by Adam Moynihan
All-Ireland SFC Semi-Final
Kerry v Tyrone
Saturday at 3.30pm
(Live on RTÉ from 2.30pm)
Heated. Tetchy. Uncompromising. Kerry and Tyrone matches are often ill-tempered and almost invariably well-contested. In simple terms, the teams just don’t like each other very much. And there's no way the events that have unfolded off the pitch in recent weeks have done anything to ease that tension.
Ever since Tyrone’s golden era of the noughties, a period during which they consistently had Kerry’s number, there has been an uneasy relationship between the two counties. Stationed at either end of the island and with massively distinct footballing pedigrees (Tyrone’s first All-Ireland came in 2003; Kerry already had 32 by that stage), it is an unlikely rivalry that has now spanned three decades.
The pendulum swung back in The Kingdom’s favour during the last 10 years, and on paper they have the star quality to maintain the upper hand well into the twenties, so the enmity is perhaps not as apparent as it used to be.
But Tyrone’s handling of their recent COVID outbreak has reignited the hob, and the disdain each county still has for the other is now brimming at the edge of the pot.
In general terms, the GAA’s decision to push the game back an extra week in line with Tyrone’s wishes was greeted with a shrug by the locals here in Kerry. “Grand.” As county chair Tim Murphy had outlined, there was an “over-arching wish” to play the semi-final anyway, as opposed to simply taking a walkover.
Delve a little deeper, though, and it’s clear that not all is rosy in the garden.
“We find ourselves in a very difficult situation not of our making,” Murphy said (after outlining the board’s, and the team’s, desire to play). “We have explicitly followed all COVID protocols and we have taken every precaution to protect our players and management.”
If that reads like a dig at the opposition, it’s because it more than likely is. There is suspicion (unproven, it must be said) in GAA circles that Tyrone did not handle their initial outbreak as efficiently as they might have. If that is the case, Tyrone’s sympathy card loses considerable value.
The revelation that some of their players opted out of taking the vaccine for fear that the side effects could rule them out of action devalues that card further still.
It is also understood that Tyrone made no attempts to forewarn Kerry of their plans to pull out of the fixture before dropping that bombshell on the Saturday before last, despite the fact that the two counties had been liaising over the issue. That is bound to have irked the Kerry delegation.
And, as content as Kerry are to see the fixture being fulfilled, there is an unshakable feeling around these parts that Tyrone have played the GAA like a fiddle.
Joint manager Feargal Logan said during the week that all of his players are now available for selection. "There was a good period there where we didn't have everybody on the training field at the same time but we have got to that point now, which is helpful and positive, and where everybody is physically present and they are out of isolation," he told the Irish Independent. "We’ve got everybody together."
One the one hand, it’s good to hear that the players who were sick have recovered. On the other, isn’t that awfully convenient for Tyrone that all of their players are now available to them? Having a fully fit team is not always a luxury that semi-finalists have. If literally all their players are fine to play tomorrow, how many were fine to play six days ago?
Meanwhile, Kerry have been hanging around five weeks for a game. Mayo will have three weeks before their All-Ireland final. The club seasons in the participating counties have been thrown into disarray. It seems like everybody is losing here. Except, of course, for Tyrone.
It's not too difficult to imagine how the players in that Kerry dressing room on Saturday afternoon will be feeling about their opponents down the hall. And Peter Keane will surely tap into that. The team talk writes itself. “When this game is over, they’ll wish they gave us the walkover."
As alluded to previously, Kerry have been on top in the most recent championship meetings between the sides: the 2012 qualifier in Killarney and the semi-finals of 2015 and 2019. The Kingdom trailed by four points at half-time two years ago and it took a much-improved second-half performance, featuring a goal by Stephen O’Brien, to eventually prevail with three points to spare. The margin of victory was not wide in the end, but the better team won.
Earlier this summer, the teams met in the Fitzgerald Stadium in the semi-final of the National League and Kerry racked up a huge score (6-15) en route to a 16-point win. This rout famously prompted Peter Keane to say that if you took the goals out of the match, there wasn’t much between the teams. He doubled down on that assessment at a recent press briefing.
“I don’t think it was reflective of the day,” Keane told journalists. “I think I said that afterwards. You (the media) were mocking me and laughing when I said that if you took the goals out of it, I wouldn’t have felt there was a whole pile between us. Tyrone got 1-14 - 15 scores - against us on the day. They’re a very capable team. We were down 0-3 to 0-1 in that game and the next thing we got a goal and then Gavin White got a goal in over the top...
“So we’re not reading too much into that game down in Killarney and I don’t think anyone else should either. That’s not me just brushing it off. A game can run away from you very quickly and it’s very hard to put a game right when you’re trailing that early.”
Keane is notorious for attempting to play down victories but, in truth, there is no covering up what happened that day. Kerry were simply too hot to handle, particularly in the forward division where Paul Geaney, Seán O’Shea, Paudie Clifford and David Clifford were rampant.
