by Adam Moynihan
It began so promisingly but, following the shock defeat to Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final, the Peter Keane era has ended in failure.
The Cahersiveen man's popularity took a nosedive in the immediate aftermath of that disappointing defeat in Croke Park: a poll carried out by the Killarney Advertiser revealed that just 23% of Kerry fans wanted Keane to stay on and lead the team again in 2022.
That figure had dropped to 18% by the middle of last week so it came as no surprise when the County Board announced that Jack O'Connor would be returning for a third spell in the hot seat.
Keane proved to be a divisive figure over the course of his dramatic three-year reign. Some of the natives warmed to him, some didn't. In the end, it was the lack of All-Irelands that sealed his fate.
He doesn't strike me as the type of character who will be feeling sorry for himself at the moment but privately he must be thinking to himself that, with a little rub of the green, things could have turned out very differently indeed.
When Keane took over as manager in September of 2018, the Kerry senior football team was in the dumps. They had failed to advance beyond the Super 8s that summer and previous manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice resigned, stating his belief that he had become “a lightning rod for negativity and criticism”.
Kerry had now gone four years without an All-Ireland. To make matters worse, each of those four titles were won by Dublin.
There was some cause for optimism, however: the minors had just sealed their fifth All-Ireland in a row - three of which had come under the guidance of the new senior bainisteoir. Talent was on its way and, in the form of David Clifford and Seán O’Shea, some of it had already arrived.
Still, expectations were low at the start of 2019. According to a Killarney Advertiser survey, just 18% of Kerry fans thought Sam would be returning to the county later that year. The vibe back then was that the team was still in transition. They had a new manager - a new lightning rod, if you will - and it would take time.
They weren’t yet ready to challenge the Dubs.
Keane must have been cursing his luck when troubles off the field provided an unwanted sideshow during his first 100 days in office. One Kerry player was convicted of assault following an incident that had occurred in 2017, and three others who had reportedly represented Kerry “at some grade” were accused of the same offence around the New Year. (It later transpired that none of the trio had played for the seniors at that time but, at a tetchy press conference, the new Kerry manager nevertheless faced some challenging questions.)
Despite this unwanted media attention and low expectations locally, Keane led Kerry to seven wins out of eight in the league, including a morale-boosting victory over Dublin in Tralee. The Kingdom came up short against Mayo in the final but they looked solid in the championship, the highlight perhaps coming on a sunny July day in Killarney when they trounced Mayo by 1-22 to 0-15. Keane’s young guns accounted for Tyrone in the semis to set up a dream final against Dublin.
The Dubs, now seeking an unprecedented five-in-a-row, were strong favourites but Keane’s players were brilliant and came within inches of clinching one of Kerry’s greatest ever All-Ireland final triumphs. Unfortunately, a silly turnover gifted Dublin a chance to equalise at the death, and they didn’t pass it up.
The replay was not so close but had Eoin Murchan’s goal been ruled out (as it should have been) for overcarrying, who knows what might have happened.
Still and all, it was a positive first year for Keane and his team. Something to build on for 2020.
Sadly, as it turned out, 2020 wasn’t much of a year for building. COVID-19 cast the GAA season into disarray and forced teams to effectively disband for a number of months and train from home. This was a challenge that all intercounty bosses had to face but, in terms of Kerry managers, Keane has the distinction of being the only one to have a pandemic landed into his lap.
After lockdown things went from bad to worse. Kerry won the rejigged National League but it felt like a hollow victory. No final took place due to time constraints and when David Clifford lifted the trophy in an empty Austin Stack Park (having beaten an understrength Donegal outfit), he looked half embarrassed.
Then came that rain-soaked nightmare in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Kerry looked to be heading for the Munster final when they led by a point in a brutally dour match, but once again poor decision-making led to a turnover. We all know what came next. A freak goal hit Kerry like a shovel to the face.
And the defeat came at the ultimate price. The championship had also been rejigged, which meant no back door. Goodnight and good luck to you. An entire year down the drain.
So not only was Keane the first Kerry manager forced to deal with a pandemic, he was also the first in 20 years forced to deal with a straight knockout championship. If the back door was open, could Kerry have bounced back? Kerry fans would like to think so.
Anyway, as it was, Dublin made it six.
Keane was probably feeling a little bit hard done by at this point but if he thought his bad luck was over for the year, he was sorely mistaken. Days after the Cork match, the Kerry manager had to be rescued by emergency services after taking a fall up Carrauntoohil. He had dislocated his shoulder. A week to forget for sure, although he’ll do well to achieve that particular feat.
