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Birdie after birdie: The remarkable golf career of Michael Guerin

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Legendary Killarney golfer and three-time South of Ireland champion Michael Guerin speaks to Eamonn Fitzgerald about some of his career highlights, including a remarkable round which included 12 birdies in 13 holes

Recently, I was playing our friendly fourball in Killarney and got to the compulsory stop off at the 9th on the Mahony’s course to sample the tea and hot scones prepared by the genial Paul Cotter in the Chapel. He was waiting with a single lighted candle on a scone. Why?

A fourball came off the 14th on Killeen, regular visitors to Paul’s: Dermot Foley, Seán Brosnan, Tom Prendergast and Michael Guerin, wearing that distinctive white golfer’s cap. He was celebrating his 80th birthday that day and what better way to start the celebration than to play the game that made him famous?

No need to divulge his score after 14 holes, except that it was low, too low for an 80-year-old and leading his direct opponents Foley and Prendergast. Brosnan and Guerin had the bragging rights in this competitive fourball where there are no gimmes. All four are very competent golfers and age has not disempowered the octogenarian, whose smooth, delightful swing grooved in the heat of battle on his eight international caps for Ireland and, of course, in the prestigious South of Ireland Championships. Michael Guerin won this major three years in a row in 1961, 1962 and 1963. More about that outstanding achievement later.

THE YOUNG CADDIE

Michael was born in Aghadoe and then the Guerin family moved to Gortroe. Michael has been there ever since. Living just across the road from the Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, it was only natural that golf would be an attraction. He started off working as a caddie, especially for Dr Billy O’Sullivan, a great sportsman.

“I caddied a lot for Dr Billy and he was a very good player,” Michael recalls. “I picked up many tips from him and started off with just one club, a 4 iron. I learned how to play all kinds of shots with it – it was a difficult enough club to use. Dr Billy encouraged me when he saw I was interested. He must have seen some potential in me.

“I caddied for him in the Irish Open (1953) and there I saw how top-class golfers played the different shots to bring in a low score.” Michael was just 12 years old at the time.

“Billy loved the weekday ball. Thursday was a half day for most employees in Killarney at that time, so it was a very popular day for golf. Many of the priests in St Brendan’s were good golfers and played on Thursday afternoons. Dr Billy’s fourball included John C (Cooper), Scottie (Eamonn Scott) and Tom Cooper (the cinema). Frank Campbell was another regular.”

What was Killarney Golf & Fishing Club like in the early fifties?

“Killarney was very elitist as far back as the founding of the club and that continued. There were very few members, especially lady members, who were wives or spouses of the men.”

That is quite a change to the present membership. “Yes,” Michael agrees, “there is a huge membership now and it isn’t confined to those with status in society. There is a huge number of ladies playing on equal terms as full members with the same rights as the men. That’s the way it should be.”

Caddies were not allowed to join the club as members in the early fifties so, in Michael’s early days, caddying for Billy and co. was all he was allowed to do on the course. All he could do was learn from the Doctor about the game of golf. Both Dr Billy and the great Jimmy Bruen took a great interest in this caddie and he learned so much from them. He was working at Liebherr, as was his brother, Patrick.

“Patrick was a fine golfer, but unfortunately he was killed as a young man in the factory and that was an awful blow for the family.”

Eventually Michael was allowed join the club in August 1959 and was given a starting handicap of - wait for it - 7. Money wasn’t flaithiúil in the Guerin household, so there was no hope of acquiring a branded matching set of clubs fitted to the unique requirements of the then 18-year-old.

He started with a set of ladies’ clubs which included irons 4, 6 and 8. Added to these were 3, 5, 7 and 9 irons from a men’s set, as well as a driver. This unorthodox mismatch of a set also included a Pinpointer pitching wedge and for a putter he used a Crotty blade. That was his arsenal for the first club competition he won, Mrs Grosvenor’s President’s Prize in Mahony’s. That was the only course in the club at the time; the Killeen course didn’t come on stream for another 20 years.

Undeterred by his lack of a matching set of clubs, Michael shot 71 gross, one under par, a 64 nett and that was a v-par competition.

That was a morning competition and a separate competition was played in the afternoon. The young fella was cut three shots for his exploits in the morning competition and had to play off a handicap of 4 in the afternoon fourball. For the first ever Killarney Scratch Cup, he was eternally grateful to the benevolent Scottie who gave him a loan of his clubs, bag and trolley to play. He was also very fortunate to get to know the great Jimmy Bruen, who saw the great potential in the young golfer.

