Kerry captain Colm Cooper has sounded a note of caution ahead of their All-Ireland quarter-final match against Donegal this Sunday.
Donegal become the last side that Kerry have ever faced in Championship football — apart from Kilkenny — this weekend. Their brand of football, hailed as revolutionary by many, also presents the Kingdom with a unique set of questions.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” said the seven-times All-Star. “They’ve been coming and coming. They set down a marker last year and it looks like they have taken that to another level again this year”, he said in reference to the Donegal attack becoming much more prolific.
He continued, “Any of the four teams we could have drawn was going to be a huge test. Every game is going to be very tough when you get into the All-Ireland quarter-final stages, but Donegal is going to be a new test for this team.
“We will have a lot of work to do over the week, and Jack (O'Connor, Kerry manager) and the management will have a lot of work and analysis to do all this week, but it’s a great challenge for us now.”
Back in March, Cooper was enjoying a break from football after a prolonged club campaign with Dr Crokes. Jack O'Connor was happy to let his star forward recharge his batteries and Kerry hardly needed him as they beat Donegal in the league, 2-16 to 1-8.
At the time, O'Connor wasn't reading much into the match, commenting, “We can't get too carried away. Donegal looked a bit sluggish today and looked like a team that are training very hard.”
Cooper feels along similar lines to his manager, although he does draw something from the scoreboard at the final whistle; “We can take encouragement from that game in terms of the result.
“I didn’t play that day but I looked in and our fellas played very well.
“But we know it’s a whole different thing to be in the heat of Championship football coming into August so we will have to be fully prepared for a completely different game.”
Kerry have made it to the quarter-finals of the All-Ireland race every year since the qualifiers were introduced in 2001. Their phenomenal record is backed up by eight appearances in the last 10 All-Ireland finals, with four wins.
It provides proof that despite a number of close-fought games in the qualifiers, this Kerry team never underestimate their opposition.
In years past, Kerry's epitaph would have been penned and ready for print after shaky performances against the likes of Sligo in 2009.
However, it should be recalled how they came roaring back into form once they entered the gates of Croke Park that particular season, beating Dublin 1-24 to 1-7.
“We have come through the Qualifiers a few different times now and we know how hard it is,” assessed Cooper.
“On any given day you can be caught regardless of who you’re playing or where you are. We all remember 2009 and Sligo and a few other scares.
Again this year in Mullingar we were in a very sticky place for a while and only for Darran’s (O’Sullivan) goal we mightn’t be talking about playing Donegal at all next week.”
He added, “That’s the funny thing about the Qualifiers but we have come through them and we have gained a bit of momentum over the last two or three weeks, and we just can’t wait for next weekend again.”
Last weekend, Kerry overpowered Clare in their round four tie in Limerick, running up a scoreline of 2-22 to 1-6.
Tomás ÓSé overtook his brother Darragh's record of Championship appearances in the green and gold, his tally rising to 82 outings, while Cooper's tally of 1-4 took him to 18-239 (293 points) in Championship football, eclipsing Mikey Sheehy's (pictured) long-standing record of 29-205 (292).
“I knew there was a bit of talk about it during the week,” Cooper admitted, “but I’m not into records.
“If you told me at the start of my career that I’d do something like that I would have laughed at you.
“It’s nice to have done it but I’ve a long way to go to be talked about in the same way as Mikey Sheehy.
“Mikey is a real legend of the game, and just to be talked about in the same context as some of the players of that golden era is great.”