by Adam Moynihan
Kerry SFC Final
East Kerry v Mid Kerry
Sunday at 3.30pm
Austin Stack Park
(Live on TG4)
So far this year’s Kerry Senior Football Championship has been light on intrigue and excitement but thankfully that has all changed in the days leading up to the final.
Off the field, the debate surrounding the composition of the championship has been pushed into overdrive. Recent comments by former GAA president Seán Kelly and a remarkable statement by the Kerins O’Rahillys club have proved to be incendiary. As East Kerry and Mid Kerry put the finishing touches on their preparations for Sunday's decider, some people are questioning whether or not they should even exist.
(Read my thoughts on Rahillys’ proposal here.)
As for on-field matters, holders East Kerry are aiming for their fourth title in five years, a feat that has never before been achieved by a divisional team.
Meanwhile, challengers Mid Kerry are poised to make their big breakthrough after losing two finals to the men from the east in 2020 and 2022. There is a growing sense around the county that Peter O’Sullivan’s team could potentially have it in them to get over the line this time. A number of his players are exhibiting the kind of form that has Jack O’Connor edging forward on his seat.
Their opponents are stacked too, though. The Cliffords are always box office (Paudie has been electric in recent weeks) and everywhere you look they have current or former county stars at their disposal.
It really is a fascinating match on paper. Given how the competition has played out this year, a good final is badly needed.
STORY SO FAR
East Kerry will come in as favourites after making it to another final with very little fuss.
They rested several players, including both Cliffords, for the vast majority of the group phase but they still won all three games with relative ease. Comfortable victories over St Kieran’s and Rathmore followed in the knockout phase with their superior firepower up front invariably the deciding factor.
Their average winning margin in this year’s championship is nine points.
East Kerry's Path to the Final
R1 - East Kerry 3-13 South Kerry 1-11
R1 - East Kerry 0-17 West Kerry 0-9
R1 - East Kerry 1-13 Templenoe 0-12
QF - East Kerry 4-19 St Kieran's 0-12
SF - East Kerry 1-16 Rathmore 1-10
For the most part, Mid Kerry’s run has been similarly stress-free. Rahillys pushed them close in the final group game but a one-point win plus victories over Spa and Shannon Rangers saw them qualify for the quarters as top seeds.
They beat Na Gaeil by 12 points in the last eight and then they gave arguably the performance of the tournament against Dingle in the last four. The Club Champions were expected to give Mid Kerry a really good game but that’s not how it unfolded at Stack Park as the district team ran out ten-point winners to book their place in the final.
Mid Kerry's Path to the Final
R1 - Mid Kerry 3-11 Spa 0-14
R1 - Mid Kerry 4-7 Shannon Rangers 1-10
R1 - Mid Kerry 1-10 Kerins O'Rahillys 0-11
QF - Mid Kerry 1-19 Na Gaeil 1-7
SF - Mid Kerry 3-10 Dingle 0-9
Based on the evidence we’ve seen so far, Mid Kerry have improved over the past 12 months or so, which was certainly necessary following that nine-point defeat to Sunday's opponents in last year’s final. East Kerry were miles better on the day, as the scoreline of 1-16 to 0-10 suggests.
Man of the Match David Clifford kicked 1-9 (1-6 from play) in that game and the Kerry captain gave Mid Kerry full back Nathan Breen a torrid time. It will be interesting to see if the Beaufort man is handed the task again. He has been one of his team’s better players this season and you would imagine he will be highly motivated to have another go.
Paudie Clifford barely featured in the group stage but he has been nothing short of sensational in East Kerry’s last two outings. He is integral to everything they do, the beating heart of the team.
It is difficult, bordering on impossible, to keep him completely out of a game but Mid Kerry will need to curb his influence somehow. The wily Pa Kilkenny is an option here.
Darragh Roche is East Kerry’s top scorer and another potential match winner. David Mangan of Laune Rangers might get the nod to track him.
The midfield battle could be a cracker as all four centre field players are coming into the final in decent form.
For Mid Kerry, Seán O’Brien has been one of the top performers in this championship and his partner Gavin Horan has been moving well too. Kieran Murphy has been excellent for East Kerry and Ronan Buckley is an important player who is capable of tipping the scales in his team’s favour.
We might see O’Brien v Buckley, which would be an intriguing match-up.
