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‘Building that rapport with the crowd will be massive’ – Kerry captain Matt Keane

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by Adam Moynihan

League of Ireland First Division

Kerry FC v Cobh Ramblers

Friday at 7.45pm

Mounthawk Park

Kerry FC captain Matt Keane says he and his teammates are eager to earn the support of the home crowd at the club’s first ever League of Ireland match on Friday. 

Newcomers Kerry welcome Cobh Ramblers to Tralee on Matchday 1 and Killarney man Keane knows that the home fans will have a major part to play during what is sure to be testing debut season in the First Division.

“The fans are going to be massive,” Keane told this reporter at the pre-match press conference. “Friday night will be the first time a lot of the lads will have played in front of this kind of a crowd. It sounds like it’s going to be hard enough to get tickets.

“We’re under no illusions, there’s going to be good days and there’s going to be bad days. If we can get the crowd up for the game, we can really feed off them and that can make all the difference. Building that relationship and that rapport with the crowd will be massive for us.”

The all-action midfielder feels that Kerry’s status as the league’s youngest club should allow them to play with a degree of freedom.

“I wouldn’t say there’s much pressure there. We’re the new boys in the league so it’s nearly a free shot in most of the games that we come into.

“There’s a brilliant group of lads there. Everyone is absolutely buzzing. There’s great excitement for Friday night. It’s going to be a massive occasion. A historic day for Kerry.”

Former Killarney Celtic star Keane has played at this level before – he had two seasons with Treaty United in 2021 and 2022 – so he has a better idea than most of what is required. Manager Billy Dennehy has assembled a decent-looking squad and Keane believes that they have what it takes to compete against their more established counterparts.

“We have quite a good number of fellas who have played in the League of Ireland,” Keane noted. “Seán McGrath, Seán Kennedy, Gutsy (Shane Guthrie), Nonny (Jonathan Hannifin)… There’s a good squad there who have played at a high level. We have Leo Gaxha coming back from Sheffield United as well.

“The big thing for us is going to be the intensity of the game. We do have a number of lads who are stepping up from U17 and U19 but from what I’ve seen, these boys are more than ready for this level. I think most fellas are going to be up to it.

“The vast majority of us are local lads and nearly everyone in the group has a point to prove, whether they’re coming back to the League of Ireland or they’re trying to push on and prove that they can play at this level. There’s a lot of hunger and pride and drive. You can really see it in training; everyone is pushing each other on.

“We really want to make this work. It’s not even just about us. It’s about the next generation coming after us. We’re the boys who are stepping into the unknown but hopefully this is something that will be here for a long time to come.”

MANAGER

Another man who knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level of the game in this country is Billy Dennehy. At Monday’s presser, Dennehy spoke of his deep pride at being the man who will lead this nascent outfit into their first ever LOI campaign.

“The biggest word that comes to mind at the moment is absolute pride,” Dennehy, who turns 36 today, said. “I was there at the Open Day [on Sunday] and I have to say that it was probably one of the proudest moments of my sporting career. And a match wasn’t even played.

“To see the people of Kerry come out the way they did and to see so many kids excited about being part of the journey… That’s what it’s about for me. This is what Kerry FC is for. It’s for the people of the region to have somewhere to go and let their dreams flow, to see where this game might take them.

“We were all at that stage once in our lives. I want the young players of Kerry to see days like Sunday and to now aspire to get into the first team. This is something that Kerry has wanted and needed for a long, long time. I’m delighted it’s finally here.”

Like Keane, Dennehy is optimistic about the quality of the squad he has put together. And like Keane, the manager insists that the only expectations that matter are the ones that are being set within the group.

“It has been a long process from when we've got accepted into the league. You're into the recruitment stage straight away and with the model of the club, that obviously makes it a little bit more challenging. But the application from all the players who have come in and the players that have expressed a real desire to represent the club, although they might have had options elsewhere, shows the pride that the players do have in representing Kerry Football Club.

“The expectation is self-created. Everyone has expectations of themselves as an individual, no matter what your job is. Of course, I have expectations of myself. Analysing the players over the past few weeks and months has given me a new expectation of them and the potential that they have within them. But even as a player, I’ve never been one to look beyond the next week.

“For me it will be a very proud moment and very exciting moment to get the season kicked off but it’s just the first step on a very long and hopefully beneficial journey for everyone involved in the club.”

The former Sunderland, Shamrock Rovers and Cork City player remained tight-lipped when asked about the style of football that local soccer fans can expect to see at Mounthawk Park. He did, however, insist that 100% effort from the players will be the minimum.

“Without giving too much away, you have to maximise the strengths of the group that you have. With the level that we’re at, I’m not in a position to go out and spend €50 million on full backs or anything like that. You obviously have to manage the group and utilise their strengths.

“But we’ll always be there to compete, we’ll always be there to win. Will that happen every week? Absolutely not. But we’ll be on the front foot and trying to make that happen from the start.

“I think the players have seen that from the training that we do and the application that we demand from them. The players seem to have the exact same mindset and mentality, so everyone coming to watch Kerry Football Club will see a team ready to compete, trying to get the best result we can on that day.”