That being said, the championship is a different beast altogether, so perhaps he is right to divert attention from the league result.
Tyrone have a full deck and in Darren McCurry, Cathal McShane, Conor McKenna and Mattie Donnelly, they undoubtedly have players who can hurt the Munster champions. If they go at Kerry, like Cork did in the first 10 minutes in the Munster final, they could well punch holes and work scores.
But Kerry have a full deck too. Diarmuid O’Connor and Dara Moynihan are apparently both available after recovering from injuries and both will start if that is the case. Moynihan, in particular, had a sensational league campaign and he will play a crucial role if Kerry are to reach the Promised Land. The energy and skill he brings to the team on both sides of the ball is pivotal.
The Spa player's inclusion is likely to come at the expense of either Jack Barry or Stephen O’Brien, with Micheál Burns being another candidate for the half forward line. Killian Spillane and Tony Brosnan will be hoping to force their way into the starting line-up but Keane has consistently posted David Clifford and Seán O’Shea in the full forward line so far this year. One would imagine that he will be loathe to change that tactic now.
Tommy Walsh has played approximately 23 minutes per match off the bench this season so we can expect him to get similar game-time on Saturday. The Rahilly's veteran was a game-changer for Kerry when introduced in the 50th minute of that 2019 semi-final.
David Moran has improved in recent matches and, barring a major shock, he will partner O’Connor i lár na páirce.
Captain Paul Murphy returned to the starting 15 for the Munster final after seemingly falling out of favour for a few weeks and he should keep his place somewhere along the half back line. In-form wing backs Mike Breen and Gavin White are also likely start, as are the newly established full back unit of Brian Ó Beaglaioch, Jason Foley and Tom O’Sullivan.
Shane Ryan has been Keane’s No. 1 from Day 1 and the Rathmore man will continue between the posts this weekend.
The team will be named tonight (Friday) at 8pm.
All the controversy of the past number of weeks has teed this match up nicely and the tension is sure to spill over to some degree, both on the pitch and amongst the 24,000 supporters in attendance.
Tyrone always bring intensity and it could well be a competitive game.
However, if you look at the match-up purely from a footballing perspective, Kerry should have too much about them, particularly if Moynihan is fit.
Verdict: Kerry by eight.
Popularity of Ladies Gaelic Football on the rise
According to official TAM Ireland figures, 491,000 tuned into TG4’s coverage of the TG4 Ladies Football finals on Sunday with an average audience of 204,900 people watching the live broadcast […]
According to official TAM Ireland figures, 491,000 tuned into TG4’s coverage of the TG4 Ladies Football finals on Sunday with an average audience of 204,900 people watching the live broadcast of the Senior Final between Meath and Kerry.
The match had a 30.6% share of viewing among individuals. Viewing peaked at 5.10pm with 279,800 viewers as Meath closed in on the two in a row to retain the Brendan Martin Cup.
A total 46,400 attended the match in person in Croke Park on Sunday, the first TG4 Ladies Football Final to have full capacity allowance since 2019.
Viewers from over 50 countries tuned into the finals on the TG4 Player with 14,000 streams of the game from international viewers. Over 20,000 streams were also registered from Irish viewers.
TG4 Director General Alan Esslemont said: “My deepest gratitude to all the counties especially Wexford and Kerry who battled to the end through this season’s Championship, hearty congratulations to both Laois and Meath and I am really looking forward to the re-match of Antrim and Fermanagh which will be carried live on TG4. A special word of thanks goes to the huge crowd which travelled to the Finals from all the corners of Ireland. County Meath especially have become a role model for other counties in how to build huge attending support for LGFA in both genders and at all ages. Sunday’s massive expression of Meath ‘fandom’ in Croke Park brought their county the greatest credit.
Sunday’s broadcast was the 22nd edition of the TG4 Ladies Gaelic Football Championship, a unique history of a sport minoritized by society being championed by a language media minoritized by the state. By consciously standing together we have grown together. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the LGFA in 2024 let us all hope by that time that we are even further along the road towards true equality of opportunity for both Ladies Gaelic Football and Irish language media.”
Following her World Championships debut, Leahy is hungry for more
Adam Moynihan met Killarney sprinter Sarah Leahy at the Killarney Valley AC Arena to chat about her recent appearance at the World Championships, her goals for the rest of the year, and a very special pair of socks
Hi Sarah. Thanks for showing me around Killarney Valley’s facilities. It’s an impressive set-up.
The track facilities here are perfect. We have everything we need and Killarney Valley are always looking to improve the facilities and the club itself. All the people behind the scenes at are the MVPs, people like Jerry and Tomás Griffin, Jean Courtney, and Bríd Stack to mention just a few.
You recently competed in the World Championships in Oregon as part of the Irish 4 x 100m relay team, finishing eighth in your heat. How did you feel the event went for you?