“I used to deliver milk to him,” Michael says. “He had a caravan down near the Hotel Europe and later moved to a spot near the 1st in Killeen. It was into the left as you started on the road linking the present 1st and 3rd.”

Within one year he had worked his game through the seven-shot concession to become a scratch golfer. Impossible, us mortals would contend, but he developed his own game and practiced endlessly. “Yes, I was constantly on the practice ground perfecting the game that suited me best.”

So, he started with a 7 handicap, then to 4 and later to 3 and then to 1. Never at 2. That was some achievement. 7, 4, 3, 1, scratch, +1 and then +2?

“That is correct,” Michael confirms.

Christy O’Connor, the maestro himself, was the pro in Killarney at that time and there was huge excitement when he partnered with the Brad (Harry Bradshaw) to win the Canada Cup in 1958. That is now known as the World Cup. The two Irish heroes were paraded through the town of Killarney when they returned with the coveted trophy.

Michael’s progress as a golfer was on the up and up. Within one year of becoming a member in Killarney he went on a winning streak. In 1960 he set a new course record for Dooks, carding an amazing 63 (five shots better than the existing record).

Not surprisingly, he was called up for the Munster team and played in the inter-provincials in 1960 and in 1961. In a sparkling inter-provincial career he played at Royal Dublin, Royal Portrush, Newcastle, Co. Down, Rosses Point and Lahinch.

BIRDIES AND EAGLES

“I was [a big hitter] in my hey days and regularly my tee shot on the 13th in Mahony’s went down the hill stopping short of the drain. I could also send my drive on the 16th down over the hill on the fairway, stopping short of the drain. That was then and not now. That is the one thing you notice as you grow older, your shots lack distance – even the well struck ones.

“My second shot then to both of those greens was an easy wedge, so I was putting for an eagle and birdie at worst.”

Killarney members who played regularly with him also say Guerin was an excellent putter.

“I was full of confidence in that part of my game. I had practiced over and over again a putting style that suited my game. Then all I had to do was to roll the ball into the cup and to do it consistently. There are very many amateur golfers and even some professionals who have a great round going, but lack consistency on the greens, not sinking those 10-footers. What should be a single putt goes to two and sometimes even to the dreaded three. That inconsistency would wreck any promising round. You must size up the putt, decide and then deliver. I never neglected practising this vital part of my game.”

How many putts would he take on a regular round?

“It was all on the Mahony’s course at that time and we were playing off the championship tees (blues). Killeen wasn’t open until 1971. On average I took less than 30. I carded a total of 23/24 putts regularly and my best ever was 21. Those 21 putts came in the Racing Cup, a very popular competition at that time held in conjunction with the July Killarney Races meeting.

“I shot 64 and that included just 21 putts. Danielo (Connell) was a very good putter, but he said it couldn’t be done. He didn’t believe I took just 21 putts in the round for the Racing Cup.

“I went around quite regularly in the 60s for the par 72 course in Mahony’s, off the blues all the time. I shot several 60s and it all came together on the day I returned a 66 gross, a course record.”

What is his secret to bring in such low scores on a regular basis?

“A good tee shot is a great start and sensible decisions on where you want your ball to land. Many gofers do this consistently, but too often play poor approach shots. These must have be very well judged to get close enough to have a go for the cup with a single stroke. A single putt can make up for bad shots out the course and allow you to finish with a good score overall.

“So many players who are fine strikers of the ball, have all the right type of shots to manage the challenges of the course but leave shots go on the approach to the green. Your shot must be accurate, allowing for the contours of the green. Give yourself the chance of a single putt. Again, I emphasise the importance of practice, but practice with a purpose. Spending hours on the putting green and stroking countless balls is of little value. It is not the number of putts you take in your practice that counts when you want to transfer that learning lesson on to your round. Make less putts when you are practicing, but make planned putts. The only putt that matters is the one I am taking now.”

Can Michael recall any really exceptional round?

“I certainly can and doesn’t every golfer remember the day he/she shot an exceptional round. Mine was in a competition playing against Ivo (Sullivan). It was a 13-hole competition in Mahony’s old course, where I carded 12 under for the 13 holes off the championship tees. It was birdie after birdie.”

