Gaelic GamesThe Weekend That Was

Kerry get the test they were waiting for in the form of Mickey’s Harte’s Derry

Every team is fighting for momentum as the championship heads into the home straight

Allianz Football League Division 1, Austin Stack Park, Tralee, Kerry 27/1/2024 Kerry vs Derry Kerry’s Joe O'Connor and Brendan Rogers of Derry Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

On the day after Derry beat Kerry in the opening round of the league one of the lads in our local boasted of the €50 he had just wagered on Derry to win the All-Ireland. The odds to us seemed skinny after they had gone full-bore to beat a half-dressed Kerry team, missing David Clifford, among others.

By a point. In January.

There is a stock exchange quality about long-range, ante-post dockets. After Derry’s league final win over Dublin he would have felt he was ahead of the game, but for most of the time since then the cash-out value of the bet would not have funded a tub of ice cream.

What is it worth now? Derry have won back-to-back matches for the first time since March, and back-to-back championship matches for the first time since last summer – when they also arrived in Croke Park on a two-game winning streak.


Having suffered a series of compound fractures Derry are still moving with a limp, but they’re off the crutches. Does that mean they’re arriving in Croke Park with momentum? Even with a small ‘m’?

In the compressed calendar, and in the current championship system, managing momentum is more challenging than ever. Every remaining game in this year’s championships, football and hurling, is a Croke Park event and everybody has known these faraway dates since before Christmas.

In preseason, goal-setting meetings these dates would have appeared all over the country on PowerPoint slides. Reaching Croke Park in midsummer, though, is only half the battle; in what state is the big question. Momentum is elusive and abstract, but everyone knows what it feels like, and everyone knows that you cannot summon it with wishful thinking.

So, who has it? Who’s searching for it?

The Kerry footballers are an interesting case. They are the only team to have won every championship game they have played this year – and haven’t lost to anybody since Dublin beat them in a Saturday night league game on February 24th, four months ago.

But they also arrive in Croke Park without any discernible momentum. On The Sunday Game, Éamonn Fitzmaurice said that whatever the draw threw up Kerry needed to be “tested”. And if they weren’t up to the challenge this weekend “they were better off out of it”.

Essentially, Kerry’s season begins now, 10 weeks after the championship started. In the current championship structure – and for many years in previous formats – Dublin and Kerry were the only football teams who could safely plan for Croke Park quarter-finals months in advance, without any plausible threat of elimination.

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Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan and David McBrien of Mayo. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

That gave them an obvious advantage in terms of managing training blocks, periodisation and peaking in the prizegiving season, as opposed to peaking a couple of times a month just to stay alive, as others must do.

The downside of this cosseted existence is that Kerry will arrive in Croke Park without a serious test of their credentials since last July. When Cork bothered them for an hour in Killarney, the post-match analysis centred on Kerry’s lassitude. When Clare ran them to seven points in the Munster final the underdogs were saluted for their gallant display, but the prevailing narrative was how bad Kerry had been.

In the group stages they pulled the softest draw of all and won their three games by an aggregate of 39 points. In that context, winning does not add up to momentum. They have none.

Dublin have not lost a game since the league final in March, but they also did not face a realistic threat until they drew with Mayo a fortnight ago. Dublin, though, have not lost a quarter-final in 16 years. In many of those seasons not a finger had been laid on them before the quarter-finals and it didn’t seem to matter. Their last-gasp draw against Mayo, though, was more stimulating than anything Kerry have experienced this year. That must count for something.

The relationship between momentum and winning is sometimes queered by form. Cork’s four-game winning streak, for example, is longer than any of the other teams still standing in the hurling championship (Limerick three; Kilkenny three; Clare one).

But the propulsive momentum they had in a glorious eight-day spell in the middle of May – when they beat Limerick and Tipperary – has been conspicuously absent in their last two performances. Momentum is not something you can put on deposit and withdraw on demand. It has a now-this-minute currency.

Do Galway have it? Alongside Dublin and Kerry, they are the only other unbeaten team in the football championship. But it’s just a fortnight since they blew a commanding lead against Armagh in the final group match and surrendered top spot in the process. On Saturday, they produced a laboured performance against Monaghan.

All season they have been haunted by injuries to their most influential players and Shane Walsh limped off at the weekend. In the quarter-final draw they were landed with Dublin. Whatever they bring to Croke Park this weekend, it might not feel like momentum.

Roscommon? Yes. Armagh? Yes. Donegal? Yes. Louth? Yes.

Derry and Kerry? On a cold January night in Tralee nobody wondered what state these teams would be in at the end of June, except that they would both be contenders, and arriving in Croke Park at a rate of knots. It’s amazing how right and wrong you can be at once.

Momentum? That’s what they’re fighting for now.

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh is a sports writer with The Irish Times