For a million reasons, we all hoped that 2021 would be different. A more blessed year. After another lockdown, the early signs for Kerry were positive.
They emerged from the off-season playing free-flowing, attacking football. With newcomer Paudie Clifford pulling the strings, the goals were flying in from all angles. They ripped through the league and shared the title (once again no final was played). Later, a ferocious hammering of Cork capped an easy run through the Munster Championship.
It was all going swimmingly – especially considering the relatively shaky form of the defending All-Ireland champions – and confidence within the county was higher than it had been in years. Alas, more misfortune was around the corner for Keane and co.
Kerry’s semi-final opponents Tyrone had a COVID outbreak, the fallout from which is fresh enough in our minds without poring over it again. Long story short, the match was postponed twice, Kerry’s preparations were far from ideal, and they got ambushed in Croke Park by an excellent Tyrone performance.
Although Kerry underperformed, they had opportunities to win the game or at least force penalties at the end of extra time. Again, the on-field decision-making at crucial junctures left plenty to be desired.
Fortune did not favour Kerry that day. In truth, it did not favour Kerry on many big days during Peter Keane’s three-year reign.
Keane and Kerry were always likely to part ways after the disappointment of the Tyrone loss but the manner in which the County Board handled the changeover proved contentious. Keane's contract was up as soon as Kerry exited the championship but it became clear that he wanted to stay on. Kerry GAA were not so sure, though, so they accepted applications from other candidates, while also inviting Keane to reapply for the job. After going through the interview process, the outgoing boss lost out to Jack O’Connor, a man who had previously held the role almost a decade before him.
Whatever you think of Peter Keane you will surely have to agree with this much: he certainly wasn't the luckiest Kerry manager to ever take on the role.
But (and there’s always a ‘but’) it is often said in sport that you make your own luck. As marginal as Kerry’s failings were under Keane, the manager is the key decision-maker. If targets are not reached, he must accept the responsibility. And the criticism.
The general consensus is that Kerry’s shock extra-time defeats to Cork in 2020 and Tyrone in 2021 were the result of the team’s tactical approach for each game. Against Cork, Kerry were alarmingly defensive. They got dragged into a wrestling match in the mud when staying upright and working the jab was probably the way to go.
Cork got a slice of luck with the winning goal but Kerry should never have been in that position; they should have been out the gate in normal time.
This year, Kerry played completely into Tyrone’s hands by repeatedly carrying the ball into contact, and then failing to recognise that their approach was not working. Defensively, Keane’s side did not look structurally sound and the three goals that were leaked were the winning and losing of the match.
Critics will also point to Keane’s team selection both days. Although that's always going to happen when Kerry lose a big match, choosing to start Brian Ó Beaglaoich at half forward against Cork was a mistake. Ó Beaglaoich is a fine player and had a very good season in 2021 at corner back, but playing a natural defender in the forwards signalled Kerry's intent to set up defensively.
It was a major boost to Cork psychologically and their players have admitted as much since.
It wasn't the first time Keane had named a defender or midfielder at half forward. Generally, this was a trend that supporters did not warm to.
Against Tyrone, Keane's predilection for backs came home to roost when Kerry found themselves shy of attacking options down the stretch. With David Clifford injured and other forwards misfiring, Kerry lacked replacements who were capable of kicking scores.
The one alternative Keane did have it his disposal, Micheál Burns, was left sitting in the stand for 85 minutes.
Another perceived flaw of Keane’s relates to man management. Though some former players have spoken privately of the strong relationships Keane forms with his charges, and there was a core of Kerry players who remained loyal to him to the death, he did seem to rub some squad members up the wrong way.
The first controversy of his reign came with his very first squad announcement when he failed to notify outgoing regulars like Barry John Keane and Fionn Fitzgerald that they were no longer Kerry footballers. The oversight was significant enough to be flagged at a county board meeting, with Chairman Tim Murphy admitting that “things fell through the cracks”. Keane, however, defended his approach.
Over the course of his term, several players left or were dropped from the panel on bad terms. The Kerry manager is bound to step on toes along the way – that much is unavoidable - but from the outside it did seem as though more toes were stepped on than necessary.
Upon retiring, Shane Enright spoke of being frustrated by the lack of communication from the manager after he lost his place in the team.