PRIZE

Michael Guerin caddied for Dr Billy O’Sullivan in the 1953 Irish Open Golf Championship played in Killarney, where Norman Drew beat the local Doc in the final. Remember, caddies were not allowed to become members of the Killarney club, to preserve the elitism so prized by the members at that time. That was the way until Michael Guerin was eventually accepted as a member in August 1959.

Playing off a handicap of 7, the 18-year-old won his first prize, the President’s Prize, in September 1959. He progressed quickly and entered for the O’Sullivan Cup at Dooks on the August Bank Holiday 1960, creating a new course record by bringing in a magnificent 63. This was five shots better than the previous record.          

That was some score and no one believed that an unknown and unrated golfer would reach the heights in the Irish Close Championships at Baltray. The course record of 70 was held jointly by Christy O’Connor, Eric Brown and Joe Carr. Guerin sparkled, returning a 70 and leading the 32 qualifiers on 141 (71 & 70).

“Yes, a massive 70”, Michael recalls. It included birdies at 7 and 8 and a dyke (birdie) at the 16th. His unbelievable second shot stopped three feet short of the hole. “I three-putted the famous short 18th.”

His only comment to the press was, “I would have liked a 69”. His nearest rival Billy Malone was five shots adrift. Another Killarney sportsman, the late John C Cooper, was also well in contention with 152 (71 & 77).

FIRST SOUTH OF IRELAND

In 1961 he travelled to Lahinch for the South of Ireland (SOI). Michael Guerin was an unknown among the top amateurs in Ireland, and he astounded the field by winning it. He defeated the judge, the highly rated Ian Bamford, with an emphatic 7 and 6 win in the final. Conditions were wild and wet.

What’s more, he continued his great form and completed an historic three-in-a-row in 1962. It was very hard for Guerin to even get to the Clare venue as the journey involved a four-hour bus trip with (hopefully) four days of competition. The format at that time was all matchplay with the final of a Wednesday over 36 holes. “You were really on your own,” he says.

Lahinch is a very testing links course and the prestigious SOI was the most coveted prize on offer, attracting the top amateurs in Ireland. It was tough to survive over the four-day competition. It was first played for in 1895 and has continued ever since apart from the war years and during COVID. Some of the top Irish professional golfers of recent decades earned their spurs by winning the SOI. Winners as amateurs at Lahinch included Darren Clarke (1990), Paul McGinley (1991), Graham McDowell (2000) and James Sugrue (2017). Strangely enough, Pádraig Harrington never won the title. The closest he came to victory were finals he lost to David Higgins (Waterville) in 1994 and by Jody Flanagan in 1995.

One other winner (amateur) of the SOI was Mick Morris, centre back on Kerry’s All-Ireland winning teams of 1969 and 1970. He was also subsequently capped for Ireland.

THREE-IN-A-ROW

In 1961, the 28-year-old Ian Bamford of the Royal Portrush was the pre-tournament favourite and he showed why as he worked his way to the final. He was a senior Irish international in 1954 and was unable to play for Ireland on some subsequent years as he had moved to Canada. The big surprise was 20-year-old Michael Guerin, who had been a member of Killarney club for just two years.

His opening hole yielded a birdie but then it was up and down for long periods. The young fellow from Killarney would surely crack, but he battled back on several games. He had a mighty battle before seeing off Fitzgibbon 2 and 1 to qualify for the final.

The vastly experienced Bamford was the firm favourite to win the 36-hole final, but Guerin defied the odds. He claimed his first South of Ireland in 1961 by winning 7 and 6.

He was still basking in glory when he received a treasured letter on August 21 confirming the he had been selected for the Irish team internationals at Portmarnock. The letter was addressed to Michael Guerin, Crane Factory, Killarney.

“What I enjoyed most about winning my first SOI in 1961 was coming home to the clubhouse in Killarney with the big cup and seeing so many club members so happy to have the cup in the clubhouse for the first time. We celebrated over cups of tea. Mrs Grosvenor was a proud woman and there was a great sense of satisfaction that all the time I practiced here had paid off.”

Guerin was the youngest person to win the SOI and also the first Kerryman to lift the coveted trophy His supporters at the SOI included Patie O’Shea, Paddy Vaughan, Brian Mulcahy, Kevin O’Dea, Cally McCarthy, Peter Malone, Derry O’Donnell and Scottie. “They kept following me around and that helped.”

