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After six frustrating years in green and gold, latest setback was the last straw for Burns

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by Adam Moynihan

The news that Micheál Burns has left the Kerry panel raised a few eyebrows this week as Jack O’Connor indicated that the Dr Crokes man was unhappy with the amount of time he had been getting on the pitch.

On the surface it might seem a little rash. After all, Kerry have only played two competitive matches this year and the 27-year-old started one of them. But a closer look at his career in green and gold reveals that getting dropped for the Monaghan game a fortnight ago is the latest in a long line of setbacks that would take their toll on any footballer.

They say you make your own luck in sport and I’m sure Micheál himself would accept that he could have made more of some of the opportunities that he got, but all things considered he was unfortunate enough at times.

DEBUT

Burns first came to the attention of Kerry football supporters when he won the Man of the Match award in the 2014 All-Ireland minor final.

He eventually made his senior debut against Donegal in 2018, the same day Eamonn Fitzmaurice handed David Clifford and Seánie O’Shea their first starts at senior level. The diminutive but well-built wing forward kicked a point and he kept his place throughout the entire league campaign, scoring in six out of seven games (0-9 in total). It was an impressive return for a rookie.

However, he was still subbed off in six of those games, and this pattern would continue for much of his Kerry career. He started three times in the 2018 championship and scored 0-2 against both Cork and Kildare, yet he was taken off in all three matches.

2019 began with Crokes’ run to the All-Ireland Club final so he didn’t feature for Kerry in the league. His one start all year – against Meath in the Super 8s – ended on bad terms as Peter Keane subbed him off four minutes before half-time. Burns was visibly upset as he sat on the bench. It did seem like a harsh decision at the time. He didn’t play again that season.

The following year, 2020, turned out to be an annus horribilis for all of us but it actually started well for Burns. For my money he played his best football for his county in the pre-pandemic league matches. He wasn’t really known for his kicking at the time but he had clearly been working on this element of his game because he came out with all guns blazing.

After coming off the bench against Dublin in Croke Park, he started and scored in the next four matches, registering 0-2 against Galway, 0-1 against Tyrone, 0-3 against Meath and 0-1 against Mayo. Some of these points were real beauties. But he was still taken off in three of four games.

Covid was a disaster full stop but it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the industrious half forward from Killarney. He started both of the outstanding league fixtures when the season resumed in October but he couldn’t recapture that early season form. He didn’t see action in that disastrous defeat to Cork in the Munster semi-final as Keane started the match with a midfielder and a back in the half forward line.

FRUSTRATION

He started two games in the shortened 2021 season (against Dublin in the league and Tipperary in the championship) and once again his year ended in frustration when Keane left him lingering on the bench during Kerry’s extra time defeat to Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Burns might have been expecting his name to be called when David Clifford went down with an injury at the end of normal time – he was the last remaining forward on the bench – but instead Kerry turned to Paul Geaney, who had already been subbed off earlier in the game. Burns was eventually brought on as Kerry’s tenth sub with just four minutes of extra time to go. Whatever way you spin it, that must have been tough to take.

Jack O’Connor returned in 2022 and Burns hasn’t started a championship match since, although he did come on when Kerry beat Galway in the All-Ireland final. He also saw game time in each of Kerry’s last five championship outings of 2023. He didn’t score in those appearances last year and the lack of scoring threat from Kerry’s half forwards was a talking point at season’s end, but it could have been quite different for Burns had things gone his way.

He might have had a tap-in goal against Tyrone if Seánie O’Shea was feeling generous, and against Derry he was all alone and in a far better position when David Clifford decided to stop up and take a point to give Kerry a two-point lead late on. They were small moments but if they fell his way they could have shifted the narrative in Burns’ favour.

He played against Derry in the 2024 season opener but he didn’t have his best game and was substituted at half-time. Then he didn’t play against Monaghan the following weekend. After experiencing an uncommon amount of setbacks in his six-year career, this was evidently the straw that broke the camel’s back.

COMMITMENTS

No doubt some will say that it’s an honour to even be on the Kerry panel and there’s no shame in playing second fiddle to the calibre of forwards that Burns was up against. They’re right, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the man has to be content with not starting. The commitments that come with intercounty football are enormous. It’s hard enough when you’re getting the rewards you feel you deserve; it’s much harder when you’re not.

Burns will go back to his club and I’m sure he will be an important player for them for years to come.

As for Kerry, having a squad member depart mid-season is ideally something that you wouldn’t want to happen but if a guy isn’t happy, maybe it’s for the best. I’m sure Micheál’s friends on the panel will be sad to see him go but it shouldn’t be a big distraction. They are a professional group and it will be business as usual against Mayo on Saturday night.

For Kerry and for Burns, life goes on.

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Top Kerry GAA prospect Cillian Burke still weighing up AFL switch

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by Adam Moynihan

Highly-rated Kerry youngster Cillian Burke is set to travel to Australia later this year with a transfer to the Geelong Cats still potentially on the cards.

Conflicting reports sent the rumour mill into overdrive earlier this week with Burke said to be either AFL-bound or simply moving to Australia for a number of months before returning home at some point in 2025.

Although no official statement has been made by any of the relevant parties, the Killarney Advertiser understands that the talented 21-year-old is weighing up his options and he will make a decision on his future after spending some time Down Under in the latter part of 2024.

It is hoped, from a Kerry perspective, that he will decide against the switch, but it is feared that his head may already have been turned.

While few (if any) Kerry supporters would begrudge him his move, they would undoubtedly love to see the athletic middle-third player back in green and gold next season after he caught the eye as a substitute in recent matches. Despite his tender age and lack of experience (this was his first year on the senior panel), the Milltown/Castlemaine man was a game-changer in the All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Derry.

