Kerry will be without two-thirds of their All-Ireland final starting team for their first league game at Donegal on Sunday.
ack O’Connor has confirmed that none of his starting forwards from last July will be available to him through a combination of rest and recuperation from injury, with just Tadhg Morley, Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan, Jack Barry and Graham O’Sullivan headed for Ballybofey.
Diarmuid O’Connor, Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Paul Geaney, Stephen O’Brien, Gavin White and Seán O’Shea are all recovering from injury or surgery while David and Paudie Clifford and Shane Ryan will not be pressed into action for some time as they rest after recent All-Ireland club successes.
David Moran would also be on the missing list but his retirement from inter-county football was confirmed yesterday with O’Connor paying tribute to the 34-year-old three-time All-Ireland winner as a “father figure” to the players.
“It was in his mind last year [to retire] and with a bit of cajoling he came back. He got a bad injury at the end of the year  and that was feeding in to his reticence to go back,” he said. “But once the injury settled down he started getting his appetite back and he was very important for us last year at different times.”
Moran played 111 games for Kerry, 53 in championship, and won his three All-Ireland medals in three different decades, 2009, 2014 and 2022.
With his father, Denis ‘Ogie’ Moran, who won eight All-Ireland medals between 1975 and 1986, they have 11 All-Ireland medals between them, the most for a father and son (single) combination which is a distinction they share with Dublin’s John (three) and James McCarthy.
O’Connor did not put a timeframe on when any of his ‘missing 10’ might return but suggested the Cliffords would be afforded more time away because of the arduous nature of their campaign with Fossa and East Kerry.
“It’s different with different players. The Cliffords have had a long, arduous campaign and we’ll be giving them a bit more time than the others. It depends on the individuals. Paul Murphy took a break for his honeymoon, so he’s got his break. He’s in a different situation from the Cliffords who played right on through.”
O’Connor has doubled down on concern he has for player welfare with the nature of the schedule for the best players. “The elite players are going to basically suffer long-term with the system because there is really no window for these guys to get a rest unless the inter-county management rest them.”
O’Connor said that Ryan may not require shoulder surgery after all, despite suggestions by his club manager Denis Moynihan after Rathmore’s All-Ireland intermediate club win last weekend.
“My understanding all along that he didn’t (need surgery), that he was rehabbing his shoulder and that he was OK. It remains to be seen, goalkeeping is a little different as you’re doing a lot of diving but he appears to be fine.”
Diarmuid O’Connor could miss a substantial part of the league because of an ankle ligament injury, his manager confirmed at his pre-league press conference in Tralee.
But O’Connor sees opportunity in the weeks ahead for fringe and new panel members to make their case, players like Dan O’Donoghue, Mike Breen, Stefan Okunbor and Dylan Casey.
“In my first year with Kerry, 2004, we were missing the five An Gaeltacht players for the bones of the league because of their involvement in the All-Ireland club final, the three Ó Sés (Darragh, Tomás and Marc), Dara Ó Cinnéide, Aodhán MacGearailt. It was through that league that we found Paul Galvin, Aidan O’Mahony and these fellas and I often asked myself after, would we have found them or played them if we had all the others involved?”
Expectations around the league this year may have to be lowered because Kerry are “behind the curve,” O’Connor said.
“When you have a team holiday at the end of the year, you are behind the curve when you start back training,” he said.
“Last year before we played the McGrath Cup we had six or seven good sessions done, this year one or two. So we are a good bit behind.
“We have trained exceptionally hard over the last two or three weeks, That’s always fraught with danger because you run the risk of fellas getting muscle injuries but we have no choice in the matter and we probably will train hard through the league which may affect our form for a while.
“But I can’t see much window to play around with.”
A mid-table finish was “a fair enough assessment,” he acknowledged. “Last year we set out our stall form the start. We had a new management, trying to do a few new things with players. This year we probably recognise that we are a bit behind so it might be that we have to temper our expectations a bit.
“It doesn’t mean we won’t be trying to go out to win every game. We’ll be going flat out to win every game and be as competitive as we can but the fact that we have to train pretty hard through the league might affect some of our performances.”
As a defending league and championship winning manager for a third time (he had left when Kerry were champions going into 2007) O’Connor knows the pitfalls.
“Trying to replicate the hunger you had the year before, I think that’s the big thing because it’s the nature of the beast that you want to fast forward back to the big days and you tend to forget the steps that took you to the big days.”