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Adam Moynihan: Some of the criticism aimed at the county board has been unfair

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As Tim Murphy patiently waited for some of the delegates to put themselves on mute, he didn’t look entirely comfortable in his seat. Monday’s County Board meeting was about to begin via Zoom (once the background noise had ceased), and the Kerry GAA chair knew what was coming.

The manner in which he and his fellow officers had handled the recruitment process to find the “next” Kerry manager had been criticised in certain quarters. The Brosna native was about to get it in the neck.

Sitting in the pavilion in Austin Stack Park with just Peter Twiss (secretary) and Leona Twiss (PRO) for company, Murphy invited and then noted a string of questions and concerns from eight club representatives. The words “transparency”, “bias”, “unfair treatment” and “mishandled” came up more than once. One delegate spoke of being contacted by people who are “very unhappy and annoyed” at the way the situation played out. Another referenced a report on Off The Ball in which “sources” had claimed that Jack O’Connor had sewn up the gig before the others (Keane and Stephen Stack) had even interviewed.

The fact that many of the concerns and most of the criticism came from clubs associated with Peter Keane or his selectors is worth noting. St Mary’s (Keane and Maurice Fitzgerald’s home club), Listry (where Keane lives), Laune Rangers (from Killorglin, where Keane has his business), Beaufort (a team Keane was previously involved with), and Kilcummin (James Foley’s club) all had their say. That’s not to say that their concerns weren’t genuine or valid, but it does appear to indicate that the old GAA mantra of “looking after our own” was at play, at least to some extent.

More telling was the fact that the vast majority of clubs in the county raised no concerns at all.

Nevertheless, Murphy had to field the questions that were asked and he did so quite well. He stood over everything he and his five-person sub-committee had done and he bristled at the suggestion that there was anything untoward about the process.

“This suggestion about it being a done deal going back three weeks ago or four weeks ago is totally erroneous, totally untrue, totally unfounded,” he said.

“I think it’s disgraceful. It’s the lowest of the low.”

After the chairman had addressed everyone’s concerns, Jack O’Connor was ratified without so much as a peep of dissent from anyone. That probably shows you where most of the clubs really stand on this whole episode.

I, for one, think the County Board have been unfairly criticised over the past few weeks. And readers of this column will know that I wouldn’t be one for praising boards or administrators just for the sake of an easy life.

The interview process was a smart way to go because there were doubts about Keane and there were no obvious alternatives. Firstly, it gave Keane the opportunity to present his case and maybe offer up some solutions. It has been reported in the media that if Keane was to stay on, the players would have liked to have seen a fresh face or two in the backroom team. Maybe if Keane had indicated that he was open to freshening up that side of things, the sub-committee would have viewed his application more favourably.

Secondly, the process allowed O’Connor and Stack to present their own cases and make an impression on the board. Evidently, O’Connor made the best presentation. Is it possible that he was the preferred candidate from the start? Absolutely, but there will be favourites for every role. It doesn’t mean that the others had no chance of overtaking him.

If Keane didn’t end up getting the job, it was always going to get a bit messy, but that’s life. And that’s Kerry football. As Murphy suggested, the circus was created by other parties – predominantly the media and the fans. The board remained tight-lipped throughout.

Not thanking Peter Keane ahead of O’Connor’s ratification irked many observers (Murphy did so after O’Connor was officially appointed) and maybe that could have happened a bit earlier.

Having said that, the board were roundly criticised for not thanking Keane when announcing that the process for finding the “next” Kerry manager had begun. How could they thank him then when he was still in the running? Even after it was announced that the sub-committee would be nominating O’Connor, what if there was uproar at the county board meeting and the Dromid man wasn’t ratified?

Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No.

For his part, Keane didn’t help matters with his statement claiming that “all the players” were behind him - that muddied the waters for sure. It was a crazy thing to say. No manager in the world has that kind of support, and Keane absolutely did not.

All in all, Murphy came out of the meeting largely unscathed. His five years are up in December. He will be hoping that this was the last controversy of his tenure.

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Kerry will need more intensity, more physicality and more collaboration to bounce back from Dub drubbing

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by Adam Moynihan

In the 22nd minute of last Saturday night’s league match in Croke Park, Lee Gannon collected a pass on his own 65 and carried the ball unchallenged right into the heart of Kerry’s defence. Brian Fenton took over and a tackle by Diarmuid O’Connor slowed the attack.

Then Fenton looked up and saw that Niall Scully was standing at the top of the D, completely unmarked. It was a simple five-metre handpass to the centre, and Scully had all the time in the world to steady himself and shoot. His point made it Dublin 2-8 Kerry 0-5. Ten shots for Dublin. Ten scores. One-way traffic.

The Dubs deserve credit for their accuracy in front of the posts – Con O’Callaghan was particularly excellent – but the ease with which they were creating their openings was startling from a Kerry perspective. For Scully’s score, the resistance was non-existent. If the same thing happened in a training match, the manager would be well within his rights to call off the session and send everyone home.

