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COVID debacle has brought the Kerry-Tyrone rivalry to the boil

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by Adam Moynihan

All-Ireland SFC Semi-Final

Kerry v Tyrone

Saturday at 3.30pm

Croke Park

(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.

DELAY

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."

MEETINGS

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.

DARA MOYNIHAN

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.

PREDICTION

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.

Sport

Séamus Moynihan tops Kerry manager poll ahead of Jack O’Connor and Peter Keane

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by Adam Moynihan

Although it now appears as though he could be a selector on the Stephen Stack ticket, four-time All-Ireland winner Séamus Moynihan has topped our ‘Next Kerry Manager’ poll by collecting over one-third of the overall vote.

Around 37% of respondents said that Moynihan should be the next Kerry boss with 23% of fans backing former manager Jack O’Connor. The team’s most recent bainisteoir, Peter Keane, received 18% of the votes.

Another former manager, Eamonn Fitzmaurice, is next in line on 10%, although it is believed that he is not willing to return to the fold due to work commitments.

In addition to the four main candidates mentioned above, readers were also invited to nominate their own preferred candidate. This open field threw up 16 more names with former Kerry and Dr Crokes manager Pat O’Shea the most popular entry. The Killarney man received around 3.5% of the vote.

Donie Buckley got roughly half as many votes as O’Shea, and the other prospective managers ended up with less than 1% each.

MOYNIHAN/STACK

Glenflesk native Moynihan enjoyed a glittering playing career for The Kingdom between 1992 and 2006, the highlight perhaps coming in the year 2000 when he captained his county to All-Ireland glory. He has since taken on coaching roles with his own club and with Fossa and was part of Darragh Ó Sé’s Kerry U21 management team in 2015.

It had been suggested that Monaghan’s defensive coach Donie Buckley would be part of the Moynihan ticket. Buckley was also a member of Peter Keane’s backroom team, but Keane relieved him of his duties in the early stages of the 2020 season.

However, after this survey was completed, Tony Leen of the Irish Examiner reported that Moynihan and Buckley are, indeed, part of the same ticket, but the manager’s name attached is that of current Killarney Legion boss Stephen Stack.

Stack himself had a long and distinguished playing career with The Kingdom and as a manager led Austin Stacks to the County Championship in 2014 and Legion to an East Kerry Championship in 2019.

The Listowel native is also rumoured to be calling on Dara Ó Cinnéide and Mickey Ned O’Sullivan as selectors, with Joe O’Connor filling the role of strength and conditioning coach.

Stack was not considered to be a realistic candidate at the time of the survey; he was one of the 14 managers who received less than 1% of the vote.

KERRY SUPPORTERS SURVEY

Q: Who should be the next manager of the Kerry senior football team?

Séamus Moynihan 36.7%

Jack O’Connor  23.4%

Peter Keane 18.1%

Eamonn Fitzmaurice 10%

Pat O’Shea 3.5%

Donie Buckley 1.6%

Others* 6.7%

(Carried out online on September 21/22. 431 respondents.)

*Mike Quirke, John Sugrue, Jim McGuinness, Jim Gavin, Jerry O’Sullivan, Maurice Fitzgerald, Tomás Ó Sé, Johnny Crowley, Stephen Stack, Kieran Donaghy, John Evans, Paul Galvin, Marc Ó Sé, Liam Kearns.

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Jordan’s new role with St Paul’s

By Sean Moriarty Killarney’s Paralympic hero Jordan Lee is to take on a new role with Scott’s Lakers St Paul’s Killarney Basketball Club. Jordan began his sporting career with the local basketball club where he created history by becoming the first amputee athlete to represent their country at international level. The High Jumper then switched […]

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By Sean Moriarty

Killarney’s Paralympic hero Jordan Lee is to take on a new role with Scott’s Lakers St Paul’s Killarney Basketball Club.

Jordan began his sporting career with the local basketball club where he created history by becoming the first amputee athlete to represent their country at international level.

The High Jumper then switched to track and field and qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics where he made history by becoming the first Kerry athlete to act as a flag bearer for an opening ceremony and lead an Irish team into an Olympic Stadium.

Now back home and preparing for the next Olympics in Paris, he has returned to his first love and will join the backroom staff at the local Division One basketball club ahead of their National League campaign which begins next month.

His father Jarlath Lee is head coach with St Paul’s.

“Jordan is joining us as our strength and conditioning coach,” Jarlath told the Killarney Advertiser.

INTERNATIONALS

Meanwhile, Scott’s Lakers St Paul’s Killarney Basketball Club National League team will have a distinctive feel to it this year after securing the services of three overseas players it for the season ahead.

The club’s biggest signing is Canadian professional Ben Miller. It was originally hoped that the former two-time Manitoba Player of the Year would play for the local side last season but the pandemic got in the way and the National League was never played. However, he did play two training games this time last year before returning to Canada until travel restrictions lifted.

“He is a good guy, very approachable and very good with the young members,” Jarlath said.

The club has also signed Bulgarian International Emilian Grudov.

The 20-year-old has already represented his home country at U16, 18 and 20 level.

“He is young, athletic and very good offensively,” added Lee.

The returning Lithuanian Dianius Varanaukus completes the club international line up for the 2020/21 season.

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