Adam Moynihan: Fair play to Celtic but what does their reign say about Kerry soccer?
I know all about how good Killarney Celtic are. I’ve played against them more times than I’d like to remember and I’ve seen first hand how talented and committed their players and officials are.
They deserve all the silverware they’ve amassed over the past five years and nothing I’m about to say here is to take away from that success.
But there’s no escaping the fact that one team dominating a competition is not the sign of a healthy competition. Monopolies are bad and they sometimes bring to light broader issues within the game.
Celtic’s stranglehold over Kerry soccer is no different. Following last week’s victory over Camp, they have now won four consecutive league and cup doubles. And it’s not just the trophies, it’s the manner in which they’re securing them. This season they won every single one of their 14 league games and finished 19 points clear of their closest rivals, Killarney Athletic. They secured twice as many wins as Athletic and scored twice as many goals.
The format of the league – which is decided by a final playoff between the top two regardless of points totals – gives off some semblance of jeopardy, but Celtic are invariably overwhelming favourites regardless.
The main question is: where are the other big clubs in all this? First let’s turn our attention to Tralee, Kerry’s biggest town and the traditional home of soccer in the county.
Despite Celtic’s recent haul, Tralee Dynamos are still the Kerry District League’s most decorated club. While they weren’t a million miles off second place this season, they have flirted with relegation in the recent past and their last league title came in 2015.
The third most successful club in Kerry, St Brendan’s Park (also of Tralee), were forced to drop out of the Premier Division in 2017 due to a lack of numbers at senior level. This came as a shock to many observers considering their solid underage structure.
They were repositioned to the bottom division and they have since been working their way back up the pyramid; next season they will play in the Premier B, i.e. the second tier. Park’s most recent Premier A title came in 2012.
There are a number of factors that could explain the demise of the traditional Tralee clubs, but the amount of senior teams now drawing players from the Tralee area is surely one of them. There are currently nine teams from the town in the Kerry District League and eight more in the area (roughly) between Tralee and Listowel. The vast majority use Mounthawk Park, the league's headquarters, as their home pitch.
Suffice to say footballers from this general area now have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a club.
Nine does seem like a lot for a town of Tralee’s size. For comparison, there are six clubs in the whole of East Kerry. The end result is that you effectively have all of the talent in Tralee town spread out across nine teams. In Killarney that number is two (or three if you include MEK Galaxy who train in Fossa and also attract some players from the town).
Meanwhile, Dingle Bay Rovers, the last team outside of Killarney to triumph in the Premier A, now find themselves in Division 1B, i.e. the fourth tier.
As for other competitors, my own club Killarney Athletic are tipping away and getting to finals (we were the last team besides Celtic to win the league, in 2017) and Castleisland tend to be competitive, as do Listowel. But, in truth, the gap between Celtic and the chasing pack is wide.
Getting players to commit is a major challenge for every club and if players aren’t committing then closing that gap becomes very difficult indeed. Kind of knowing that Celtic are going to run away with it every year doesn't help in that regard.
Another reoccurring issue that keeps coming up in conversations with stakeholders is the way fixtures are scheduled. Whereas most sporting bodies set their fixture schedule at the start of the season, or at least on a competition-by-competition basis as the year goes on, the KDL still arranges its fixtures on a weekly basis.
That makes it impossible for players to plan ahead with regards to work, holidays, or social events. I should know. It’s precisely why I stepped away from Athletic earlier this season. (No great loss, says you.)
The fixture uncertainty also breeds crazy situations like the one we’re seeing right now as one season runs from September to August, and the next season starts up again in September.
The league will argue that changing the system won’t work but I would argue that the current system isn’t working either. So what have they got to lose?
Kingdom hoping to lay some old ghosts to rest at Páirc Uí Chaoimh
by Adam Moynihan
All-Ireland SFC Group 1
Cork v Kerry
Saturday at 3pm
Páirc Uí Chaoimh
I was one of the unlucky few to have been present at the last Cork-Kerry clash in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in November of 2020. It was a truly awful night.
The match was played behind closed doors which made for an eerie, unsettling atmosphere, and the rain came down harder than I ever remember seeing first-hand.
Unfortunately, Kerry came down hard too. Mark Keane’s last-ditch goal clinched an unexpected victory for the hosts and, just like that, Kerry’s year was over.
It always hurts when your team loses but that one completely floored us all. It was such a horrible way to lose a game and I felt so bad for the players as they trudged off the field, soaked to the bone and shaken to the core.
They got some form of payback the following year when they won by 21 in the Munster final, and again last year when they ran out 11-point winners in the semi-final. But something tells me that it would mean a lot more to return to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and do the business there.
It won’t be easy. The final scorelines in the last two games suggest that it was all one-way traffic but that simply wasn’t the case. In 2021, Cork led by 1-5 to 0-4 at the water break (remember those?) and they pushed Kerry hard 12 months ago too. There was nothing in that match right up until the 50th minute, at which point Kerry brought on David Moran and Paul Geaney and ultimately pulled away.
You can never really read too much into the McGrath Cup but Cork demolished Kerry in January. Their form since has been spotty but they did well to see off Louth last week, with the returning Brian Hurley (shoulder) kicking eight points in a two-point win. Hurley has proved to be a handful for Kerry full back Jason Foley in the past.
Significantly, John Cleary’s side are strong in a key area where Kerry struggled against Mayo: midfield. Ian Maguire and Colm O’Callaghan scored 0-2 each in Navan (and the latter scored 2-4 in that aforementioned McGrath Cup game at the start of the year).
