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Kerry take on Mayo in Allianz Football League Opener 2015-01-28 10:03:00


With memories of their titanic clashes in the All Ireland semi final draw and replay last August still fresh in the mind, Kerry and Mayo go head to head once more in the opening round of the Allianz Football League in Killarney’s Fitzgerald Stadium on Sunday next (2pm).  This if course will be Kerry’s first competitive game on home soil since they annexed their 37th All Ireland title last September but it will be a vastly different Kerry outfit that takes the field on Sunday next.

The Kingdom are shorn of the services of the likes of Brian Kelly, Marc Ó Sé, Aidan O’Mahony, Peter Crowley, James O’Donoghue and Darran O’Sullivan through injury, while Anthony Maher is unavailable for the first two rounds of the League due to work commitments and with their club championship semi final looming, Kieran Donaghy and Shane O’Callaghan are clubtied. On the positive side, Colm Cooper is eying a return to action towards the end of March while Tommy Walsh is training at “full steam”. It is a chance of course for the remainder of the panel to stake a claim for a place on the team and no doubt the likes of Brendan Kealy, Mark Griffin and  Pa Kilkenny , to name but a few, will be chomping at the bit for a slice of the action. Players such as Shane Enright, Michael Geaney, Bryan Sheehan, Barry John Keane and Kieran O’Leary, none of whom started against Donegal, would also be expected to make the line-up on Sunday and they will bring plenty of experience with them.

It is a difficult opener for Kerry but then again, there are no soft teams in Division 1. Mayo, under new management, are bound to have a pep in their step and will no doubt have more pre-season training under their belts. Kerry, in the time available to them since they returned from holiday in South Africa, have knuckled down well in training and had a useful workout against Clare in Tralee on Sunday last. With a big home following to cheer them on, the Kingdom will no doubt give it their all in a bid to reverse the recent trend of Mayo victories between the sides in the League.

Both Kerry and Mayo will be sporting new strips this year and on Sunday, both sides will wear their new alternative strips. The new Kerry “away” strip will be available in the Kerry GAA Store and other outlets in the coming week. A souvenir programme costing €3 will be on sale.  This is the first increase in the price of League Programmes since the introduction of the Euro.

Kerry are away to Derry in Celtic Park on February 8th and there is a break until Round 3 against Dublin in Fitzgerald Stadium on March 1st.

TICKET ARRANGEMENT FOR GAME ON SUNDAY:

Once again this year there is a €5 pre-purchase discount (Ticket price: €10 pre-purchase and €15 on match day) for all Division 1 Allianz Football League fixtures.
The deal will offer supporters better value and also take some of the pressure off ticket sales at the various venues on match days.
One key point to note is that this discount is only valid until midnight on the day before each fixture. Tickets will be available at all the usual outlets such as participating Centra and Supervalu stores nationwide and by clicking here to purchase on line:



PREVIEW FROM GAA.ie

 Football League Div 1 Preview: Kerry

Monday, January 26, 2015

This week on GAA.ie, we will be previewing all the teams in Division I of the 2015 Allianz Football League. Here we take a closer look at All-Ireland champions Kerry ahead of their campaign in the top tier.

KERRY

Manager: Éamonn Fitzmaurice (3rd year)
Backroom Team: Mikey Sheehy, Diarmuid Murphy, Cian O’Neill
Captain: Kieran Donaghy
Allianz League 2015: Division I; opener v Mayo, February 1
Allianz League 2014: Sixth in Division I
Championship 2014: Munster champions; All-Ireland champions
Allianz League Record: 19-time champions
Star Man: James O’Donoghue
One to Watch: Pa Kilkenny (Glenbeigh/Glencar)
Injury List: Colm Cooper (knee – March return), Brian Kelly (ankle), Marc Ó Sé (back), Peter Crowley (hamstring), Aidan O’Mahony (ankle operation), Donnchadh Walsh (groin), James O’Donoghue (shoulder surgery), Darran O’Sullivan (hamstring), Paul O’Donoghue (knee), Alan Fitzgerald (chest).
Players In: Tommy Walsh (back from AFL)
Club Tied: Kieran Donaghy (Austin Stacks)
Players Out: Declan O’Sullivan (retired)

***

This time last year, after defying the odds to reach an All-Ireland semi-final and pushing Dublin all the way the previous August, we wondered if Kerry were on the rise again. Midway through their subsequent Allianz League campaign, which didn't get off to the most auspicious starts when Paul Galvin retired before a ball was kicked in anger, Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s side were pointless after three games and for the second year in a row there were whispers of a crisis in the Kingdom.