Most recently, former Footballer of the Year James O’Donoghue left the squad mid-season after effectively being deemed surplus to requirements. O'Donoghue, highly regarded as one of the best players of his generation despite his injury woes, was reportedly left out of an internal A versus B training match, basically rendering him the 13th choice forward (at best) in the extended panel.
In light of the aforementioned dearth of attacking options available/utilised during the Tyrone defeat, many fans bemoaned O'Donoghue's absence in the days and weeks that followed.
There are also question marks about how well Keane worked with his backroom team. Defensive coach Donie Buckley was sacked in 2020 after apparently falling out of Keane’s favour, and there were unconfirmed reports at one point that another selector was growing frustrated with his role within the regime.
It must be reiterated that these reports were unconfirmed, and similar rumours about squad unrest were strenuously denied by the County Board and senior players at the end of 2020.
However, even those who have worked with Keane and hold him in high regard accept that he can be obstinate.
This type of stubbornness is a fairly common trait amongst football managers but it could also explain his apparent hesitancy in drafting in Tony Brosnan and Paudie Clifford, two stars at club level who were not introduced to the set-up as quickly as many supporters would have wished.
When it came to the media side of things, Keane was nothing if not evasive. His tactic of playing dumb in interviews charmed many observers for a while, this journalist included, but his refusal to be drawn on certain matters, and his relentless self-portrayal as a simple country man who “wouldn’t know much about that kind of thing”, did get a little tiresome at times. Some journalists lapped up the yerrahs. Others rolled their eyes. The same is probably true for Kerry supporters.
This attitude towards the media would have been tolerated far more broadly if Kerry managed to win an All-Ireland in any of the past three years. The same is true of most, if not all, of the criticism levelled at him above.
Ultimately, that was Keane's downfall. He was unable to get the most out of the undoubted talent at his disposal and, in a county where All-Irelands are the only currency, it's almost always a case of three "barren" years and you're out.
All in all, he carried himself with a fair amount of dignity and naturally all of us in Kerry must thank him for his efforts. There were good days, even if the bad ones are likely to live longer in the memory.
Good luck to you, Peter. All things considered, you’re probably due a drop of it.
Almost impossible to look beyond East Kerry but Dingle are best placed to challenge
Adam Moynihan breaks down the groups and likely contenders in the 2023 Kerry Senior Football Championship
Group 1: East Kerry, South Kerry, West Kerry, Templenoe
Defending champions East Kerry are on the hunt for their fourth county title in five years and with a talented squad that’s looking as stacked as ever, only the brave would back against them.
Rathmore’s promotion back to senior level means that Kerry players Shane Ryan and Paul Murphy are missing from last year’s nine-point final victory over Mid Kerry but East Kerry’s strength in depth in all sectors means that no individual player is irreplaceable – excepting the obvious.
David Clifford’s performance for the ages in Fossa’s landmark intermediate semi-final win over Stacks provided a stark reminder of his awe-inspiring talents. Paudie Clifford was excellent too and this year the Two Mile brothers are joined on the panel by four clubmates – another glaring indicator of how far Fossa have come.
James O’Donoghue must be considered an injury doubt after only managing a cameo in Legion’s last outing but his clubmates Brian Kelly, Jonathan Lyne, Darragh Lyne and Cian Gammell are all likely to feature. Current Kerry senior panelists Chris O’Donoghue and Darragh Roche (Glenflesk), Ronan Buckley and Ruairí Murphy (Listry), and Donal O’Sullivan (Kilgarvan) would also be expected to play their part, with plenty of young talent from all seven clubs hoping to break into the starting line-up.
Realistically, the holders should navigate Group 1 with little fuss with South Kerry, West Kerry and Templenoe battling it out for second.
South Kerry and Templenoe played out a draw in the group stage of last year’s championship so there might not be much between them this year either.
West Kerry will be aiming to pick up at least one result after losing all three of their fixtures in 2022.
VERDICT: East Kerry and Templenoe
GROUP 2: Kenmare Shamrocks, Rathmore, St Kieran’s, Feale Rangers
Kenmare came mightily close in the Senior Club final and they should be able to carry that momentum through to the County Championship. Seánie O’Shea is obviously their one bona fide match winner but they’re also strong around the middle third where James McCarthy, David Hallissey and Kevin O’Sullivan put in the hard yards.
The fact that Feale Rangers reached last year’s semi-final indicates that they’re on an upward trajectory. The question now is can they repeat the trick? In 2022 the team was backboned by Listowel Emmets players (seven started that defeat to Mid Kerry) and those lads are coming into this competition in confident form having secured a spot in the still-to-be-played Junior Premier final.
