While a sellout crowd is expecting a fierce battle in Tralee, Emmet Ryan says Éamonn Fitzmaurice will be looking to the future
Saturday night is set to be flat out mental in Tralee. The town's basketball club, the Warriors, are a guaranteed full house every week of around 1,000 people. The club has brought its game forward to 3pm in order to facilitate a wild weekend of sport.
Before making the short journey to Austin Stack Park, plenty of locals will find somewhere to stop and watch the rugby between Ireland and England at 5pm. Then the town's biggest event of the weekend kicks off. The Dubs are coming to town and the locals want to end that long discussed unbeaten streak.
The one man in Tralee not terribly concerned with the result might well be wearing a bainisteoir bib. A win over Dublin would, naturally, be nice for Éamonn Fitzmaurice but he's got to be more focused on what happens next.
That basketball game features one of the players yet to take a full part with the Kerry panel this season. Kieran Donaghy is committed with the Warriors through to the first weekend in April before going back for one more crack with the Kingdom.
The entire Dr Crokes contingent, who play the All Ireland club final on St Patrick's day, has likewise been otherwise occupied.
Dublin's Jonny Cooper with Donnchadh Walsh of Kerry. Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
That's quite a few pieces to think about and when Fitzmaurice looks at his charges against Dublin on Saturday night and it's not simply a case of remove and replace. This is an evolving Kerry side with a manager who is more than happy to try something new out on a big day.
The one thing that is wholly dependable with the Kerry manager is that he trusts his own judgement. He's willing to take a chance by making a small wrinkle or a big switch irrespective of the occasion.
We've seen it in Munster finals, back when those were competitive, All Ireland semi finals, and even finals from Fitzmaurice. The way his side plays on Saturday will almost certainly bear no relation to the approach it takes should Kerry meet Dublin at the business end of the championship.
The presence of Colm Cooper, Donaghy, et al will naturally guarantee changes but so too will whatever Fitzmaurice sees in this encounter. He's going to look at combinations, what way he can shuffle players and roles to give him the most options and ideas for the summer ahead.
It hasn't been the prettiest league campaign for Kerry. After a great first hour of the season against Donegal, the Kingdom have looked rather flat but the odds are still in Fitzmaurice's favour. Cavan and Roscommon are performing so badly that it's extremely unlikely Kerry go down.
Mark Griffin of Kerry and Eoghan O'Gara of Dublin at the end of game
Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
Winning a league, particularly any league other than last season's, really doesn't matter in Kerry. The only trophy that matters is Sam.
Put yourself in Fitzmaurice's shoes, with so many pieces to come in and only one trophy mattering. Do you prioritise winning over Dublin on Saturday or putting yourself in the best possible position to beat them when it really matters?
It needn't be an either/or but Fitzmaurice can only think about winning on Saturday as a success if it helps his side get another win over Jim Gavin's charges in August or September.