In 1962, the Gortroe man was defending his title and standing in his path was David Sheehan (UCD), a fellow Irish International and Walker Cup player. Both he and Guerin worked their ways through to the final; it was the duel that everyone wanted to see. Guerin won the greatest match of his career to that point, defeating Sheahan 2 and 1. It was sweet revenge for him having lost by 2 and 1 the last time they met in the Irish Close at Rosses Point three years previously.

In 1963, he beat Lahinch's Michael “Darkie” Skerritt 4 and 3 to complete the magnificent three-in-a-row and the press ran the headlines, ‘Michael Guerin: King of Lahinch’.

“When I get under pressure I play well. I love the cut and thrust of competition.”

When he returned to the SOI much later in 1979, the 38-year-old Guerin had to fight hard to survive. He was four down after eight versus John McHenry, the well-known golf pundit on RTÉ. He levelled on the 18th and won it on the 5th tie hole. Guerin drilled his trusted 4 iron shot to within four feet of the hole and eagled for a win. Typical fighting spirit once more.

“I was well on my way to exit the competition at the quarter final stage when DD O’Connell left the Killarney supporters in disgust and headed for the clubhouse saying, ‘my dear men, Michael is out playing the Klondike (5th hole) at the moment and…’ When we got back to the clubhouse, DD couldn’t believe I had won the match with a strong finish.”

Guerin kept driving on and was narrowly beaten by Vincent Nevin in the final.

He met the Irish international Brian Malone on three occasions and won them all, coming back from five down with six holes left to win on the 18th in the junior internationals at Rosses Point. In the semi-final, he won on the 20th hole.

BANDAGED THUMB

He played inter-pro with Munster on 30 occasions and won eight Irish caps. Indeed, on one occasion he cut his left thumb on a grinder at work with Liebherr and even though it was red raw and very painful he played with a heavily bandaged left thumb in the junior internationals. He was off work for several months with that injury.

Michael was rated “the longest hitter”. His last appearance for Ireland was in 1963, before he turned professional.

He won several Scratch Cups, such as Killarney (twice), Cork (three times), Kenmare, Tralee, Thurles, Macroom and was runner-up in other Scratch Cups at Waterford, Killarney, Tullamore, and Cork. He never won the Irish Amateur Close. His closest was in a final when he lost to Philip Walton, Malahide, who went on to have a successful professional career.

Guerin also went professional for a short few years. What was that like?

“Pro life was very different then than it is at present,” he explains. “Jimmy Bruen and Dr Billy encouraged me to go professional on foot of my great career as an amateur. There was no sponsorship or other help available when I joined the ranks, but I was very grateful to the Mulcahy family who provided me with shoes etc. (Marguerite Mulcahy is the current President of the Killarney club.)

“It was a tough decision, but I decided to have a go. I joined the exclusive Temple club of less than 100 members near London as assistant-professional to the very well-known Henry Cotton. The harsh reality was brought home to me very quickly. I was paid £3 a week and of that I had to pay £1/10 (one pound, ten shillings) a week for my bed and breakfast at the club. I was giving lessons for £3/10 (three pounds, ten shillings) and the same fee for playing with members, and then had to give 50% of that fee to Henry Cotton. That wasn’t very attractive. My mother died suddenly and I came home for her funeral. When I returned to England, I went to the Flackwell Heath club as assistant-pro, where the wage jumped to £10 a week, but no accommodation provided.

“I suppose the professional Jeyes tournament played in Killarney (and televised) was my highlight as a pro. I was going well on the final day despite the dreadful storm and rain. Peter Allis (TV golf commentator) and Dave Thomas were joint leaders, but I was climbing up the leaderboard. I was playing the 15th when rain stopped play and that became very controversial. My partner, Jimmy Kinsella, agreed to play on and I finished off for a record 66. It was not recognised by the tournament directors, but the Killarney club recognised it.”

It was a remarkable score on dreadful competitions and readers may view the scorecard on display in the clubhouse. That record 66 still stands. He won 6 pro-ams before leaving the professional ranks.

SEVEN-YEAR WAIT

“I decided to give up my professional career and then it took me seven years battling with the R&A to regain my amateur status. I really missed the freedom to play regularly during that time. The highlight of my return as an amateur was winning the Barton Shield with Killarney at Lahinch in 1980. We should also have won it on the previous year.”  

That was the only time that Killarney won the Barton Shield, a poor record for such a big club. The winning Killarney team, managed by Derry Pyne, was Michael Guerin (captain) Seán Coyne, James Loughnane and  Brian Mulcahy.