Rathmore are always a tough championship team and the Ryans (Cathal and Mark at midfield and Shane at full forward) are sure to be a handful for any opposition.
St Kieran’s have troubled decent teams in the not-too-distant past – although they lost all three group games (including one against Kenmare) a year ago.
VERDICT: Kenmare and Feale Rangers
GROUP 3: Mid Kerry, Spa, Kerins O’Rahillys, Shannon Rangers
In 2022, Spa found the going tough in a Group of Death that included East Kerry and Dingle. The draw has been kinder to them this time around and they would probably expect to beat Rahillys and Shannon Rangers.
The wheels came off against Dingle in this year’s Senior Club Championship but they impressed the week before against Kenmare. Dara Moynihan, Evan Cronin and Cian Tobin will be important players in attack, with Dan O’Donoghue manning the midfield and Shane Cronin protecting their defensive third from number 6.
Mid Kerry, runners-up last season, will provide their sternest test in this pool. A lot of eyes (including those of Jack O’Connor) will be on Cillian Burke after his heroics for Milltown/Castlemaine in the semi-final of the Intermediate Club Championship. His clubmate Éanna O’Connor (son of the Kerry bainisteoir) will also play a crucial role at centre forward.
Rahillys are facing a relegation playoff if they fail to reach the final of the Kerry SFC and their form in recent weeks would suggest that making it that far is a long shot.
VERDICT: Mid Kerry and Spa
GROUP 4: Dingle, Dr Crokes, St Brendan’s, Na Gaeil
Breaking free of East Kerry’s stranglehold will not be easy but crafty Senior Club champions Dingle are surely best placed to wriggle loose. With four in-form Geaneys in the forwards – Paul, Mikey, Conor and Dylan – they have the tools to trouble any defence, and the return of their established AFL player Mark O’Connor adds solidity going the other way. They also have the incomparable Tom O’Sullivan pulling the strings. As things stand, they are easily the standout club team in the county.
Their Group 4 opponents Dr Crokes will be aiming to improve upon their showing in 2022 when they bowed out at the quarter-final stage. Naturally much will depend on the availability or otherwise of star players Gavin White and Tony Brosnan. White missed the recent Senior Club semi-final defeat to Kenmare with a hamstring injury. Encouragingly, Brosnan (who has been sidelined with a recurrence of a lung problem) was togged for that match, though he did not play.
The Killarney club will be fancied to qualify from their group alongside Dingle, although St Brendan’s – strengthened by the addition of an unknown number of Austin Stacks players to their ranks – could be dangerous.
The other team in the pool, Na Gaeil, are facing a relegation playoff against Rahillys once both sides are finished with the Kerry SFC. Reaching the final of this competition would spare them but Na Gaeil can count themselves unlucky to have been handed a difficult draw for the second year in a row.
VERDICT: Dingle and Dr Crokes
All things considered East Kerry and Dingle appear to be the frontrunners to capture the Bishop Moynihan trophy but there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way, starting this weekend with a full round of fixtures.
All eight matches will be either televised or streamed online. Dingle v Dr Crokes is on TG4. The remaining seven matches are on Clubber.
Friday 8pm Na Gaeil v St Brendan’s (Austin Stack Park)
Saturday 3pm Templenoe v West Kerry (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Saturday 5.30pm Rahillys v Shannon Rangers (Austin Stack Park)
Saturday 7.30pm East Kerry v South Kerry (Austin Stack Park)
Sunday 1.30pm Rathmore v St Kieran’s (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Sunday 2.15pm Dingle v Dr Crokes (Austin Stack Park)
Sunday 3.30pm Feale Rangers v Kenmare Shamrocks (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Sunday 4.15pm Mid Kerry v Spa (Austin Stack Park)
Kerry’s old dogs ready for Tyrone challenge in All-Ireland final
Adam Moynihan chats to Kerry Masters goalkeeper Tony Lyons ahead of the over 40 All-Ireland football final
Hi Tony. Thanks for speaking to me.
No problem, Adam.
Can you tell me about the Kerry Masters’ season to date?
We played six round robin games in the league phase to see which competition we would be in at the end. There are five championships in all with the senior championship being for teams that finish 1st to 4th in the league, the plate for 5th to 8th and so on. There were 23 counties involved in total this year with new entrants like Armagh, Derry and Limerick.
