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Peter Canavan: Why Kerry's day could come sooner than many seem to think

Making plans: Kerry boss Peter Keane has a number of growing talents in his squad
Making plans: Kerry boss Peter Keane has a number of growing talents in his squad
Paul Murphy

By Peter Canavan

There was a certain irony for me in the analysis of Kerry's league final defeat to Mayo. For the most part, Kerry had blazed their way through the league, underlining their status as football's coming team, but Mayo in Croke Park with national silverware on the table was seen as their first day in big school.

When it came to it, it was pointed out that they couldn't quite hold on to one of the most physical and streetwise teams around.

Some of the reaction was that their naivety had been exposed and their inexperience shown up, and that final was offered as proof that they weren't yet ready to fly at the highest altitude. Funnily enough, that was the exact opposite impression I left Killarney with after the first round of the league back in late January.

Despite fielding an inexperienced team, Kerry set the tone that day and dictated the terms of engagement. They never really let Tyrone off the bus. It was like they made a point - they were inexperienced, sure, but they weren't going to lie down for anyone.

I was in Killarney the night before that game at a function with Seamus Moynihan. The talk was that this team are the men of tomorrow. There was a general acceptance that Peter Keane would need time, but I think they showed enough in the league to make a case for them much sooner than that.

They have talented young players who know what it is to win coming into the mix alongside more seasoned men like David Moran, Stephen O'Brien, Paul Murphy and Paul Geaney.

They reached the league final effectively without their Dr Crokes players and in the process solved one of the most glaring problems the Kingdom had last year in terms of their defensive set-up.

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Last season, they conceded 10 goals in seven matches in the top flight. This term they had cut that back to 4-80, the joint lowest in the top flight and well below Monaghan's tally of 8-90, despite the Oriel men's reputation as a much more defensively solid team.

They lost out to Mayo twice, including the final, but I wonder how different the conversation would be had David Clifford's first-half goal been allowed to stand or had the Fossa star managed to palm that late effort past Rob Hennelly? If Kerry and Keane emerged from their first spring together as league champions, I think the mood around this team would be very different indeed.

Now, they are far from the finished article. Jack Sherwood has operated as a full-back and he's done well, but teams will know that's not the position where he has played most of his football and he'll be tested severely as the summer rolls on. The loss of Peter Crowley for the year is also a bitter blow. He combined a hard edge and physicality in defence that they'll miss.

Their best defenders absolutely love bombing forward. Gavin White and Tom O'Sullivan are excellent in turning defence into attack, but sometimes they have got that balance wrong and left themselves open.

Part of that issue comes from midfield. With so many attack-minded defenders, they don't always get enough cover from their midfield pairing. Keane and his management team have a puzzle to solve there. Moran and Jack Barry appear to be the strongest option, but are similar in that they love getting forward and someone has to be prepared to mind the house.

Moran missed the league final and Kerry needed his bulk. They struggled in the middle third, but I think Mayo will beat most teams there.

They worked off maybe 40% possession, but I still come back to the point that they might have won the game.

Finally, the biggest reason I fancy this Kerry team is because it takes class forwards to win an All-Ireland and they have them in spades.

They can hurt you in so many ways. One of their goals in their defeat of Dublin in the league came from a long, diagonal ball in. At other times they run it through the hands of the likes of O'Sullivan and Murphy. We've also seen them kick long to Clifford.

Clifford, Sean O'Shea and Geaney would get in any team. After that, Keane needs to find the players who will do the spade work.

He's spoilt for choice, but needs to get the balance right. I don't envy him in that regard. Diarmuid O'Connor, Dara Moynihan, Stephen O'Brien, Micheál Burns, Gavin O'Brien and others all have claims for starting spots. And that's before mentioning former Footballer of the Year James O'Donoghue and what Tommy Walsh can offer off the bench.

Kerry will learn from that league final. O'Shea was wrapped up that day, but you'd think they wouldn't let that happen to him again. Games like that will make good footballers better.

They play Clare tomorrow. Colm Collins has done a good job with limited resources, but they are a victim of a system here that doesn't give them much of a chance. The qualifiers is where they'll have to take their chance.

And as for Kerry? They'll use their two games in Munster to improve, but it will be the Super 8s before we see their true potential.

From there, they can go anywhere.

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