The race for the 2018 Sam Maguire began in earnest last weekend with games in the three provinces but no action in Munster. That  Munster series gets underway tomorrow at the Gaelic Grounds where Clare and Limerick meet at 7pm. It is of special interest to Kerry as the winners of tomorrow’s game will meet the Kingdom in the Munster semi-final on the June bank holiday weekend (June 3) in Killarney. The other semi-final is on June 2 when Cork meet the winners of Tipperary and Waterford. The Munster final is fixed for June 23 and if Kerry are in it the fixture will be an away game for Kerry. While tradition points to a Kerry v Cork Munster final, it’s not a foregone conclusion. Clare v Limerick should be a very close affair but I fancy Clare to win this one, even if though they are away from home.

Kerry fans will be assessing the chances of a team that will be very different to the one which lined out last year. Retirements of defenders Marc ó Sé and Aidan O’Mahony have weakened the new Kerry backline and that was very evident in the league when Kerry conceded 10 goals. Mark Griffin will probably be at full back with Shane Enright at corner back and Fionn Fitzgerald in the other corner. Paul Murphy will certainly be selected, probably at wing back but he can also play in the corner. Tadhg Morley, Killian Young and Peter Crowley will be hoping to start in the other two half back positions.

Other options include Brian ó Beaglaoich, Jason Foley, Ronan Shanahan and Gavin White, who is just back after a long spell out through injury. He came on in the last 20 minutes for Dr Crokes in the club final against Dingle and scored a goal. He has the potential to make it at intercounty level but will not start in this game. I could see him entering the fray at some stage in the second half depending on how the game is developing. The defence as a whole is the weak link in this team. David Moran took a long rest during the league but he will line out at midfield along side Jack Barry. Johnny Buckley is an option also.

Forwards win matches and Kerry have some exciting options. I don’t expect Kieran Donaghy to start , but James O Donoghue will get the nod if he has fully recovered from the injury which kept him out of action for so long. It will be very interesting to see if Fitzmaurice will give senior championship starts to two brilliant ex-minors, David Clifford and Seán O’Shea. Micheál Burns has slotted in well in the league so he might get a call up at wing forward. Paul Geaney has been consistently Kerry’s best forward for the past few years and Stephen O’Brien also has plenty of experience. Who will lead the attack in the absence of Gooch who has retired? Donaghy is a good playmaker, but he hasn’t the legs for the 40. They may take a gamble with James O’Donoghue who has the pace. Johnny Buckley and Daithí Casey are other options, but they may not be in the frame to start.

There is a panel of 40 players training in the new complex at Currans so Eamonn Fitzmaurice has plenty of choices in this his sixth season in charge. My hunch is that he will start three new players and hope that they will provide the winning blend probably against Clare. Exciting times for Kerry supporters and this is just round one. They should be good enough to win in Munster on route one and so avoid the big guns in the round robin series later in the summer.