by Adam Moynihan
When Kerry travelled to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the 2019 Munster final, three years ago last week, their frailties were laid bare for all to see. They scored 1-19 and ended up with the right result but every Kerry fan in attendance came home saying the same thing: we’ll win no All-Ireland defending like that.
Cork scored three goals to go along with their 10 points - which was alarming enough by itself - but more worrying was the fact that Kerry coughed up four or five more goalscoring chances on top of that. Pat Moynihan could have driven his big red bus through the gaps down the centre of Kerry’s defence. And bear in mind that this was Cork doing the damage. What would the five-in-a-row-chasing Dubs do to us?
Kerry went on to give Dublin a good rattle in the All-Ireland final, pushing the champs to a replay, but they were ultimately undone by an opposition player running completely unchallenged from his own 65, right down the barrel of the gun, and dispatching a goal from the 13-metre line. No one laid a hand on him. From a defensive perspective, it was criminal.
The Kingdom kept six clean sheets in 16 games in 2019. In fairness to Peter Keane and his management team, this was a marked improvement on 2018 when Kerry managed just two in 12. But if anything Kerry’s ability to shut out their opponents deteriorated over the last two seasons. Kerry kept a clean sheet three times in eight attempts in 2020, and in 2021 their record was 0/8.
The 2020 campaign came crashing down when Cork scored a very preventable last-minute goal, and it’s safe to assume that Kerry would have at least reached an All-Ireland final were it not for the three goals Tyrone registered in last year’s semi-final.
Throughout all of these unsuccessful seasons, or certainly towards the tail end of them, Kerry’s defenders, especially the full back line, had targets on their backs. Guys like Jason Foley and Tadhg Morley were singled out. “Not up to it”. On the surface it makes sense to blame the backs. The full forward scores a goal ergo the full back is at fault, right?
It wasn’t that simple. If you look at the Cork match and pinpoint where the goal chances came from, most of them originated from runners out the field. It was the collective that was the problem, and the structure, not the full back line or anyone in it.
This season is proof. Under Jack O’Connor Kerry have kept nine clean sheets in 11 games. That’s as many shutouts as the previous three years combined.
That is an astonishing turnaround, especially when you consider the fact that the personnel involved hasn't changed too much at all.
If you compare the Cork game in 2019 with the Mayo game last weekend, 12 of the 15 starters are the same. Another starter on Sunday came off the bench against Cork in ’19, and two subs who came on also came on in that provincial decider three years ago.
Two of Kerry’s most maligned backs back then, Jason Foley and Tadhg Morley, are now being heralded as potential All-Stars. What has changed?
Well, in the case of Foley and Morley, their positions have changed for starters. Foley has shifted from corner back to full back and Morley from full back to No. 6. Morley’s positional switch seems so obvious now that it has actually come to pass. He’s a natural fire fighter and is perfectly suited to man the area in front of Kerry’s full back line.
As excellent as they have been so far this season, to focus too much on the performances of Foley and Morley is to fall into the same trap people fell into in 2019. Just as Kerry’s defensive shortcomings in recent seasons weren’t down to individuals, Kerry’s defensive strengths this season are not down to individuals either.
At the end of last season I wrote about Kerry’s version of 100% effort without the ball and how I felt it differed to Tyrone’s version of 100% effort without the ball. It wasn’t that Kerry weren’t trying, far from it. It just didn’t seem like Kerry players revelled in the act of spoiling. It almost felt, as a supporter looking on, that conceding goals didn’t hurt them enough. Opponents were bursting through untracked, or if they were tracked they emerged from their foray unscathed.
This year something has clicked. Across the board, the tackling intensity has been turned up a notch or two and Kerry are hunting in packs. Guys like Brian Ó Beaglaoich (a hugely underrated player in my opinion), Adrian Spillane and Jack Barry have been irritants to the opposition, which is precisely what was needed. (Spillane and Barry will be big losses if they don’t recover in time for the Dublin game.)
You’d have to say that Jack O’Connor and his backroom team of Micheál Quirke, Diarmuid Murphy and Paddy Tally have installed a really good defensive structure. The clean sheet stats don’t lie.
