Mikey Sheehy reflects on a mixed league campaign and losing senior players

The Kerry selector spoke to Oisin Langan about the league final and the departure of Tommy Walsh and Kieran O'Leary from the panel

Kerry prepare for their Munster SFC semi-final on June 12 against either Clare or Limerick and ahead of the Championship campaign, Eamonn Fitzmaurice has shaken up his Kerry panel.

Fitzmaurice is looking to blood some fresh U21 stars for a gruelling tournament, where they'll look to avenge their league final loss to Dublin.

Reflecting on a mixed season for the Kingdom, selector Mikey Sheehy says there were a lot of positives to be taken.

"Outside of the league final with the dubs we would have been very happy with the league campaign," he said, "We started poorly though. We were comprehensively beaten by Dublin under the lights at Croke Park, but the game against Roscommon was the major disappointment.

"In fairness to Roscommon, they played outstanding football in Killarney, they wanted it more than we did. We were bitterly disappointed after that game. What suited us was that after that game we had a break of about two or three weeks, so we could get some work done with the boys.

"We did some hard talking and then went and won five on the bounce. We beat Roscommon in the semi-final and then unfortunately we were beaten by the Dubs."

Jim Gavin's side ran out decisive winners in the end at Croke Park, the game carried an unexpected importance and gave a flavour of how strong the capital are heading into the summer.

Tempers flared during a fiery encounter at Croke Park in April. Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Sheehy lamented his side's performance and in particular Aidan O'Mahony's red card, after which the game changed. Whether a full Kerry XV would have been able to derail the Dublin juggernaut remains unclear, but at a disadvantage in the second half, the Kingdom crumbled.

"The one positive I would take about the league final was that, and I think we have't been given credit for, when Aidan O'Mahony was sent off in the 48th minute, we were two points down at the time. By the 67th minute, when we conceded the goal, we were only four down.

"Now, we were never going to win the game, but we were hanging on to their coattails. We worked very hard but it's so difficult against them because they're a serious, serious outfit. 

"When they see mistakes at all, they'll punish you. They're an outstanding team."

 The sending off was a key part of the game, one in which Dublin had been kept within striking distance for the guts of an hour. 

"Aidan knows it himself, he's an experienced player and he got caught. He knows it was silly, but he was being checked. He reacted, a lot of people said he did something stupid, but he reacted to someone who was checking him. I thought that if the linesman saw that he was being checked, that was Johnny Cooper checking him - I don't think Eddie Kinsella saw - but if he was being checked then by the letter of the law that's a black card. 

"And it wasn't. I'm not saying it would have had any bearing on the game, Aidan deserved to be sent off but for consistency if the linesman saw one thing he should have seen the other thing."

Dublin's strength in depth is something that is widely recognised; a number of established first team players are returning from injury in time for Championship and a 100 percent record in the league makes Gavin's men heavy favourites for this summer's competition.

"A crucial thing on the day was Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs. Absolutely astonishing on the day. In 2013 in the semi-final we got at him a little bit, we went out and won a few. But the last day, he was on the money. A lot of people said why didn't the lads push up, but they were pushing up as much as they could. He's brought it to a new art." 

A number of senior players have been omitted from Kerry's Championship preparation, the team will spend five days in Portugal at the end of the month to complete warm weather training. Fitzmaurice and co. insist that there is no room for sentiment in the team and will opt for the best players available to them and not necessarily bow to those with most experience.

"The sentiment route is not the way... These guys are on the team on merit and I've utmost faith in the older guys that they'll perform again. 

"[Axing Kieran O'Leary] is a tough call. He's been a wonderful servant but the doors are open for all of these guys if they're performing well for their clubs. But with Tommy [Walsh], the one thing I'll say about Tommy is he was working extremely hard. 

 

Tommy Walsh featured earlier in the league for Kerry. Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

"We might have been right or we might have been wrong. He played the first two league games and I suppose we were short some big players, I think that might have helped him in his position. He played full forward against Dublin and Roscommon... I can understand his frustration, he wasn't getting enough game time.

"But he was out for 12 months... Even though he's a fabulous athlete and a wonderful footballer, it's difficult to readjust. I hope it works out tomorrow and I think it will work out with club football. He will play for Kerry again, there's no doubt about that.

"Hindsight is a great thing. That was the mistake that made day one when he came back. He should have been cut loose with his club and allowed to train away. Play as many club games as he can and then come into us before the Championship last year. That would have been the right thing to do. One thing I will say about him is that he worked as hard as any guy in training. He was a model pro. I hope it'll work out for him at his club because he's going to be a key payer."