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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.

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Killarney Valley AC named Club of the Year at national awards ceremony

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Members of Killarney Valley Athletics Club had cause for celebration on Wednesday as they picked up the prestigious Development Club of the Year prize at the 123.ie National Athletics Awards.

The award is handed out annually to a club who have made a positive impact on behalf of the sport within their community.

Sprinter Sarah Leahy of Killarney Valley and UL was also honoured with the Female University Athlete of the Year award.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, coach and committee member Tomás Griffin said he and his clubmates were “delighted” and “very proud” to accept the Club Development award on behalf of all their athletes, coaches and administrators. The opening of their new track alongside St Brendan’s College in 2020 has been crucial, Griffin explained.

“The facility a catalyst but the passion was always there and we had people doing their best and coaching long before there was a track. To see the momentum that came with the opening of the track being maintained is great. We now have a waiting list of people looking to join the club.

“Did we see ourselves winning an award like this, in an organisation of 53,000 members and 400 clubs? No. But was it always possible? Yes. Killarney as a town across all sports – Gaelic football, soccer, basketball, cycling, judo, rock climbing – it’s a place where people excel. The bar is already raised. But being able to reach this level and achieve what we have in just two years shows what other talent is out there.”

Killarney Valley now boast five Irish internationals, 320 registered members and 22 Athletics Ireland accredited coaches. The club won 107 provincial and national medals in 2022, and they had 155 graduates from their Couch to 5k programme. Many of these participants are now regulars in the local Park Run and are continuing their personal health and fitness journeys with the club.

Nine Killarney Valley representatives attended the awards ceremony on Wednesday: Tomás Griffin, Jerry Griffin (chairperson), Bríd Stack, Gene Courtney, Con Lynch, Karen Smith, Sarah Leahy, Jordan Lee, and Madie Wilson-Walker. Sarah’s parents Mike and Marie also made the journey.

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Jiu-jitsu champion Wilson da Silva sets sights on world title

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This week Adam Moynihan called to the Movement & Fitness Club on New Street to catch up with Killarney man Wilson da Silva. The 38-year-old Brazilian recently won gold at the European Championship for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and now he’s gunning for a world title.

Wilson, congratulations on your latest success in Rome and Abu Dhabi.

Thank you, Adam.

Before we chat about that, let’s go back to the start. How did you end up living in Killarney?

I came here around 15 years ago because I met someone from Killorglin and we went out for five or six years. After we broke up, I came to Killarney. I’m pretty much half-local, half-Brazilian now.

What part of Brazil are you from?

The northeast. A place called Recife. If you look at the map, it’s the nearest point to Ireland.

Do you get to go home often?

I try to go once a year, you know? I was home earlier this year and then before Covid. But once a year I go home in the summertime.

It must be nice to get some sunshine.

It’s nice, man. Even recently the doctor told me I have Vitamin D deficiency. My skin colour needs the sun! So I go home once a year. I follow the doctor’s advice.

How did you get into jiu-jitsu?

I did it back home in Brazil but I continued here in Killarney. I trained with guys here, Pedro Bessa and Tom McGuire. Then there is another club in Killarney and I trained with them up until four years ago. Things weren’t working out so I started my own gym. I just wanted to do things my way which was to have a clean place, no ego, no drama, no stress, no jealousy. Just come, train jiu-jitsu and help each other. And it’s going well.

Was it hard to go out on your own?

In the beginning it was really difficult because I was opening a second club in the town, on my own. There was really only one guy who wanted to train with me, but then my fiancé (Ewelina) started training and one became two, two became three, and it started to grow. Now we have classes for babies from three years up, kids and teenagers. We’re doing jiu-jitsu and capoeira for all ages. I guess it’s something good for the community.

Can you tell me a bit about jiu-jitsu? Is it similar to other sports?

If you were to describe jiu-jitsu to someone who never saw it, it would be very similar to judo. You have people throwing each other and putting each other on the floor. The jiu-jitsu match is five minutes long and the goal is to checkmate the opponent, to make your opponent quit, or tap out. So there is a lot of ground work, grappling, and wrestling. It’s an excellent sport and great for self-defence. I can’t recommend jiu-jitsu enough.

So there’s no striking?

There is no striking but [in terms of self-defence] there is ducking from striking, turning a strike into a mobilisation. It’s about finding locks on the body – the joint moves this way for example (he turns his arm) – figuring out how the anatomy of the body works.

It seems quite technical and intellectual.

Yes, it’s a very intelligent sport. I trained in weightlifting for a long time, for many years. With time it simply comes down to reps, breaking muscle fibre, and you’re not learning anything. It’s boring. With jiu-jitsu you’re constantly thinking. You’re constantly working your brain.

