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Conan Byrne: Kerry finding their feet after baptism of fire

The main headline from these early weeks of the League of Ireland centre around the outstanding start that Shelbourne have made to the SSE Airtricity Men's Premier Division campaign.

Damien Duff's side are eight points clear of a Sligo Rovers side that has so far confounded pessimistic pre-season predictions, a Derry City team struggling for consistency and reigning champions Shamrock Rovers who have won three in a row as they bounce back from a slow start to their bid for a record fifth title on the trot.

But there is progress being made on the far side of the trap door, towards the bottom end of the First Division.

Last season's LOI newcomers Kerry faced a real baptism of fire during their 2023 debut, earning a historic first league win 11 months ago against Athlone but overall amassing just ten points.

That total wasn't a surprise given it was their first season. But the challenge for 2024 was building on that under new head coach, Conor McCarthy, who, after succeeding current sporting director Billy Dennehy, became the youngest ever manager in the league at 25.

And the evidence of growth is there at Mounthawk Park, Tralee.

After eight rounds of games, Kerry may be second bottom ahead of their next opponents Longford Town, who have two games in hand due to weather-related postponements, but the club from the Kingdom have already gained half of the points total they managed in the entirety of 2023, helped by back-to-back draws against Wexford and UCD over the Easter weekend.

While a second ever win at League of Ireland has yet to be achieved, they have become a tougher nut to crack as former St Patrick's Athletic and Shelbourne midfielder Conan Byrne pointed out on the RTÉ Soccer Podcast.

Listen to the RTÉ Soccer podcast on