Kerry aren’t there yet. It only takes one poor showing to undo the work of an entire season. But as things stand, for all the team’s riches in attack, it’s the defence that should give supporters hope. Nine clean sheets so far. Two more and Kerry will, in all likelihood, be All-Ireland champions.
Popularity of Ladies Gaelic Football on the rise
According to official TAM Ireland figures, 491,000 tuned into TG4’s coverage of the TG4 Ladies Football finals on Sunday with an average audience of 204,900 people watching the live broadcast […]
According to official TAM Ireland figures, 491,000 tuned into TG4’s coverage of the TG4 Ladies Football finals on Sunday with an average audience of 204,900 people watching the live broadcast of the Senior Final between Meath and Kerry.
The match had a 30.6% share of viewing among individuals. Viewing peaked at 5.10pm with 279,800 viewers as Meath closed in on the two in a row to retain the Brendan Martin Cup.
A total 46,400 attended the match in person in Croke Park on Sunday, the first TG4 Ladies Football Final to have full capacity allowance since 2019.
Viewers from over 50 countries tuned into the finals on the TG4 Player with 14,000 streams of the game from international viewers. Over 20,000 streams were also registered from Irish viewers.
TG4 Director General Alan Esslemont said: “My deepest gratitude to all the counties especially Wexford and Kerry who battled to the end through this season’s Championship, hearty congratulations to both Laois and Meath and I am really looking forward to the re-match of Antrim and Fermanagh which will be carried live on TG4. A special word of thanks goes to the huge crowd which travelled to the Finals from all the corners of Ireland. County Meath especially have become a role model for other counties in how to build huge attending support for LGFA in both genders and at all ages. Sunday’s massive expression of Meath ‘fandom’ in Croke Park brought their county the greatest credit.
Sunday’s broadcast was the 22nd edition of the TG4 Ladies Gaelic Football Championship, a unique history of a sport minoritized by society being championed by a language media minoritized by the state. By consciously standing together we have grown together. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the LGFA in 2024 let us all hope by that time that we are even further along the road towards true equality of opportunity for both Ladies Gaelic Football and Irish language media.”
Following her World Championships debut, Leahy is hungry for more
Adam Moynihan met Killarney sprinter Sarah Leahy at the Killarney Valley AC Arena to chat about her recent appearance at the World Championships, her goals for the rest of the year, and a very special pair of socks
Hi Sarah. Thanks for showing me around Killarney Valley’s facilities. It’s an impressive set-up.
The track facilities here are perfect. We have everything we need and Killarney Valley are always looking to improve the facilities and the club itself. All the people behind the scenes at are the MVPs, people like Jerry and Tomás Griffin, Jean Courtney, and Bríd Stack to mention just a few.
You recently competed in the World Championships in Oregon as part of the Irish 4 x 100m relay team, finishing eighth in your heat. How did you feel the event went for you?
We’re very proud of each other, and we did well, but we definitely could have run better. We had more. We were aiming for and felt we were capable of running a national record. But on the day, it just didn’t happen.
Personally, it was a great experience. I loved every second of it. But I will admit that the actual running part is a bit of a blur. I came onto the track and there’s this huge stadium, but I was more looking around at the people I was running against. Ewa Swoboda – I thought she’d win the World Indoor – she was four people away from me and I was looking at her… She was probably like, ‘Why is this woman staring at me?’ I was very nervous. But it was still amazing and I hope I can do it again.
The fact that I was running against international athletes that have been to the Olympics and been finalists, I was kind of star struck. My trainers are like, okay Sarah, calm down. You’re meant to be here. Don’t act like you shouldn’t.
Can you describe your mindset before a race? Do you often get nervous?
On the line it’s all about how you’re feeling, what you can do. You just have to get mentally prepared for a good start. Especially for me. Get out, and run as fast as you can. Just getting in the zone, I guess. I’ll know if I’m not in the zone, because I’m thinking of other things. If I’m on the blocks my head shouldn’t be wandering. It should be blank and all I should be waiting for is that gun.
Would you say that you’re an ultra competitive person?
I’m a competitive person, obviously. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be competing at this level. But I also come from a team background, and I’m friends with a lot of these girls, so I want them to do well as well. And if they happen to beat me, fair play. You put in the training, you did very well. I’m very happy for you.