We’re very proud of each other, and we did well, but we definitely could have run better. We had more. We were aiming for and felt we were capable of running a national record. But on the day, it just didn’t happen.
Personally, it was a great experience. I loved every second of it. But I will admit that the actual running part is a bit of a blur. I came onto the track and there’s this huge stadium, but I was more looking around at the people I was running against. Ewa Swoboda – I thought she’d win the World Indoor – she was four people away from me and I was looking at her… She was probably like, ‘Why is this woman staring at me?’ I was very nervous. But it was still amazing and I hope I can do it again.
The fact that I was running against international athletes that have been to the Olympics and been finalists, I was kind of star struck. My trainers are like, okay Sarah, calm down. You’re meant to be here. Don’t act like you shouldn’t.
Can you describe your mindset before a race? Do you often get nervous?
On the line it’s all about how you’re feeling, what you can do. You just have to get mentally prepared for a good start. Especially for me. Get out, and run as fast as you can. Just getting in the zone, I guess. I’ll know if I’m not in the zone, because I’m thinking of other things. If I’m on the blocks my head shouldn’t be wandering. It should be blank and all I should be waiting for is that gun.
Would you say that you’re an ultra competitive person?
I’m a competitive person, obviously. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be competing at this level. But I also come from a team background, and I’m friends with a lot of these girls, so I want them to do well as well. And if they happen to beat me, fair play. You put in the training, you did very well. I’m very happy for you.
We all kind of get prepared differently. A lot of people for the warm-up, which is an hour or half an hour before the race, have the earphones on, gameface on, not talking to anyone, not smiling at anyone. I’m completely different. The more nervous I am, the more I’m going to talk.
There was a situation in Greece where everyone had their earphones on and I was mad to talk to everyone. That could change but as of right now I do tend to talk a lot. And then, going on to the track, obviously there’s no more talking. You’re getting ready for the race and mentally preparing.
Tell me about the socks you wore in Oregon.
[laughs] My socks were a Valentine’s Day gift from my boyfriend, Daniel. They had his face all over them and they say ‘I love you’. So yeah, I just ran the Worlds with my boyfriend’s face on my feet. He was delighted!
Daniel was the person who pushed for me to go back to running. He knew I was no longer enjoying the football and he heard the way I spoke about athletics. He helped me make the decision to go back. It was the best decision so it was only right I wore the socks and he was there in some way. I probably wouldn’t have been there without him.
Did you have some of your own supporters over there?
Yes, my mom and dad (Marie and Mike) actually travelled over. They spent the week and it was unreal to have them there. And then my cousins from Vancouver in Canada drove down which was I think over 10 hours. I was actually warming up before the relay and then I saw and heard my family with all their Kerry jerseys, Irish jerseys, Irish flags, roaring my name. That was really nice.
What’s the plan for the rest of 2022?
I was hopeful that we were going to send a 4 x 100 relay team to the Europeans but I just got an email saying that we wouldn’t, which is disappointing. I know some of top 2022 female sprinters aren’t available but some are and with any of them we would do well over there. We would be competitive. We held our qualification of being in the top 16 teams all summer so it’s a pity that, at the last second, we aren’t going.
In saying that, the women’s Irish relay will continue to work hard and we have a lot more to give. We will prove that next year.
You’re moving to Dublin for work later this year. How will this affect your training?
I might have to change coaches again, which I’m a bit sad about because I really liked the Limerick training group (Leahy was in UL where she trained with the Hayley and Drew Harrison). I think I performed well and I loved the training. I was surrounded by the right people who were really lovely. I hope to find a group like that in Dublin and keep running well and performing better.
And what about next season?
I’d like another good indoor season. I was talking to Lauren Roy in Stockholm and she told me that I have the European standard in the 60m from last year. Which I didn’t know! So that’s kind of in my head now to try and get there, to improve my time. I think I could actually run faster. I ran 7.39 and I’d like to run at least 7.30, hopefully get another European standard, and actually go to the Europeans. I think it’s in Germany. That’d be my target.
And then next summer, there’s the Worlds again. So it’d be nice to continue making the Irish relays and definitely improve my time, because there’s more. I can definitely run faster over 100.
What is your current PB in the 100m? Are you close to bettering it?
I ran 11.67, which I was delighted with. But it was my first run of the season. It’s quite rare that you run a PB in the season opener. But I ran it, and I haven’t ran it since. The closest was 11.70 in Switzerland. So I definitely think there’s more in there. And I think I have a lot to learn as well. I’m still new to the sport and I’m a powerful kind of runner. I was doing a lot of gym work at the beginning of the year, before I ran my PB, and then afterwards usually people taper it off. So I did what other people do. I think that affected my running a little bit. I’m slightly weaker. So I’ve learned that maybe next year I shouldn’t do that. Then hopefully I’ll be running PB after PB, instead of just a one-off.
Onwards and upwards. Chat to you again soon.
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