We won five of our six league games against Limerick, Cork, Waterford, London and Clare. Unfortunately we were well beaten by Dublin during the league phase but that served us well because we knuckled down after that and upped the training to twice a week.
We also got a physical trainer on board from Keel, David Clifford, and he has had a huge influence on our development the last couple of months, allied to Adam and Gary O’Reilly from Glenflesk, and Jason Foley from Keel.
We then beat Derry in the All-Ireland quarter-final by a point, setting up a semi-final against Galway in Limerick which we won by 12 points to 7 a couple of weeks back. it That quarter-final win against Derry was our most pleasing result of the season because we were down a few bodies.
What’s the standard like?
The standard is actually very good. While we don’t have a lot of former Kerry players with us – aside from William Kirby and Aidan O’Mahony – we do have a very good calibre of club player with us, the likes of John O’Connor from Kerins O’Rahillys and John Paul Leahy from Ballyduff for example. We’ve come across some big names in some of the games. Limerick had Ciarán Carey, Dublin had Denis Bastick, Cork had Nicholas Murphy and John Miskella, and Derry had Paddy Bradley.
The first halves of the games are really competitive with the second halves probably becoming more of a war of attrition. The key is having depth in your squad and being able to bring players in and out at the right time as players tire, and I think Adam and his management team have mastered that at this stage.
Would a number of the players have represented Kerry at some level in the past?
We haven’t a huge amount of former Kerry seniors but some of the guys would have represented Kerry at junior and underage level at various stages. What the management team focused on when it became apparent some of the former players weren’t joining was getting good quality club players who could commit and make most of the trainings, and I think that has worked well for them.
What’s key as well is that a lot of the players have been playing very recently for their clubs either at senior or junior level. That’s a huge help.
How are the fitness levels?
Depends on what time of the season you’re talking about! The first few weeks is all about trying to knock off the pounds and get to a certain level of fitness. In fairness to Adam O’Reilly, he places a big focus on the warm-up which is important for players of all ages but especially for those of us over 40.
Very few of the starting 15 would last the 60 or 65 minutes so it’s important that the replacements coming in can add an impetus and build on what the guys before them have done. Last year our panel was probably a little light but we have added well with the likes of Kevin Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds), Mark Crowley (Kenmare) and James Nagle (Keel) – all strong and very fit guys – coming in.
Tell me more about your management team.
Adam O’Reilly is the manager. He came on board this year and brought Gary O’Reilly and Jason Foley with him. Gary looks after the statistics, gear and so on and Jason is a selector as well as taking parts of training at various times. David Clifford came on board about two months ago as physical trainer and he has added greatly to the set-up, improving our fitness levels and tackling in particular.
What’s the most enjoyable part of playing with the Kerry Masters?
A huge part of it, Adam, is playing with guys who you would have tried to knock lumps out of at club level over the years! There’s a big social part to it also with us meeting for a pint or two after games and, as well as that, guys getting back into a dressing room environment and having the craic at training.
For some guys who were never lucky enough to wear the Kerry jersey, there’s a huge sense of pride to put it on at this stage. It’s a real an honour. To be fair to the other teams we played, they have treated us with a lot of respect because they know Kerry teams will play football first and foremost.
Also it’s nice to involve our families, kids, partners, and wives and for them to come to the games. We have noticed a lot more people coming to our matches this season.
Which of your teammates are the best craic?
There are a few fellas like Tim O’Donoghue who thinks he’s hilarious but the jury’s out on that one. I suppose the goalies, myself and Niall Hobbert, would be jokers but then the rest of the panel would tell you the jury is out on us too! Kirby is good craic, as is the former Spa man Brian O’Sullivan Darcy. It’s great fun. I would thoroughly recommend it to any guy 40 or over who wants to play a bit of competitive football and also continue training in what is almost like a club environment.
How would you rate your chances in the final on Saturday? Are you expecting a difficult challenge from Tyrone?
Look, it’s going to be very tough. Tyrone have won the last two All-Ireland finals at Masters level and they have the experience, whereas this is our first go, as it were. They have a solid team built with the likes of Seán Cavanagh, Conor Gormley and Stephen O’Neill in their ranks.
It will be a tall order for sure but we’ll give it our all and the whole panel are chomping at the bit and ready for action.
Kerry v Tyrone takes place on Saturday at 4pm in Roscommon. Follow @KerryMastersGAA on Twitter for more information.
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