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County Final Preview: Mid Kerry marauders out for revenge against star-studded squad from the East

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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

POTENTIAL MATCH-UPS

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.

TACTICAL APPROACH

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.

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Opponent gets 10-match ban for using discriminatory language towards Kerry player

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A rival player has been suspended for using discriminatory language in a match against Kerry FC, the League of Ireland has confirmed.

The FAI’s Independent Disciplinary Committee handed Harry Curtis of UCD a 10-match ban for the offence, which took place during the game between the two sides in Mounthawk Park, Tralee last week.

Curtis was sent off in injury time. UCD won the game 2-1.

“An Independent Disciplinary Committee of the FAI has sanctioned UCD AFC player Harry Curtis for using discriminatory language towards a Kerry FC player in the SSE Airtricity Men’s First Division fixture on 10 May 2024,” a League of Ireland statement read.

“The FAI and League of Ireland maintains a strict zero tolerance approach towards any act of discrimination and are committed to ensuring that League of Ireland matches remain a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.

“In accordance with FIFA Regulations and the FAI Disciplinary Regulations, Harry Curits will serve a 10-match suspension. Please note the decision of the Independent Disciplinary Committee may be appealed.”

Kerry FC issued the following statement welcoming the ban: “We condemn discrimination in football and are constantly working to kick it out of the game.

“Mounthawk Park and Kerry FC is a community where everyone is welcome regardless of race, ethnicity, and other diverse backgrounds.

“We would like to thank the Independent Disciplinary Committee in the FAI for their continued efforts and dedication to keeping discrimination out of the game.”

Last week Dundalk goalkeeper George Shelvey was also suspended for 10 games for abusing referee Rob Harvey.

Kerry FC were also involved in two alleged cases of racial abuse last season. In September, they claimed a Longford Town player aimed a “racial remark” at one of their players. The matter was referred to An Garda Síochána.

Earlier in the 2023 season, Kerry released a statement condemning racist online comments that had been made about the black players in their squad.

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TEAM NEWS: Kerry and Monaghan name starting 15s for Killarney showdown

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All-Ireland SFC Group 4

Kerry v Monaghan

Saturday 3pm

Fitzgerald Stadium

Live on GAAGO

Jack O’Connor has rewarded Munster final Man of the Match Tony Brosnan with a spot in Kerry’s starting 15 for Saturday’s All-Ireland group phase opener against Monaghan.

Brosnan kicked three points from play a fortnight ago and he retains his place in a forward division that also includes Dara Moynihan, Paudie Clifford, Seánie O’Shea, David Clifford and the recalled Paul Geaney.

Dingle veteran Geaney starts in place of youngster Cillian Burke, who drops to the bench.

Shane Ryan returns in goal instead of Shane Murphy while the back six and midfield remain unchanged from the seven-point victory in Ennis.

Graham O’Sullivan is a notable absentee from the matchday 26. The Dromid defender’s groin injury was described by O’Connor as “minor” after the Clare game, which O’Sullivan also missed.

Monaghan manager Vinny Corey has also named his side for tomorrow’s Sam Maguire encounter at the Fitzgerald Stadium and he has made five changes from the Farney Army’s last outing (the Ulster preliminary round defeat to Cavan on April 7).

Four of those switches come in attack as Stephen O’Hanlon, Micheál Bannigan, Michael Hammill and Seán Jones replace Garland, Irwin, Loughran and McCarron.

Experienced midfielder Darren Hughes, who was forced off with a knee injury in that match in Clones six weeks ago, is unavailable and is replaced by Micheál McCarville.

Rory Beggan starts in goal after a potential move to the Carolina Panthers in the NFL did not materialise. Talismanic forward Conor McManus will wear the number 15 jersey.

The last time these teams met was in the league at St Tiernach’s Park in February. Kerry prevailed on a scoreline of 3-15 to 1-12.

Tickets for Kerry v Monaghan can be purchased here for €25. Three-match bundles for the entire group stage are also available for €50.

The match will not be televised but it will be streamed on GAAGO.

KERRY TEAM

1. Shane Ryan

2. Paul Murphy

3. Jason Foley

4. Tom O’Sullivan

5. Brian Ó Beaglaoich

6. Tadhg Morley

7. Gavin White

8. Diarmuid O’Connor

9. Joe O’Connor

10. Tony Brosnan

11. Paudie Clifford

12. Dara Moynihan

13. David Clifford

14. Seánie O’Shea

15. Paul Geaney

Subs: Shane Murphy, Cillian Burke, Seán O’Brien, Adrian Spillane, Barry Dan O’Sullivan, Dylan Casey, Stephen O’Brien, Mike Breen, Killian Spillane, Darragh Roche, Armin Heinrich.

MONAGHAN TEAM

1. Rory Beggan

2. Ryan Wylie

3. Kieran Duffy

4. Ryan O’Toole

5. Karl O’Connell

6. Killian Lavelle

7. Conor McCarthy

8. Gary Mohan

9. Micheál McCarville

10. Stephen O’Hanlon

11. Micheál Bannigan

12. Michael Hamill

13. Ciarán McNulty

14. Seán Jones

15. Conor McManus

Subs: Darren McDonnell, Jack McCarron, Stephen Mooney, Dessie Ward, Ryan McAnespie, David Garland, Jason Irwin, Andrew Woods, Barry McBennett, Joel Wilson, Thomas McPhillips.

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