The ambitious Kerry FC venture, which has a USA-based backer in the form of Brian Ainscough, has evidently captured the imagination of the natives. A large crowd attended the club’s Open Day last weekend and the opening fixture against Cobh is a sellout.

We have been drip-fed signings over the past couple of months but Kerry saved one of the more interesting ones until last. Killarney Celtic striker Stephen McCarthy, considered the most deadly finisher in the Kerry District League, officially made the switch on Tuesday.

McCarthy signed off on his time with Celtic just days earlier by scoring from the penalty spot in their 3-0 win over Tallaght United in the last 16 of the FAI Junior Cup.

The Hoops now advance to the quarter-final stage where they will take on Ballynanty Rovers of Limerick at home. The match will be played the weekend of March 4/5.

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Kerry ladies must bounce back at home to Waterford

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All-Ireland Senior Championship Group 2

Kerry v Waterford

Saturday 3pm

Fitzgerald Stadium

The Kerry ladies will be looking to get back to winning ways against Waterford on Saturday following last weekend’s frustrating draw against Donegal in Ballybofey.

The Kingdom led with seconds remaining in treacherous conditions but a late Donegal free snatched a draw for the home side (Donegal 1-6 Kerry 0-9). It was a game that Kerry would have been expecting to win and the result puts a lot more pressure on them this weekend as they try to top the three-team group and earn a home quarter-final.

If they beat Waterford and Donegal do likewise next week, Kerry and Donegal will be level in first place on four points each. The top seed will then be decided by the head-to-head record between the teams. As Kerry v Donegal was a draw, the deciding factor will be whoever scored the most points in that draw. That would be good news for Kerry as they scored nine points to Donegal’s six.

When Kerry and Waterford last met (in this year’s Munster Championship), Kerry needed a late winner by Fiadhna Tangney to prevail by narrowest of margins (1-8 to 1-7). If Waterford beat Kerry and then lose to Donegal, Kerry would be eliminated from the championship.

The Kerry squad has been boosted by the return of Síofra O’Shea who came off the bench against Donegal following a lengthy period out with a knee injury.

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US-bound Kerry runner Lynch hopes to emulate Mageean magic

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by Adam Moynihan

Killarney middle distance runner Oisín Lynch is taking inspiration from newly crowned European 1500m champion Ciara Mageean as he gets set for the next stage of his career in the United States.

This week Lynch confirmed that he will be heading Stateside after accepting a scholarship at Adams State University in Colorado. The promising 800m and 1500m competitor caught the eye of coaches at the leading American college after representing Ireland in the Youth Olympics and also by winning two national titles in recent months.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, the 18-year-old Killarney Valley AC athlete, who is currently doing his Leaving Cert at St Brendan’s College, says he one day hopes to emulate Mageean’s heroics on the international stage.

“The Irish are on the up at underage and at senior level,” Lynch notes. “We have been improving a lot in recent years. When you see Ciara Mageean winning the 1500m it just shows that it can be done by Irish people.

“Sometimes Irish athletes don’t really believe in themselves when they’re getting knocked out of championships by English or European athletes. Mageean winning that European title is definitely something to drive me on. It shows that I can actually do it.”

DREAM

For Lynch, moving to the United States is a hugely significant step, and one that he has dreamed about making since he was a child.

“It’s unbelievable. I always hoped I could earn a scholarship. I worked hard over the last few years, so it’s nice to see that work paying off.

“I had a few schools onto me but when Adams State got in touch, I sized it up and I knew it was a really good opportunity.

“The fact that the college is at 7,500 feet… That’s a crazy altitude. It’s double the height of Carrauntoohil. Altitude training has massive benefits for distance running and nowadays nearly every pro spends most of their year training at altitude. The chance to get that training for the next couple of years is great.

“And their athletics programme is unbelievable. Coach Damon Martin has been there for 40 years and he has coached 12 Olympians. Adams State is in the top 15 for distance in the country and the standard out there in America is very high.”

STRIDES

Killarney Valley AC have made enormous strides since building their new, state-of-the-art facility in 2020 and Lynch is a grateful beneficiary of that progress.

“I can’t thank the club enough. Going back a couple of years we were training on grass in parks. When you want to be a track runner, it’s just not the same. After a lot of hard work by a lot of good people, we managed to get a 200-metre track in Killarney. That’s massive for us and it’s all we need for training.

“The coaches down there are putting in the hard work, including my dad (Con), Tomás Griffin, Jean Courtney, Jerry Griffin, Bríd Stack, Alan Delaney… I could go on. It’s a great club and there are some good athletes coming through. It’s an exciting time for Killarney Valley.”

After Lynch completes his Leaving Cert, he will start preparing for life as a college athlete. He will study kinesiology in Colorado and on the track he hopes to keep on moving in the right direction. That means getting his times down (his current PBs are 1.50.59 over 800m and 3.51 over 1500m), representing Ireland, and hopefully winning a national title in America.

“Obviously I’ll take every step as it comes,” the ambitious Kerryman says, “but the Olympics is the main long-term target, hopefully in LA in 2028.”

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