The Championship

Kerry can move closer to three in-a-row with win over Derry

Derry minor Ben McKinless is developing into a top quality goalkeeper  
Padraig Kelly

All-Ireland Minor Football Championship quarter-final: Derry v Kerry (Sunday, Croke Park, 12pm)

HEADING into the 2014 season, a number of articles appeared in various media outlets discussing the anomaly that was the Kerry minor footballers.

The Kingdom continued to compete and conquer at senior level, but that was all achieved without a noticeable production line as a Kerry man hadn’t lifted the Tom Markham Cup since Jack Ferriter had that honour back in 1994. Rather than add to the mystery, the Kerry team of two years ago took on all before them and the county hasn’t looked back since as they prepare to take on Derry in Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park.

Two All-Irelands and three Munster titles have them currently on a 15-game winning streak, with 14 of those games won by four points or more. It would be flippant and disrespectful to previous efforts to suggest Kerry just decided to go for it at this level. One area that has had an undeniable impact has been the county’s performance at schools’ level. Between that 1995-2013 winless phase, the Hogan Cup headed back to the Kingdom twice. Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne and St Brendan’s have shared the last three between them.

That makes Sunday’s clash all the more interesting as they are facing a team bolstered by the other recent heavyweight of schools’ football - St Patrick’s, Maghera. The Oak Leaf school’s presence on this current team isn’t as great as the last few years, but Odhran McKeever, Shea Downey, Paddy Quigg and Oisin McWilliams all played in April’s Hogan Cup final loss to St Brendan’s and they will be keen to get their revenge.

Those players will remember David Clifford’s sensational showing that day and he has carried that form into the inter-county season. The Fossa man has grabbed 1-14 in three games, 1-8 from play, and he has dove-tailed very well with Kerry captain Sean O’Shea in particular.

Derry faced a similar threat in the Ulster final, when Donegal’s Niall O’Donnell was flagged up as a major threat, but they failed to curtail him. O’Donnell really came to prominence when he moved from full-forward to centre half-forward and Clifford also likes to switch between those two positions. When he’s beside the goal, Derry boss Damian McErlain will likely hand the task of nullifying him to the very talented Gearoid McLaughlin and the Kilrea man may be asked to follow Clifford wherever he goes. 

Although Kerry are undoubted favourites for this contest, this is by no means a fire-fighting exercise for the Ulster side and they have the quality to cause real problems. That is evident from the very back as, in Ben McKinless, they have a goalkeeper who looks destined for an excellent future in the game. Although the Ballinderry man is noted for his shot-stopping, his distribution in the provincial final loss suggests he is developing into a fine all-rounder.

Midfield pairing McWilliams and Patrick Coney were the chief benefactors of that passing and they really proved their worth against a heralded Tir Chonaill central partnership. In attack, Caolan Devlin (1-13), Feargal Higgins (0-8) and Eoghan Bradley (0-3) will carry their main scoring threat. Another positive for McErlain is that substitutes have contributed nine points off the bench across their three games. Two of those came from Lorcan McWilliams and he may be back in contention, having missed the Donegal game through injury.

When these two counties met in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, Derry were able to contain Kerry for long periods, but that came at the expense of playing their own game. While curtailing the likes of Clifford, O’Shea and the lively Dara Moynihan is crucial to their hopes, they must strike the right balance to ensure they can make Kerry worry about them too.

It looks an extremely difficult task though. When Derry dominated the opening quarter against Donegal, they posted four points when they really should have had six or seven. On Sunday, every chance needs to be gobbled up against Peter Keane’s side. The most likely outcome though is that Kerry will end their hopes for the second successive year.

The Kingdom are determined to secure their second ever three in-a-row at this level, having last achieved that between 1931 and '33. A lot needs to happen between now and then for that to come to fruition, but they should move a step closer with 16th straight win.

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The Championship