Kerry go into the Christy Ring Final as firm favourites to win only their second ever hurling championship ever and though they face a county on the rise in Wicklow, Kerry may prove their own toughest opposition.
The semi final against Down showcased all the strengths and weaknesses of John Meyler’s Kingdom side.
They were 1-1 behind within in five minutes but replied with 1-7 on the bounce and looked on the way to a comfortable victory before Gary O’Brien and Tom Murnane got dismissed in the closing stages for pointless challenges allowing Down to tie level before a late-late Shane Nolan point rescued the side.
Kerry reached their first ever Christy Ring Final last year but went down by a single point to Westmeath, they went into that match without the highly regarded Andrew Keane and judging by the close nature of the loss his absence was crucial.
This year they will be without their most influential defender in Tom Murnane but if they keep their discipline they should have too much for a hard-fighting Wicklow side.
Wicklow have won back-to-back promotions and a Keogh Shield since home town hero Casey O’Brien took over and they will relish their day in the sun as they take the field in Croke Park in their first ever Christy Ring Final.
It has been a remarkable rise for the Garden county since relegation to Division 3B and though promotion to the top tier may be a step too far for this side, they have not balked at any challenge set them under O’Brien.
Last year’s semi final between the sides finished 2-17 to 2-14 in Kerry’s favour and was a close affair which will give Wicklow knowledge that they are withing touching distance of the Kingdom going into the final.
Kerry though look more capable of competing for the Liam McCarthy next year and have played a brand of sharp hurling under John Meyler, the running is purposeful, the passing is precise and in full flow this is a team with a real forward drive.
Andrew Keane has impressed in particular since his move to the half-back line from corner-back this year, he has been integral to the side’s play.
The forward trio of Mikey Boyle, Mike Conway and Shane Nolan are as good as many in the country, Conway showed his versatility in the semi playing superbly up front before reverting to the half-back line to keep Kerry in it when they were down to 13.
Wicklow’s main strength is their their organisation, they work together in a unit and though they lack the attacking flair of Kerry they are a tough team in the middle and the addition of dual stars Leighton Glynn and Stephen Kelly may make this a closer affair than Kerry expect.
KERRY – Bernard Rochford: Padraig O’Grady, James Godley, Eamon Fitzgerald, Colin Harris, Jason Casey, Andrew Keane, Darren Dinneen, John Griffin, Darragh O Connell, Gary O’Brien, Michael Boyle(c), Shane Nolan,Mike Conway, John Egan
WICKLOW – To be confirmed