We all know that East Kerry are blessed with forwards but Mid Kerry have plenty about them in their own forward division. Keith Evans and Cillian Burke are high-activity footballers that can trouble any defence, and the intelligent Éanna O’Connor often dictates play, especially down the stretch when game management is of critical importance.
Evans is fast and tricky to nail down so whoever picks him up will need to be able to track him wherever he goes. Niall Donohue started the semi-final and he has the necessary attributes.
Burke’s physicality means that someone with size is the best option for him. The experienced Jack Sherwood may be tasked with following the talented goal-getter from the centre back position, or it could be Glenflesk half back Dan O’Brien.
From a tactical standpoint, Mid Kerry will naturally need to be wary of East Kerry’s attacking threat so you can expect them to sit in – as all teams do – and try to frustrate the defending champions.
But the problem when you play East Kerry is that they don’t really need to be fluid or to have much space to pick up scores. When you have kickers like the Cliffords, Roche and Donal O’Sullivan, points will come one way or another.
The ideal scenario for Mid Kerry is that they manage to start fast and get their noses in front. This will give them something to hold on to and put East Kerry in a position that they rarely find themselves: one where they’re chasing the game.
The underdogs have the footballers and the speed to counter-attack and cause damage, and East Kerry are not perfect at the back, so there will be opportunities for them to score. Their shooting efficiency needs to be really good, especially if they get goal chances, because you can nearly be certain that their opponents will take their opportunities at the other end.
Getting that lead will be so important because East Kerry are deadly when they start to get rolling, when they get three or four or five points ahead. That tempts the opposition to open up and be more expansive and when East Kerry get the ball back in those situations, it spells trouble.
With Paudie Clifford invariably in the driving seat, they move forward at high speed using pinpoint passing through the lines. If those inside forwards get 1 v 1 in fast-break situations, there’s no stopping them.
MID KERRY PROGRESS
Mid Kerry have made impressive progress and you might even go so far as to say that by this stage they have built a more cohesive all-round unit than East Kerry.
That probably seems like a strange thing to say about East Kerry, a team on the brink of their fourth championship in five years, but they have so much talent they can get away with freewheeling or playing off the cuff at times. It’s not that they can simply ignore tactics and formations but when you have the calibre of footballers they have, sometimes the finer details aren't all that important.
Meanwhile, Mid Kerry are looking like a well-oiled machine; this is without question their best chance yet to get over the line.
It’s just impossible to overlook East Kerry’s superior talent, however, especially given how well the two most gifted players – Paudie and David Clifford – have been moving this year. Add to that their strength in depth and the experience this group has when it comes to winning these finals and it’s almost impossible to bet against them.
It may well be closer than the last two finals when the winning margins were twelve and nine, but East Kerry should still emerge victorious.
Verdict: East Kerry by three.
Fossa on cusp of history as club from ‘nine square miles’ eyes senior status
Kerry IFC Final
Fossa v Milltown/Castlemaine
Austin Stack Park
Never before in the history of Kerry football has an Intermediate final attracted so much attention.
On Sunday, two clubs go head-to-head with a trophy and promotion on the line – but this high-profile encounter has far more riding on it than that.
In fact, the consequences of the outcome of this second-tier decider are going to be massive. If Fossa win, they will graduate to senior for the first time in their 53-year existence. It would represent a monumental achievement for the club from the small parish to the northwest of Killarney; few, if any, believed it would ever be possible given their lowly standing as recently as a few years ago.
With two generational talents at their disposal in the form of the Clifford brothers from Two Mile, they have rapidly risen through the ranks. Now they are seeking their second successive promotion following on from last year’s extra time win over Listry in the Junior Premier final.
And if the idea of Fossa going out on their own in the Kery Senior Football Championship wasn’t intriguing enough on its own, there’s more. A Fossa win would mean that East Kerry, winners of four of the last five titles, would lose their Fossa contingent for 2024. Most notable amongst that cohort are Paudie and David Clifford, unquestionably the district’s two most influential players.
There is plenty of intrigue from Milltown/Castlemaine’s perspective too. The Mid Kerry side are aiming to get back to senior level for the first time since being relegated in 2016 following defeat to Kilcummin in a playoff. They were not considered to be amongst the frontrunners for this competition before a ball was kicked, and possibly not after the group stage either, so victory this weekend would be sweet.