Jack O’Connor named his team last night with Adrian Spillane replacing Tony Brosnan and Paul Murphy coming in for Dylan Casey. Spillane will add some extra brawn and energy around the middle third. Going by the last outing, Kerry need it.
It is also worth noting that David Clifford has never really shot the lights out against Cork. He has been well minded by Maurice Shanley, Seán Meehan and Kevin Flahive in the past three championship meetings, with the retreating Seán Powter also getting stuck in when needed.
Flahive suffered a cruciate injury late in last year’s game but he could potentially be in line for a comeback tomorrow; he has been added to Cork’s 26 for the first time in over 12 months.
Meehan has been ruled out with a hamstring injury so Shanley may be asked to track the Footballer of the Year this time around.
Clifford was one of the few bright sparks against Mayo and he would love to bring that form to the Páirc on Saturday. With vital points on the line, there would be no better time to lay some ghosts to rest.
From a Kerry perspective, you would hope – and perhaps expect – that Clifford and his teammates can do exactly that and get the show back on the road.
1. Shane Ryan
2. Graham O’Sullivan
3. Jason Foley
4. Tom O’Sullivan
5. Paul Murphy
6. Tadhg Morley
7. Gavin White
8. Diarmuid O’Connor
9. Jack Barry
10. Dara Moynihan
11. Seánie O’Shea
12. Adrian Spillane
13. Paudie Clifford
14. David Clifford
15. Paul Geaney
Subs: S Murphy, T Brosnan, D Casey, BD O’Sullivan, R Murphy, M Burns, M Breen, S O’Brien, D O’Sullivan, C O’Donoghue, S O’Brien.
1. Micheál Aodh Martin
2. Maurice Shanley
3. Rory Maguire
4. Kevin O’Donovan
5. Luke Fahy
6. Daniel O’Mahony
7. Matty Taylor
8. Colm O’Callaghan
9. Ian Maguire
10. Brian O’Driscoll
11. Ruairí Deane
12. Killian O’Hanlon
13. Seán Powter
14. Brian Hurley
15. Chris Óg Jones
Subs: P Doyle, C Kiely, T Clancy, K Flahive, P Walsh, E McSweeney, B Murphy, J O’Rourke , M Cronin, S Sherlock, F Herlihy.
Is Killarney green or blue? Celtic and Athletic to face off in tonight’s league final
Kerry Premier A League Final
Killarney Celtic v Killarney Athletic
Tonight at 7.45pm
Mounthawk Park, Tralee
Killarney Celtic will be gunning for their fifth league title in a row tonight (Friday) when they take on crosstown rivals Killarney Athletic in Tralee.
Celtic have been the dominant force in Kerry soccer in recent times with Athletic playing second fiddle. This will be the third Premier A final in a row to be contested by the Killarney clubs; Celtic won the 2020 decider 4-0 and last year’s final ended in a 3-0 victory for the club from Derreen. (The 2020/21 season was scrapped due to the pandemic.)
Prior to that, Celtic defeated Castleisland in 2019 and Dingle Bay Rovers in 2018, both on a scoreline of 1-0.
Celtic and Athletic also met in the 2017 final. The Blues prevailed in that particular encounter to capture their first ever Premier A title.
As for this season, Neilus Hayes’ Hoops qualified for the final by virtue of their first-place finish in the Premier A. Despite losing key players – including attackers Ryan Kelliher, Stephen McCarthy and Trpimir Vrljicak – to the Kerry FC project, the Celts won 12 of their 14 matches and ended up with an imposing goal difference of +34.
Athletic were not far behind, however; Stuart Templeman’s team only lost one league game all season en route to 35 points – one behind Celtic and 11 clear of Castleisland in third.
Interestingly, both of Celtic’s losses came at the hands of Athletic. The Woodlawn outfit impressively beat the old enemy 3-2 and 0-1 over the course of the regular season.
Goals by Roko Rujevcan, Pedja Glumcevic and a 90th-minute winner by Brendan Moloney clinched that dramatic 3-2 win in October of last year. It was a result that signalled Athletic’s intentions for the rest of the season.
Rujevcan was also on the scoresheet when Athletic snatched a rare away win at Celtic Park on April 30.
Celtic’s imposing record in finals probably makes them slight favourites and in the likes of John McDonagh, Brendan Falvey, Wayne Sparling, Kevin O’Sullivan and Witness Odirile they have a potent mix of steel and skill.
But Athletic will take heart from their recent results in this fixture and they will be hoping that two of the stars from the 2017 team – Shane Doolan and Shane Lynch – can lead the current crop of players to glory.
Meanwhile, the Division 2B final between Killarney Athletic B and Atletico Ardfert that was also due to take place tonight has been cancelled. Athletic have received a walkover.
Ireland’s oldest citizen has Killarney connections
Ireland’s oldest woman met with President Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin this week. Máirín Hughes, who turned 109...
Philip is running over 100kms for Cancer charity
Local runner and charity fundraiser Philip Kissane is set for the biggest challenge of his career as he lines up...
Game changer as Black Valley connects to 5G network
Residents of the Black Valley are enjoying 5G internet connection for the first time this week. The Black Valley...
Tiernaboul school children complete eight week French culture course
Children from Tiernaboul National School have become experts on French language and culture after completing an eight-week course. On Monday,...
Funding to tackle invasive Rhododendron in National Park
Funding of €17,000 has been allocated to tackle Rhododendron overgrowth in Killarney National Park. It is one of nine biodiversity...