I compare it to a game of chess. First you figure out how to move the pieces, and then you have to play strategy. Look ahead to the next move and what your opponent can do to you. The moves are complicated and you’re always learning new things. It requires a lot of focus and discipline to get good at it. You don’t get bored with jiu-jitsu.

Is the focus and discipline side of it good for the kids who come to your gym?

Yes, definitely. I find that it is so beneficial for the kids. The kids want to win but if they want to win, they need to learn the moves. In order to learn the moves, they have to pay attention. So straight away it develops focus and concentration and discipline. If they do not pay attention, if they run around the place, they’re going to lose when they spar. It fixes itself. The guys who come in, pay attention, and it makes the others not want to lose so they pay attention and worker hard to learn the moves.

You can see the difference in the kids when they come here. We try to make them comfortable in uncomfortable situations so that when you take the child out of the jiu-jitsu class and they have a to deal with a hard subject in school, or a bully, they are mentally stronger.

I have witnessed that myself. I worked in security for many years and before I dedicated myself to jiu-jitsu, I found it easy to lose the head. But the more hours I put into the gym and training in jiu-jitsu, the more comfortable I became with frustrating situations. You’re able to remain calm. That’s a benefit of jiu-jitsu.

How important is size in jiu-jitsu?

That’s a tricky one. People say that size doesn’t matter. It definitely does. There’s no doubt about that. But the beauty of jiu-jitsu is that once you have the technique, you’re able to apply it against bigger guys. You know, the bigger guys have big muscles and bigger egos, but if the small guy trains hard he will be able to move the big guy’s body in a way that works against him. The big guy who goes to the gym, he’s used to pushing the bar this way (straight out), whereas the guy who knows jiu-jitsu knows that if he moves the bigger guys arms here (upwards), he’s not strong anymore. Now the bench press is worth nothing.

Bigger guys think they are unbeatable. The small guys have to work for it. I always motivate the guys here in the gym to be humble. You always have to consider yourself the second best, the guy who wants to be first. The moment you think that you’re bigger and better than everyone else, you stop working.

Tell me about your recent victories in London, Rome and Abu Dhabi.

Yeah, so I went to the UK and managed to win four golds at the London Open in the ‘Gi’, ‘A’, ‘No-Gi’ and ‘Absolute’ categories. (The ‘Gi’ is a uniform sometimes worn in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. There are categories in which the Gi is worn – ‘Gi’ – and categories in which it is not – ‘No-Gi’. The ‘Absolute’ is an open weight division).

Then a couple of weeks ago I travelled to Rome to compete in the European Championship. The day before that event, the Rome Open was on and since I was already there, I signed up for that too. I won the first fight, submitted the guy, but then in the final I lost. It was a good lesson for me. Coming from so many wins, I thought I was going to smash this other guy. I got a bit cocky. Losing settled me down and humbled me a little bit. I went back to my accommodation and analysed my mistakes. I hoped that the next day I would be able to play a strategy to win.

In the end I managed to win four fights and win the biggest European tournament – the No-Gi European Championship. It was my dream. I have been there twice before and got knocked out in the quarter-final, and came third in the Gi division.

It was really emotional for me. It was a great achievement. Even now when I’m talking, I feel emotional. I don’t train that much with No-Gi so to come first in Europe, it’s hard to believe.

It’s really hard to run and promote a club and also train and win tournaments, a lot of people say it’s not possible, but I’m putting a lot of hours into this and proving that it is possible. When you work so hard, with the help of my training partners, the results have to come.

And you weren’t finished yet. Where did you go next?

Yeah, to finish the story, after winning the European tournament on the Saturday, I flew to Abu Dhabi on Monday for the World Championship. I managed to go there and win three fights before losing the semi-final after getting beat pretty hard. I got my ass kicked by the winner. Then I had to fight to win the third place [match]. So, even though it’s only third place, it’s third place on the biggest podium in the sport.

Is it normal to compete in this number of events in quick succession?

No. It’s crazy to do so many competitions in a short period of time. I usually take a month or two months off before the next competition. It’s expensive too and I must thank Kevin Leahy [from the neighbouring Black Sheep Hostel] for sponsoring me. But after London, I had a feeling that there was no stopping me. I’m healthy. I’m not injured. Now is my moment and I have to take the chance.

It was hard enough to believe that I won the European Championship but to go to Abu Dhabi and fight against the best guys in the world… It’s a dream. Well, it’s not a dream now because it happened. It’s a reality.

Is this it for you now? Have you achieved all you want to achieve?

No, there’s more. Much more. I want to win the World Championship in California next year. For sure I would like to win the European Championship next year too.

But my goal is more than just winning championships, it’s to build champions. I want to teach people and share techniques that are proven to work. As I try to grow the gym, I will continue competing for as long as God blesses me with this health. That’s it.

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