Kerry captain Paul Murphy may be only deputising until a Dr Crokes player returns to the fold but he certainly played the role to perfection last weekend as The Kingdom came from behind to beat Monaghan in Killarney.
Sunday morning’s spectacular snowstorm meant the match was in danger of being called off but thankfully the skies cleared just in time for the footballers to take to the field.
The game itself was stormy enough too, particularly in that second half, but Kerry’s skipper steadied the ship and safely steered his team to shore.
Murphy was immense, sweeping up possession on countless occasions and initiating attacks with his electrifying pace and clever passing. His decision-making is impeccable; whenever Kerry are under the cosh, Murphy is invariably the man you want on the ball. He just always seems to be in control of the situation. For me anyway, he’s the first name on the teamsheet at the moment.
It will be interesting to see what happens when Gavin White comes back in. Will Keane go with the dynamic trio of Murphy, White and Tom O’Sullivan in the half back line? Murphy and White are guaranteed starters, that much is obvious, but both tend to do their best work going forward. O’Sullivan is also an attack-minded wing back so as exciting as that half back line looks, it might leave Kerry a bit vulnerable defensively against certain opposition.
When exactly White and his Crokes teammates will become available for selection is currently unknown. Kerry play Roscommon away on Sunday, March 24 but the Crokes boys will naturally be otherwise engaged for a few days after the All-Ireland final on March 17. Keane will want his Crokes players back ASAP but they will surely be afforded the week off regardless.
That means that White’s comeback could come in the league final (if Kerry get there) on March 31. Would Keane throw him straight back in, and also hand him the captaincy in accordance with the law according to the Kerry County Board? It’s a tough one. Either way, he will surely captain Kerry in the Munster Championship when that rolls around in June.
Alongside Murphy (or rather, behind, in front and all around him), Jack Sherwood had another excellent game in defence before being forced off with a painful-looking injury. Hopefully it’s nothing more than a knock because on current form the Firies man is a key component of this Kerry rearguard. Like Murphy, Sherwood exudes calmness on the ball and his versatility means that he can mark a number of different types of forward.
It hasn’t been vintage Kerry – they have scored fewer goals (1) than any other team in the country – but you can’t but be impressed by bainisteoir Peter Keane, who has now won 22 consecutive games as Kerry manager at minor and senior level.
At times it appeared as though the Monaghan game was getting away from Kerry as some unforced errors drew groans from the freezing cold crowd, but Keane’s charges responded in rambunctious fashion. When the going got tough, guys like Dara Moynihan, Gavin O’Brien, Tommy Walsh and Tomás Ó Sé, Keane players all, made big plays to turn the tide in The Kingdom’s favour.
Personally, I haven’t been this excited about a Kerry team in a long time. It’s far too early to speculate whether or not it will all come together for them in 2019, that goes without saying, but there’s definitely something there.
The league table has an intriguing look about it heading into the final two games. Kerry will top the division if they manage to defeat Mayo next weekend but lose and things could get very squeaky indeed.
If that happens and Galway and Dublin win their remaining fixtures, Kerry would need to defeat Roscommon on the final day to avoid a four-way tie at the top. Tied teams are separated by head-to-head but if more than two teams are level, it goes to points difference. Dublin (+20) and Kerry (+13) lead the way in that department as things stand but a lot can change over the course of the next two games.
One brief note for club players and supporters: the County Board have confirmed that if Kerry do reach the final of the National League on March 31 then it will have an impact on the opening round of the various Club Championships, which are due to kick off the same weekend.
Any fixtures involving a club who have a player on the Kerry panel will be pushed back a week, to April 6/7. Looking at the current Kerry squad, that would mean that all four Senior Club Championship games would be postponed as well as four of the eight Intermediate ties. Half of the Junior Premier fixtures would also be affected.
But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.