Jack O’Connor, the Kerry manager, says Sunday’s NFL Division One final will be a completely different game to the league encounter between the two sides in Bellaghy last month.
The Kingdom emerged as 0-12 to 0-10 winners back in March on a tight pitch in Bellaghy, but of even greater concern to the Caherciveen man mind is the fact that they were run so close by a Derry side shorn of a number of their top performers on the day.
Paddy Bradley and Mark Lynch are back to bolster manager Damien Cassidy’s hand this time, but further injuries to Sean Marty Lockhart and Patsy Bradley have meant that the league champions are yet to name their starting XV.
“Different? Well the pitch will be different. It was a great surface up in Bellaghy but it is a tight pitch and in Croke Park, to any other pitch in the country, it's bigger,” O’Connor said at an Allianz media conference in Croke Park on Wednesday.
“It is physically bigger and it plays bigger for some reason. You need a lot of pace and mobility on this pitch, that's the big thing. So it'll be a great test for our fellas.
He added: “The other thing I'd say about the game is Derry were short a few bodies and Eoin Bradley got sent off after about 20 minutes that day.
“Paddy Bradley wasn't even playing and Mark Lynch is another top class forward to come back into the frame as well so I'd expect that Derry will be a tough assignment this time seeing as they have those fellas back.”
Kerry return to Croke Park for the first time since they lost the All-Ireland final to Tyrone last year, while Derry have not visited Headquarters since they lost the All-Ireland quarter-final narrowly to Dublin in 2007.
Last year’s final between the same teams was played in Parnell Park, but GAA chiefs opted to bring the league’s showpiece back to Jones’s Road this year, a move O’Connor endorsed.
Despite Kerry’s familiarity with Croker – they have played championship football at the venue in each of the last five years – O’Connor does not believe they are at an advantage on Sunday.
“I suppose it's a couple of years since Derry were here alright,” he said.
“I remember them playing here a couple of years ago against Dublin in a quarter-final they could have won by the way. They had two or three goal chances that day. I was at the game.
“I suppose Kerry are used to playing here, they've played in the last five All-Irelands and semi-finals and that but I can tell you, they're not getting bored with it. They're delighted the game is up here. They just like playing here.”
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