunted attack hasn’t found it overly difficult to run up winning scores.
The loss of Seánie O’Shea tonight is a significant, though far from fatal, blow to Kerry’s chances. With the likes of Moynihan, the two Cliffords and Geaney in their attack, the home team still have plenty of offensive options at their disposal.
From our point of view, Rob Hennelly’s return is important and you’d imagine the Breaffy ‘keeper will be looking to find clubmates Aidan O’Shea’s (who makes his first start of the year tonight) and Mattie Ruane with his restarts. With the likes of Stephen Coen, Oisín Mullin, Jordan Flynn and Diarmuid O’Connor also providing a physical presence for us in the middle third, I’d expect we’ll be looking to exploit an element of weakness in Kerry’s ranks around the middle and turn it to our advantage.
Meetings between these two counties over the last decade have tended to be close affairs and, more often than not, have turned out to be fiercely contested. Tonight’s game could well – if the inclement weather doesn’t make a total hames of proceedings – produce another contest in the same vein.
For us, getting a result from this one would, of course, be great. so far this year we’ve moved on with a sense of purpose from last year, all the while putting distance between ourselves and our ghastly implosion last September. It’s important that we continue to progress down that road and a win tonight would definitely represent further progress for us.
Safe travelling to all who are heading to this evening’s game. For those club members who can’t make it, we’ll be providing some colour from Tralee on Discord and, of course, we’ll have our Final Whistle podcast out soon after the match has sounded at Austin Stack Park.
Right, time to get ready to hit the road south. Soon after that it’ll be time to head to the ground to watch the lads take on their main rivals in this year’s Division One.
Here’s to another positive result for us, here’s to making further progress towards a place in the final. Let’s get to it. Up Mayo.