Lest we forget last september
MUNSTER SFC QUARTER-FINAL
TIPPERARY v KERRY
(Thurles, Tomorrow 4.0, live RTé 2)
GIVEN all the talk about retirements and Oz-bound emigration and various injury scares, it was instructive to see the Kerry team line-up emerge in cold print on Thursday night.
Memo to self: they haven't gone away, you know!
Suffice to say, Jack O'Connor is still able to unveil arguably the strongest first 15 in the country -- one that even Cork, for all the talk of looming Leeside domination, would struggle to match.
Put it this way: if there was a notional transfer system in the GAA, which manager wouldn't cut off his county board chairman's right hand to sign up Paul Galvin, Declan O'Sullivan, Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy and throw them straight into his first choice attack?
Ergo, they may have lost Tadhg and Tommy to the lure of the oval ball and the Aussie dollar, but Kerry still boast four of the standout forward talents in the modern game.
Their defence isn't half-bad either, come to think of it: you've got two current All Stars (Tom O'Sullivan and Tomás ó Sé), and a former Footballer of the Year (Marc ó Sé), not to mention the 2009 winner of Most Effortless Comeback of the Year (Mike McCarthy), back for one more hurrah after another spring flirtation with retirement.
As for the engine room, they may have lost the legend that is Darragh but their most influential midfielder during last year's 'back door' run to the summit didn't answer to the name ó Sé -- he was Seamus Scanlon.
So then, on that everyday parchment that has never won a match (ie, paper), Kerry still represent the ultimate challenge for a team of young wannabes like Tipperary. But if you delve a little deeper -- only as far as the subs list, in fact -- you get an inkling as to why many experts are now doubting Kerry's capacity to defend their crown, or maybe even to reach what would be a magnificent seventh consecutive All-Ireland final.
All of a sudden, Kerry's strength in depth pales in comparison to the wealth of riches at Conor Counihan's disposal. In announcing their match-day team and subs, the Kerry website provided a helpful digout to lazy scribes by detailing the players who are new to the panel this summer -- Brendan Kealy, David Hennessy, Adrian O'Connell, Kieran O'Leary, Barry John Keane, Niall O'Mahony, Pat Corridan and Brendan Guiney.
True, Kealy is the only starting newcomer, having impressively made the No1 jersey his own during the National League. The worry for O'Connor, though, will surely revolve around the dearth of experienced alternatives should he suffer a glut of injuries to first choice personnel.
Tomorrow's bench includes Darran O'Sullivan (last year's demoted captain but a proven impact sub), Pádraig Reidy (who lost his corner-back berth after last year's Munster defeat by Cork) and David Moran (named despite his recent broken finger) ... when it comes to championship action, the rest are all virtual novices.
The two remaining ó Sés were both flagged as injury doubts ahead of Thursday's team announcement, and it goes without saying that Kerry's already ageing defence would look a lot more vulnerable without the stellar likes of Marc and Tomás marauding down their right flank.
All of which may help to explain the early-week speculation of an imminent return to the squad for Aidan O'Mahony.
This spring, it was strange to see Kerry embroiled in a last-day scramble to avoid relegation -- less surprising to witness Tipperary's failure to survive in the rarefied climes of Division Two after back-to-back promotions.
Yet, with the exception of one early crushing defeat by Kildare, Tipp were competitive in every game -- beating Meath and drawing in Down along the way.
Playing in a higher division should stand them in good stead for tomorrow's opening joust, especially if Kerry fall prey to complacency or early- season torpor.
John Evans -- a Kerryman preaching the big ball gospel in Tipp -- has already achieved one famous result this year when helping the Premier U21s to ambush Kerry in a Munster final. To repeat the dose at senior would represent a shock of epic proportions -- one that we can't quite see happening.
ODDS: Tipp 13/2, Draw 14/1, Kerry 1/10
TIPPERARY: P Fitzgerald; P Codd, N Curran, C McDonald; C Aylward, R Costigan, C McGrath; K Mulryan, G Hannigan; P Acheson, P Austin, H Coghlan; S Carey, B Grogan, B Mulvihill.
KERRY: B Kealy; M ó Sé, T Griffin, T O'Sullivan; T ó Sé, M McCarthy, K Young; S Scanlon, M Quirke; P Galvin, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh; C Cooper, K Donaghy, B Sheehan.
REF: D Coldrick (Meath).