With Tomás Ó Sé and Eoin Brosnan gone too and question marks hanging over the quality of talent coming in to replace them – Joe Brolly famously said the “production line had ground to a halt at the Kerry football factory” – those talking up Kerry’s chances at the start of the year were beginning to look some way off the mark.

Famously cool in a ‘crisis’ Fitzmaurice called some of his more experienced players back from their winter breaks and together they worked it out, winning three successive Allianz League games to ease any relegation fears. Still, the jitters returned in their final league game, a humiliating 2-18 to 1-11 loss at home to Cork.

And, of course, we all know what happened next. What Kerry’s Allianz League form over the last two years has taught us is that they are a very special case. They have won just six of their 14 league games in 2013 and 2014, suffering some brutal defeats along the way, and have still managed to make it to an All-Ireland semi-final and to lift ‘Sam’ in that time.

Run a finger through their current list of absentees, outlined above, adding in Anthony Maher, who has work commitments at the moment, and there is every chance that Kerry will struggle again this spring, though the critics will be far slower to the engage in loose talk about crises this time. Once bitten etc.

The great challenge for Fitzmaurice and his backroom team of Mikey Sheehy, Cian O’Neill and Diarmuid Murphy is try and crack defending their All-Ireland title, Kerry being the only county to have managed that in the last 20 years when they won back-to-back All-Irelands in 2006 and 2007. In an era when training levels are being taken to new heights, it’s an increasingly difficult thing to do, something Donegal and Dublin can attest to.

In 2013, Donegal manager Jim McGuinness put his side’s slide down to the huge number of early season training sessions they had missed out on because of the post All-Ireland celebrations and all the various commitments that come with winning ‘Sam’. That, of course, may be one of the primary reasons for the perennial failures of defending All-Ireland champions, but in Cian O’Neill, Kerry have one of the smartest physical trainers in the business, and with a philosophy centred on the quality rather than the number of sessions completed, they should be well prepared to deal with that potential pitfall.

O’Neill’s stamp has become increasingly apparent, and the difference in their collective conditioning between 2013, when they tailed off towards the end of the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin, and last summer, when they seemed to grow stronger and faster as September neared, was stunning. “In year two of our system we were superior to teams who were in year four of their system, which is a huge jump in a year,” Kildare native O’Neill told the Sunday Times recently.

In order to continue the progression, O’Neill will have to work his magic once again. For now, Kerry are without a host of players for various reasons, including their marquee attackers Kieran Donaghy, James O’Donoghue and Colm Cooper, but Cooper’s expected March return from the cruciate knee injury that kept him out all last year as well as Tommy Walsh’s return from a six-year spell in the AFL, mean that as well as all the goodwill generated from last year, they have two superb attackers to come into an All-Ireland winning side.

Where Walsh will play is still open to question because he hasn't appeared in a Kerry jersey since his return from Sydney, with some suggestions that he could even be converted to full-back, having featured in the full-forward line in his last appearance, the 2009 All-Ireland final win over Cork.

Kerry only returned from their team holiday to South Africa in the second week in January, by which point they were already out of the McGrath Cup, Darragh Ó Sé’s U21 side having lost heavily to IT Tralee. Fitzmaurice will allow the U21s to focus on their Munster Championship opener in mid-March while it is still considered far too early for even the most prodigious of last year’s All-Ireland winning minor team to make the step up to the senior squad.

Kerry meet Mayo on Sunday in a repeat of their unforgettable All-Ireland semi-final meetings last August, although with so many players out injured and this forming what will effectively be their first run-out of the season, there is a little prospect of a repeat of those thrill-a-minute encounters.

For now, the hope will surely be to blood some new players and potentially unearth another gem like Paul Murphy, while Tommy Walsh will surely be given as much game time as possible to re-acquaint himself with the round ball. Further down the line, it will be about knitting Colm Cooper and James O’Donoghue back into an attack the envy of every other county in the country, before retaining ‘Sam’ gets their undivided attention.

Preview: Brian Murphy from gaa.ie