The cameras may have been trained on Kerry’s full back line and, yes, Jason Foley and Dylan Casey were struggling against O’Callaghan and Paddy Small, but Kerry were found wanting all over the pitch. You could have sailed the Titanic down the centre of their defence and O’Callaghan exploited that space to great effect for his third goal. Foley got hoodwinked by a lovely piece of movement by the Dublin full forward, but where was the help?

Centre back Tadhg Morley was pushing up on Dublin dangerman Seán Bugler but that’s the thing with Dublin: all their forwards are dangerous in one way or another. Maybe Tadhg was following instructions but you wonder if he could have cheated off Bugler when the all-action centre forward was outside the 45.

Whether it’s Morley or someone else, that gap in front of the goal needs to be filled – especially against teams of Dublin’s calibre.

What we saw in Croke Park last Saturday was a far cry from the solid defensive structure that won Kerry an All-Ireland in 2022, that’s for sure. You can be certain that Jack O’Connor will be demanding a far more intense, more physical and more collaborative performance against Tyrone on Sunday (1.15pm).

KICKOUTS

Speaking after the Dublin game, O’Connor said that his side “malfunctioned” on the kickouts. While Dublin keeper David O’Hanlon was firing out his kicks like a machine gun, Shane Ryan was far more measured with his. Dublin’s press was brilliant in fairness to them but you’d have to question Kerry’s appetite for making honest, hard runs and receiving the ball in potentially tight areas.

Graham O’Sullivan and Brian Ó Beaglaoich (who is currently injured) are outstanding when it comes to breaking free and accepting that responsibility. You’d like to see one or two more backs getting in on the act.

As for Ryan himself, could he be a bit quicker and a bit more adventurous with his distribution? Look, if there’s nothing on, there’s nothing on, but I think at times he could back himself more resolutely. He has the range and the accuracy.

Of course, if he takes a risk and it gets intercepted he’ll be in line for even sharper criticism, so you can understand him being cautious when the kick isn’t 100% on.

Whatever the solution, on the evidence of the Dublin and Derry games, Kerry do need to try something a bit different to beat the press. Tyrone are unlikely to be as aggressive as Dublin were but when they do push up, it will be fascinating to see how Kerry deal with it.

Kerry’s midfielders also need to compete aerially against whoever they’re up against when it goes long – even if that’s Brian Fenton or Conor Glass or Brendan Rogers. It’s not easy to get the better of these guys in the air (or to break even, which would do) but that’s the level required.

Joe O’Connor showed that his ball skills have improved markedly by taking his goal and his point so cleanly, and he is doing well in general, but he and his namesake Diarmuid will have to be more impactful both from kickouts and without the ball if Kerry want to be a real force this season.

Personally, I would like to see Seán O’Brien getting some more game time. He has only played six minutes since being taken off early on his debut against Derry five weeks ago. Kerry will need back-up at midfield as the season goes on and O’Brien has a lot of potential.

FORWARDS

Up front, the main positive is that Cillian Burke continues to make his presence felt. Even when his more experienced teammates were faltering the last night, Burke stood tall and played his usual game. And he swung over a great score for good measure.

David Clifford will be disappointed that he didn’t convert one of his goal chances – the first one was definitely there for the taking – but you know that over the course of the season he’ll finish more of those than he misses. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if he comes out and strokes one in on Sunday.

It’s nice to see Tony Brosnan back on the pitch as well. He deserves some kind fortune following a tough spell with illness and injury.

Tyrone coming to Killarney gives the players the perfect opportunity to bounce back quickly and show supporters – and themselves – that the Dublin game was a glitch and nothing more. Improvements are needed all over the pitch but the sight of the Red Hand should bring focus and resolve.

A good performance, a win and two points would put a lot of minds at ease.

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Killarney girls will answer Ireland’s call

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A trio of talented young Killarney rugby players have been called up to the Ireland U18 squad for the upcoming Six Nations festival in Wales.

Ava O’Malley, Fia Whelan and Emma Dunican have all been included in Matt Gill’s panel for the tournament, which will take place between March 29 and April 6. They will link up with their new teammates for three weekend training camps at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin during the month of March.

Gill, the current Women’s Provincial Talent Coach for Leinster, will be assisted by Sana Govender, who has previously coached Munster Women’s teams.

“I’m really looking forward to continuing our Irish U18 Women’s Six Nations preparations and getting our camps underway,” the head coach said. “I’m excited to work with Sana and our management team, and to work with this incredibly talented group of players.”

O’Malley, Whelan and Dunican are products of Killarney RFC’s blossoming youth set-up and all three were on the U18.5 team that recently won the Munster League.

Including the Killarney girls, there are seven Munster-based players on the 35-woman squad with 15 hailing from Leinster, eight from Connacht and five from Ulster.

“It’s a very proud day for the girls, their families, teammates and coaches, and for Killarney RFC,” the club commented. “Best of luck, girls!”

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