Of course, a Milltown/Castlemaine win would also have a huge bearing on the 2024 County Championship. Mid Kerry (runners-up in 2020, 2022 and 2023) stand to lose five starters if Milltown are promoted: Pa Wrenn, David Roche, Gavin Horan, Cillian Burke and Éanna O’Connor. Such a loss would greatly weaken their hand and widen the gap that already exists between them and the reigning champions. Add to that the fact that East Kerry will keep the Cliffords if Milltown/Castlemaine win, and the significance of this game is magnified further still.
There is so much at stake for all the invested parties in East and Mid Kerry, and there is plenty to consider for the neutral fan as well. Many would welcome the weakening of East Kerry’s squad as it would potentially lead to a more competitive County Championship. However, there is serious concern amongst Kerry supporters that the Cliffords are in need of a rest after a long couple of years with club and county. If Fossa prevail they will advance to the Munster Championship and possibly beyond if they manage to keep on winning. This would likely interfere with their star players’ off-season.
There’s no doubt that the nature of Fossa’s matches to date have whetted the appetite for this final. They were involved in exhilarating extra time victories over Castleisland and Austin Stacks in the previous rounds and more excitement of that nature would be more than welcome after a largely disappointing County Championship.
Milltown/Castlemaine also bring plenty to the table and although the momentum from their own semi-final heroics against Legion may have dwindled somewhat over the many weeks between then and now, they can certainly take heart from that result against one of the pre-tournament favourites.
It’s all set up to be a fascinating match-up and a large crowd is expected in Tralee for this one.
The match will also be streamed live by Clubber.
Home double header for St Paul’s and Scotts Lakers
The St Paul’s women’s and men’s teams are both in National League action this Saturday at Killarney Sports and Leisure Centre with their games tipping off at 4.30pm and 7.30pm respectively.
James Fleming’s ladies take on the Phoenix Rockets on the back of that disappointing cup exit at the hands of the Cavan Eagles a fortnight ago and they will be keen to get back to winning ways on home turf.
Paul’s have a perfect 100% record in Division 1 but they are sure to be tested by the Rockets, who gave a fine account of themselves over the course of the 2022/23 season.
They beat Paul’s in Lisburn last February, though the Killarney side exacted revenge in the playoffs in March. The Rockets have made an inconsistent start to the 2023/24 campaign picking up just two wins from the seven games played. The second of those victories came as recently last Saturday when they got the better of the Limerick Sport Eagles at home, but they fell to another defeat against the Huskies back up north the following day.
The Rockets are coached by former Ireland player Breda Dick, a woman who cites Killarney’s own Paudie O’Connor as her role model. Paudie was her first coach at international level and obviously left a huge mark on Breda.
Dick will be looking to the McGrath sisters Charly and Georgie to carry the torch for them as well as American signing Jay Ashby.
For Paul’s, Khiarica Rasheed has been building a good understanding with Sofia Paska and they will be keen to work on that partnership again on Saturday. In the absence of Lorraine Scanlon, who will be attending the LGFA All-Stars, Meabh Barry may be pushed up the ladder. Lynn Jones and Rheanne O’Shea will also be expected to play prominent roles.
Under the guidance of Coach Brian Clarke, Scotts Lakers have established a winning record of 4-2 and as a result they find themselves fifth out of 12 teams in Division 1 of the National League.
They claimed their latest win at home to the Dublin Lions last weekend (81-71) with Americans Braden Bell (26) and Terion Moss (25) accounting for the bulk of the scoring. Jamie O’Sullivan, Oisín Spring and Cian Forde also made their mark on the scoreboard.
Coach Brian Clarke was very pleased with the contribution of his subs on the night. “Our bench was ready to come on and make the difference and I can’t emphasis enough the importance of that,” he told club PRO Enda Walshe.
“Braden and Terion are great shot-makers but they also have a sharp eye for passes to their teammates. Oisín Spring, and Paul Clarke in previous games, are alive to that and make themselves available. It’s a great opportunity for our young players to make their mark and provided they continue to dedicate themselves to their craft, they will get to enjoy that.”
Next up for the Lakers is the visit of the Limerick Celtics on Saturday. The Shannonsiders are currently second in Division 1 having won five of their six matches to date.
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