We all kind of get prepared differently. A lot of people for the warm-up, which is an hour or half an hour before the race, have the earphones on, gameface on, not talking to anyone, not smiling at anyone. I’m completely different. The more nervous I am, the more I’m going to talk.
There was a situation in Greece where everyone had their earphones on and I was mad to talk to everyone. That could change but as of right now I do tend to talk a lot. And then, going on to the track, obviously there’s no more talking. You’re getting ready for the race and mentally preparing.
Tell me about the socks you wore in Oregon.
[laughs] My socks were a Valentine’s Day gift from my boyfriend, Daniel. They had his face all over them and they say ‘I love you’. So yeah, I just ran the Worlds with my boyfriend’s face on my feet. He was delighted!
Daniel was the person who pushed for me to go back to running. He knew I was no longer enjoying the football and he heard the way I spoke about athletics. He helped me make the decision to go back. It was the best decision so it was only right I wore the socks and he was there in some way. I probably wouldn’t have been there without him.
Did you have some of your own supporters over there?
Yes, my mom and dad (Marie and Mike) actually travelled over. They spent the week and it was unreal to have them there. And then my cousins from Vancouver in Canada drove down which was I think over 10 hours. I was actually warming up before the relay and then I saw and heard my family with all their Kerry jerseys, Irish jerseys, Irish flags, roaring my name. That was really nice.
What’s the plan for the rest of 2022?
I was hopeful that we were going to send a 4 x 100 relay team to the Europeans but I just got an email saying that we wouldn’t, which is disappointing. I know some of top 2022 female sprinters aren’t available but some are and with any of them we would do well over there. We would be competitive. We held our qualification of being in the top 16 teams all summer so it’s a pity that, at the last second, we aren’t going.
In saying that, the women’s Irish relay will continue to work hard and we have a lot more to give. We will prove that next year.
You’re moving to Dublin for work later this year. How will this affect your training?
I might have to change coaches again, which I’m a bit sad about because I really liked the Limerick training group (Leahy was in UL where she trained with the Hayley and Drew Harrison). I think I performed well and I loved the training. I was surrounded by the right people who were really lovely. I hope to find a group like that in Dublin and keep running well and performing better.
And what about next season?
I’d like another good indoor season. I was talking to Lauren Roy in Stockholm and she told me that I have the European standard in the 60m from last year. Which I didn’t know! So that’s kind of in my head now to try and get there, to improve my time. I think I could actually run faster. I ran 7.39 and I’d like to run at least 7.30, hopefully get another European standard, and actually go to the Europeans. I think it’s in Germany. That’d be my target.
And then next summer, there’s the Worlds again. So it’d be nice to continue making the Irish relays and definitely improve my time, because there’s more. I can definitely run faster over 100.
What is your current PB in the 100m? Are you close to bettering it?
I ran 11.67, which I was delighted with. But it was my first run of the season. It’s quite rare that you run a PB in the season opener. But I ran it, and I haven’t ran it since. The closest was 11.70 in Switzerland. So I definitely think there’s more in there. And I think I have a lot to learn as well. I’m still new to the sport and I’m a powerful kind of runner. I was doing a lot of gym work at the beginning of the year, before I ran my PB, and then afterwards usually people taper it off. So I did what other people do. I think that affected my running a little bit. I’m slightly weaker. So I’ve learned that maybe next year I shouldn’t do that. Then hopefully I’ll be running PB after PB, instead of just a one-off.
Onwards and upwards. Chat to you again soon.
Headford man’s 1948 Jaguar the star of car run
A staggering 157 classic and vintage cars and motorcycles took part in the 12th annual Car and Honda 50 Run,...
White Tailed Sea Eagles released into Killarney National Park
By Sean Moriarty Four White-tailed Eagle chicks have been released into the wild in Killarney National Park. The National Park...
MacGillycuddy’s Reeks’ walking trails to get government funding
Walking trails in the MacGillycuddy Reeks are one of 12 tourism projects in Kerry that are set to benefit...
Fuel crisis: don’t believe the hype
Did you ever feel like you are been taken for a fuel? Two separate news stories, one international and one...
Sam Maguire to feature at next week’s AugustFest
Killarney Racecourse is set to host the exciting three-day summer horse-racing festival from Thursday August 18 to Saturday 20 inclusive. The...