We’re now only a few days away from this weekend’s NFL Round 6 clash with Kerry so it’s time to turn the focus in that direction. This fixture – which is already a sell-out but will be broadcast live by Eir Sport – takes place at Austin Stack Park in Tralee on Saturday night, where throw-in is 7pm. The match will be reffed by Fermanagh’s Niall Cullen.
We’ve seen plenty of Kerry in recent years, though our sole meeting with them last year – that NFL Round 2 fixture at Castlebar, which they won by three points – contrasts with the three matches we played them in back in 2017. That year we beat them in Tralee in the League and then played out those two enthralling All-Ireland semi-final matches against them in August, snatching a late, late equaliser the first day before eventually sweeping them away by five points in the replay.
But that was then. Since our last meeting a bit over a year ago Kerry played out an up-and-down League campaign, in which they ended up mid-table with six points, having won three and lost four of their Division One matches.
They went into last year’s spring campaign as the defending League champions but – in marked contrast to this year – they never really got going at all. Victories over Donegal and us were followed by defeats to Monaghan and Galway, after which they suffered a trimming in Croke Park against Dublin. A Round 6 win over Kildare ensured that relegation wouldn’t be a concern to them going into the last round but it was just as well, as they lost that day too, going under to Tyrone in Omagh.
By contrast, the Munster Championship – now, sadly, as moribund these days as its Leinster equivalent – was a doddle for them. Clare were swatted aside by 0-32 to 0-10 in the semi-final before Cork were ruthlessly dispatched by 3-18 to 2-14 in the final. It was Kerry’s sixth Munster crown in a row, their 80th in total.
Having such an easy passage into the All-Ireland Series can, however, be a drawback. Galway looked way more up for the battle when the two counties met in Phase 1 of the Super 8s at Croke Park last July, the Tribesmen eventually recording their first Championship win over Kerry since the Sixties, coming out on top by 1-13 to 1-10.
Monaghan came close to finishing Kerry off a week later in Clones. But for a late virtuoso goal by David Clifford, the Farneymen would have made history by beating Kerry for the first time ever in the Championship. That late goal saw the game finish in a 1-17 apiece stalemate.
This meant Kerry went into Phase 3 with their Championship destiny out of their hands. They needed Galway to beat Monaghan to ensure that their victory over Kildare in Killarney would send them into the semi-finals. Kerry beat Kildare alright – in a 3-25 to 2-16 shootout – but Monaghan’s win in Pearse Stadium meant that the Kingdom were out, in the process becoming the first ever county to exit the Championship with a win.
Kerry’s Super 8 elimination meant that, for only the third time since 2000, the county failed to make it to the final four in the Championship. It was little surprise, then, when Eamon Fitzmaurice announced straight after the Kildare match that he was stepping down as manager. His departure was followed in time by several of the old guard, Kieran Donaghy, Darran O’Sullivan, Donnchadh Walsh and Anthony Maher among them.
This meant that new boss – the former All-Ireland Minor winning manager Peter Keane – had no option but to go with youth this year. You’d have to admit that it’s a policy which, so far at least, is working well.
With Kerry legend Maurice Fitzgerald as well as Donie Buckley – a man whose talents we can all attest to and who contributed so much to us while he was in our camp in recent years – in his backroom team, Peter Keane’s young Kerry side have blazed an impressive trail in this year’s League campaign.
Five wins from five leave Kerry on top of the table, already all but guaranteed of a place in the Division One decider at the end of the month. Dublin are their likely opponents there but if we manage to pull off an improbable win the next night in Tralee and then follow that up with a victory over Monaghan in the final round we could be in the shake-up for a final place ourselves.
Kerry’s 100% record in this year’s League comprises wins over Tyrone in Killarney (0-11 to 0-7), Cavan in Breffni Park (0-16 to 0-13), Dublin in Tralee (1-18 to 2-14), Galway in Tuam (0-14 to 1-10) and Monaghan back at Fitzgerald Stadium (0-17 to 0-13). Two wins by four points, another one by three and two by a single point – none of these were big margin wins but they were all wins and it’s perhaps more impressive that such a fresh-faced line-up has proven itself capable of grinding out results in close matches week after week.
Which, I guess, underlines the nature of the task facing our lads at Austin Stack Park on Saturday night. Having gone under in deflating circumstances to Dublin and then to Galway in the previous two rounds, the gloss from those opening two wins – over Roscommon and Tyrone – has certainly dulled significantly.
The bookies view this one as a home team banker, with Paddy Power pricing Kerry at 4/9 to prevail. What do you think of them apples? Let’s end with a vote to see what the mood is on our side of the fence for the trip south this weekend.
How will we do against Kerry?
- Lose (53%, 314 Votes)
- Win (36%, 212 Votes)
- Draw (11%, 65 Votes)
Total Voters: 591
Looking for tickets for the match in Tralee, with overnight accommodation there too? Play the Mayo GAA Lotto this week – details here.