It’s amazing what a single kick of a ball can do. All it took was David Clifford’s goal in injury-time against Monaghan and you could feel a switch flick with some sections of the Kerry public. All of a sudden, people can see a way out of this. The pessimism that was everywhere after the Galway game has definitely softened a bit.
For a start, nobody I’ve talked to expects anything other than a Kerry win on Saturday against Kildare. Even taking into account the Cian O’Neill factor and allowing for Kildare wanting to end a decent summer in the right way, you can’t find anyone to say Kerry are in danger of losing the game. If they do, then we’re into bad territory.
But I don't think Kerry will lose. No matter how well Kildare prepare for the game, no matter what they want to throw at it, the toll of the long summer has to have an impact. That is already the case with Daniel Flynn missing – he was rampant against Kerry in Tralee in the league so he's a massive loss for Kildare straight off the bat.
As well as that, I don’t care who you are – as a player, your mindset is different for games that matter than it is for games that don’t. You can’t fake intensity – you’re either intense about every ball and every passage of play or you aren’t. You’ll only fool yourself for so long.
I have no doubt that Kildare will stand in the huddle beforehand and do all the finger pointing and fist-pumping every team does. They’ll have plenty of big talk. ‘No way are we coming down here just to fill the fixture, lads.We treat this one the very same as all the others. Kerry think they have a handy one here – let’s show them what we’re made of’.
And they’ll mean every word of it and believe every word of it there and then. But they wouldn’t be human if all those good intentions didn’t fade away as the game wears on. The reason intensity is such a big weapon in championship games is because when you have that, you don’t let your mind wander onto any other thoughts. It doesn’t enter your head that you might be tired or sore. It definitely doesn’t occur to you at any stage that the result doesn’t matter.
But let’s say Kerry get an early goal. Or they go in a couple of points up at half-time and then get the first three scores of the second half. You’d have to imagine all it will take is for Kerry to open up a bit of a gap on Saturday and a couple of Kildare players will mentally throw their hat at it.
So that factor has fed into a certain amount of the change in mood in Kerry. Plus the fact that Kerry would fancy themselves against most teams in Killarney, regardless of the circumstances. At the very least, people expect Kerry to hold up their end of the bargain on Saturday.
After that, it comes down to what happens in Salthill. My sense of it is people down here have latched onto the fact that if Monaghan couldn’t put Kerry away at home, when they were the better team on the day, then they probably aren’t going to be good enough to beat Galway away.
For what it's worth, that's more or less how I see it. The Monaghan team I saw in Clones played a fine game but it was maybe not just the fantastic performance everyone made it out to be. I don't think they will get away with relying on Rory Beggan at one end and Conor McManus at the other, the way they did against Kerry.
Take those two out of the picture and they got four points from the rest of the team in a game where they were on top for long periods. That’s not going to get things done against Galway. For a start, McManus is going to be double marked and the Galway defence isn’t going to play nice about it. He’ll remember the Kerry game as a kind of a holiday romance, a dream he had one time that he’ll never see again.
As for Beggan, I’m not so sure he’ll be able to have the influence on the scoreboard he had the last day. Okay, his kick-outs should still be up to par – Monaghan are really well-drilled on that aspect of the game, even though Kerry did get to grips with him in the second half.
But at the other end of the pitch, I’ll be surprised to see Beggan put up four points or anything like it. Kerry gave Monaghan 12 kickable frees in Clones – McManus took five of them and Beggan took seven. I’ll have a bet with anyone that Galway won’t be offering up 12 kickable frees on Saturday.
Go back through the games Galway have played in the championship and look at the scoring chances they've been conceding from frees. Against Mayo, it was six. Against Roscommon, it was down to four. Same with Kildare, just four. Even against Dublin in the league final, Dean Rock only got four frees he could kick at goal and one 45.
I know Beggan can kick them from further out than anybody else but even allowing for that, I just can’t see Galway giving up as many chances as Kerry did for him to strut his stuff. They’re very disciplined in the tackle. They crowd around the man in possession and rough him up without going too far.
And even if they do give Beggan a few kicks, you can be damn sure somebody will do a Kieran Donaghy on it. I'd say it was no coincidence that Beggan's radar started going a bit wonky in the second half when Donaghy started hopping and trotting and mouthing and generally making a nuisance of himself every time he tried a kick.
So if you have McManus double-marked and you have Beggan’s scoring power halved or more, where are the Monaghan scores going to come from?
I keep hearing about Conor McCarthy and Jack McCarron and these lads but I haven’t seen them go out and win a championship game for Monaghan when the fat is in the fire. It’s all grand and fine running up big scores against Division Four teams in the qualifiers. This is big boy stuff now.
I could be wrong but I don’t see Monaghan scoring enough to beat Galway. I don’t buy this idea either that Galway will be distracted or will be minding themselves for the semi-final. It doesn’t work like that at this time of year.
If there was a couple of weeks between Saturday and the semi-final, then maybe they could take their foot off the pedal a small bit. But no matter what happens against Monaghan, they are out again the following weekend. The All-Ireland final is only four weeks away. You need to be keeping you momentum up at this time of year, not easing off.
That applies especially for a team like Galway, whose players have never been in this situation before. The Dubs have been here and done it and can afford to time their run. They’ll deal with Roscommon on Sunday early and often, throw on the bench and keep everything fresh for six days later.
But if Galway ease off even a small bit against Monaghan, if they rest a couple of lads or start taking them off with 20 minutes to go, then how can they be sure they'll get themselves back up to the tempo they need the following week? They're in uncharted territory already, this would just be more of it. I don't think Kevin Walsh will allow it for a second – he'll send them out to go full bore on Monaghan and get the job done.
Which would be good news for Kerry, of course. That’s what is feeding into the optimism down here. If Kerry are still standing after this weekend, then everything that has gone before falls away. It will mean a semi-final against Dublin but I don’t honestly think that’s anything to fear. That might sound a bit wild now for a team that was done and dusted for the year heading into injury-time 10 days ago but there’s no doubt Kerry are heading in the right direction.
They had, at most, three players playing well against Galway. Against Monaghan, that number rose to six or seven. Donaghy apart, they were all the young lads. That means that all Kerry are waiting on is three or four of the senior players to come out and do the things we know they can do and all of a sudden you have 10 or 11 lads playing well in a championship game. That’s enough to give any team their fill of it, even the Dubs.
So we’re feeling good down here. We have a championship game coming to Killarney, Puck Fair around the corner, the Kerry team starting to come together and still a bit of heat in the summer. Life could be a lot worse.