“I really enjoyed playing Senior Cup with Killarney on several occasions. I played with members such as James Loughnane, Seán Coyne and Arthur Spring. Then a great crop of young, low handicappers made it to the Killarney Senior Cup team such as Eoghan O’Connell, Paul Murphy, Kevin Leacy and the Sugrue brothers. Dan went on to play for Munster.”

Guerin continued to play for Munster and beat Des Smith, who went on to have a lucrative professional career.

MAHONY'S V KILLEEN

I spoke to Michael about the difference in playing Mahony’s in contrast with playing Killeen. “Both are great courses,” he states. “Mahony’s off the blues offers plenty challenges. I played most of my golf there in the old course, before Killeen was opened.”

The 18th rates in the top 100 in the world. How does it get such a high rating?

“The 18th is a great finishing hole and many a fine card has been ruined on this hole. It is not extra-long for a par 3, but the drive is very tight into a narrow green, which is so difficult to reach unless you drill it straight. Pull it to the left and you may never find it and if you do you will most likely have to take a penalty shot. Any hint of a slice and the lake gobbles it up, more so in winter when the lake is fully in. It’s a great test and the scenery is magical.

“Killeen is a tough challenge for players of all handicaps and not just because it is about 500 yards longer than Mahony’s. (Off the blues, Mahony’s is 6,164 metres while Killeen is 6,583.) But Killeen rewards accuracy, precision and good course management.

“Take the first four holes, all demanding accurate tee shots. Your first shot of the day is always a challenge. In Killeen, any hint of a slice sends you down the shore and then it is a case of damage limitation. Too far right and you are playing too low an iron to a tight enough green that has the flag stick out lakeside, inviting an over-hit shot to drop into the lake. In my younger days, my tee shot went out over the bunkers, over the road and I had a much safer second shot to hold the green. I don’t drive it that far anymore.

“On the 2nd it is trouble all the way up the right-hand side. The par 3 third demands good club choice and you cannot quit on the shot otherwise the encroaching lake will call for a new ball. Going through the green leaves you with a difficult shot back and the only bail-out is a small enough section on your left. Know your driving distance for the 4th. Hit it too well down the middle and the ball can hit the ridges on the narrow part of the fairway and dart to the right and into the lake, especially on the hard summer fairway. Too far left and the trees are on your way. The driver may not be the best option for this tee shot.

“So, my advice for the first four holes in particular is to play strategically, safer and shorter. Keep the ball in play. In stroke any uncontrolled play will mount up those shots so early in your round.

“Other holes in Killeen present their own challenges. Sensible strategic play is the key to bringing in a good score in Killeen. Think your way around the course and be just as careful with the putts, avoiding three putting. Killeen is a great test for all players, irrespective of handicap. And the scenery is magnificent.”

KEVIN O’DEA

I spoke to Kevin O’Dea earlier this week. The former St Anne’s Road man, now domiciled in Greystones, won the Killarney Senior Club Championship on two occasions, one off a handicap of 3 and later, much later, playing off 23.

“I have many happy memories playing with Michael Guerin and supporting him on tournaments such as the South of Ireland. That three-in-a-row was very special. Michael had all the shots, executing whatever one was needed. I saw him play an impossible recovery shot from the shore in Lahinch and get down in regulation when a multi-bogey seemed to be the outcome. He had all the shots.

“We often played a fourball and when it came to the 18th in Mahony’s, we elected to tee off from the edge of the present 17th green. Even that didn’t faze him. Invariably his tee shot was on the green even in winter conditions and winds rolling off the lake. He had the shot for all seasons and all challenges. Michael Guerin was a pure natural.”  

For a man that played so much golf at the highest level, there were surely disappointments along the way?

“My greatest regret was all of seven years I lost in that awfully slow process getting back my amateur status. Since I returned as an amateur in 1972 and playing then off scratch, I have enjoyed my golf immensely. You are still competing against the course and deciding which club will take you to six or eight feet from the pin, another birdie chance, a par at worst. I still enjoy hitting shots in practice and the weekly 4 ball with my friends.

“I am enjoying life and golf,” concluded the sprightly 80-year-old golfer.

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Almost impossible to look beyond East Kerry but Dingle are best placed to challenge

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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.

Fixtures

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)

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Kerry’s old dogs ready for Tyrone challenge in All-Ireland final

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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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