KERRY’S search for more depth to their panel will continue with both League and Championship ambitions in mind, according to boss Jack O’Connor.
The Kingdom manager believes that limited options on their bench arguably cost them the All-Ireland Final against Dublin, noting:
“It’s an open secret we’re trying to find players, we maybe didn’t find enough players last year, and that came back to bite us in the end. So we’ll continue to give young lads a go, with a good share of experienced lads around them, that’s the template, it’s the only way you can go.”
While Dylan Casey was the only non-regular in defence against Monaghan on Sunday – and Tadhg Morley came off the bench for the final third of the game – Kerry’s attack looked much different. Ronan Buckley, Dylan Geaney, and Cillian Burke formed the half-forward line, with Conor Geaney at corner-forward.
Even though Burke scored a great goal, O’Connor still had to call on the Clifford brothers, David and Paudie, to see off Monaghan in Clones. David came on before half-time and scored the decisive second goal in the eventual 3-15 to 1-12 victory just before the hour mark. Paudie played the second half, scoring a point.
O’Connor insisted he did not have to push the Fossa pair into playing after a hectic 2023: “Well they’ve been back doing a bit of training for three weeks, we just looked at them during the week, and they were mad for road, straining at the leash, it’s great to have them back with the group.
“Paudie is captain, he wants to be with the lads, and David is just a great calming influence around the place, so delighted to have them back.”
In the short-term, O’Connor knows he’ll be forced into changes due to injuries accruing from the intense league schedule.
“Stephen O’Brien picked up a bit of a hamstring strain during the week. It’s hard to know, but you normally wouldn’t get over a hamstring in two weeks. We’ll see. We’ll look at him during the week.”
Killian Spillane missed out too with “a bit of an injury he just picked up since the last game, and in the last game [against Derry] Brian O Beaglaoich picks up a calf injury.
“Look, that’s the way it’s going to be. It’s very attritional. You saw I think Mayo lost two players in the first 20 minutes of the game [against Dublin].
“It’s a very competitive, tough league and people are going to get injured. That’s why we need a panel.”
At least he should have one more senior star back after the short break for the home game against Mayo on February 17.
New parenthood wasn’t the reason Paul Geaney sat out the Monaghan match, explained O’Connor:
“Paul Geaney should be back next week. He has a slight issue but he should be back in some shape or from next week. He might have some type of an issue with his back or something, but he’s not too bad. He’s been doing a bit on his own. We hope to see him next week.”
Without him and David Clifford in the starting line-up, Sean O’Shea was at the forefront of the attack and O’Connor was delighted with his display: “He is very sprightly this year, he seems to have a new lease of life. We’re playing him closer to goal and he’s really thriving on that, I thought he was sensational there in the second half.”
O’Connor was doubly pleased with the win, not just after losing their opener against Derry but because of Kerry’s struggles on their league travels last year:
“Particularly after losing last weekend at home, and we won no points on the road last year, lost four games on the road. So that was the big target, with three very tough games ahead of us in the next few weeks, with Mayo, Dublin, Tyrone, they will be tough going.”