He was also influential in the semi-final against Armagh last weekend, scoring an important point in extra time and setting up another as favourites Kerry fell to an unexpected defeat.

With his impressive size, athleticism and ball skills, Burke could potentially have the makings of a future All-Star so losing him to the AFL would be a significant blow to The Kingdom and their chances of regaining the Sam Maguire trophy.

Geelong have a history of poaching Kerry talent. Pádraig Lucey (Killarney Legion) signed for the Cats in 2014, Mark O’Connor (Dingle) in 2016 and and Stefan Okunbor (Na Gaeil) in 2018.

Lucey and Okunbor later returned to Ireland having not made the inroads they would have been hoping for. Tralee native Okunbor has featured intermittently for Kerry since coming back but his progress has been severely hampered by a series of bad injuries.

O’Connor, meanwhile, has built a fine career for himself in Australia, winning the AFL Grand Final with the Victoria-based club in 2022.

Previously, Tadhg Kennelly (Listowel Emmets) and Tommy Walsh (Kerins O’Rahillys) played for the Sydney Swans. More recently, Rob Monahan (Ardfert) signed for Carlton in 2023.

Burke isn’t the only Kerry starlet currently on the radar of AFL scouts. Two members of this year’s Kerry U20 team, Charlie Keating (Dr Crokes) and Tomás Kennedy (Kerins O’Rahillys), are reportedly considering offers.

It is also believed that Aussie teams have their eyes on as many as four other Kerry prospects.

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‘There’s definitely more in me’ – Leahy feeling positive after close-run thing at nationals

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Kerry woman Sarah Leahy chats to Adam Moynihan about her recent outing at the National Outdoor Championships in Dublin. The Killarney Valley AC sprinter competed with the best of the best, including new Irish record holder Rhasidat Adeleke.

Adam Moynihan: You recently took part in the 100m final at the National Championships. How was that experience for you?

Sarah Leahy: Atmosphere-wise it was absolutely amazing. Just very good energy all around. And coming out for the final, obviously, Rhasidat brought a massive crowd. So that was really cool to be a part of because I don’t think there’s ever been a crowd that big at nationals before. To be in the final where so many people were there to watch her was obviously amazing.

What about the race itself?

I came fifth and ran a time of 11.74. On the day, with the whole excitement of it all, I was actually really happy with that. I was a bit disappointed but I was like, it’s a great day overall. I ran well, didn’t get a medal but I was really close. I didn’t get the perfect start like I did in the heat. So I was a little bit behind, but I just managed to come fifth in the end.

A week on, the excitement has kind of worn off, and I think there’s definitely a lot more in me. I could’ve pipped the third place But yeah, it is what it is. It was still good. I’m happy with it.

It was very tight for third place, wasn’t it?

Yeah, it was two-or-three-hundredths of a second and it was a blanket finish for four of us. So it was close but no cigar. Not this time. I came fifth last year as well, so I was hoping for at least fourth this year, but it ended up being the same. At least it wasn’t sixth! And there’s definitely more in me as well. Time-wise I’m just waiting for it to kind of happen a little bit. I believe it will. It was amazing to be in a race where a national record was broken.

And the standard was obviously very high across the board. All the big names were there.

It was a very high standard, yeah. Going in we kind of knew that first and second were gone (to Adeleke and Sarah Lavin). Everyone else was battling for that third medal and only one person could get it in the end. (Mollie O’Reilly got the bronze.) We were all close.

But overall I was super grateful to be in the mix, especially in a race that was that big. It’s one that will go down in history. It was a massive weekend and it was very enjoyable.

Rhasidat is a massive superstar now. What’s it like to run alongside her?

Rhasidat is a great athlete and a very nice girl. As you can see in interviews, she’s very humble. So to compete next to her, to literally be running in the lane right beside her, was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for more from the day in that respect. I thought she might have ran sub-11 because she did it before but she still got a national record. To be part of that race was a big deal for me.

Athletics in Ireland seems to be in a good place, particularly after the success the Irish team had in the recent European Championships in Rome. Does it feel like the sport is getting more attention and more recognition these days?

Oh 100%. Support for athletics has grown hugely in the last few years and I think it’ll continue to grow, especially with the success that Ireland had at the European Championships. I think the Olympics this year is going to drive that on even more because we have such great athletes going. The support is growing and rightfully so. The athletes are really getting the recognition they deserve. I think the future is very exciting for athletics in Ireland.

What about your own career? What’s next for you?

I have one last race of the season left, which is at the AAI Games on Sunday in Dublin. I’m hoping to just get a good run out, a good time, and execute the race well. Training will continue until the end of July, I’ll get a month off, and then we’re back training for indoors next year. I love indoors. I think I excel at that. There’s European Indoors and World Indoors next year, so to qualify for them would be a huge, huge goal.

As for outdoors, I’d like to get on the Irish relay team, but I’ll be focussing on indoors first. It should be a good year.

Are you enjoying it?

Yeah, I’m really enjoying it. I think sometimes you might put too much pressure on yourself and try to get a PB in every race but this year I’ve really learned that I’ve done the training, so it will happen when it happens. Just go out and run and let your body do its thing. And I’m actually really enjoying competing this year. I know I’m going to continue enjoying it for the next few years.

With the surrounding support of the club and coaches and my training group, it’s all going really well for me at the moment. I have no complaints at all. I’m very lucky.

Thanks for your time, Sarah, and all the best for the rest of the season.

Thank you very much, Adam. It was lovely talking to you.

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