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Crokes hurlers close to upsetting natural order

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Kerry SHC: Group 3

Dr Crokes v Crotta O’Neills

Friday at 7.30pm

Austin Stack Park

Dr Crokes came extremely close to causing an upset in their first ever Kerry Senior Hurling Championship fixture. Tonight, they’re hoping to go one step further.

Few gave the Crokes a chance against Abbeydorney last weekend but a spirited display saw the Lewis Road club give their more established black and amber counterparts a real scare. In the end, they fell just short by the narrowest of margins (0-17 to 0-16), but they will surely take heart and encouragement from the fact that they pushed O’Dorney, last year’s beaten semi-finalists, to the pin of their collar.

After David Carroll scored a historic first point at this level for the Crokes, O’Dorney settled and led 5-3 at the water break. Both sides doubled their tallies in the second quarter to leave the scores at 10-6 at half-time, and when the North Kerry club powered into a seven-point lead early in the second half, Crokes’ travelling support must have feared the worst.

But full credit to the debutants, they stuck to their task and a rip-roaring fightback, which included overs by Mark Heffernan, Tom Doyle, Carroll, Aaron Murphy, and goalkeeper Conor Bohane, narrowed the gap to just a single point in stoppage time.

Abbeydorney hung on for the win, and now Crokes will need some kind of result against Crotta O’Neills to have any chance of progressing to the next phase of the competition. Two teams from each of the three groups of three will advance, with the bottom side in each pool making an early exit.

Crotta are sure to provide a stern test. They have five Kerry seniors in their ranks, including the likes of Shane Nolan and Barry Mahony, although the unfortunate loss of Jordan Conway through injury has dampened their championship prospects somewhat.

The Kilflynn club have real pedigree in this tournament having gone all the way on new fewer than nine occasions. Their last triumph may have been many moons ago now (1968) but they are well used to the rough and tumble of the Kerry Senior Hurling Championship and they will certainly provide the Crokes with a very stern test.

Crokes manager John Lenihan will have his boys well psyched up for the challenge, however, and if they can show the grit and determination that brought them to within a point of O’Dorney, you never know where it might take them. Upsetting the natural order of things at the first time of asking is a tall order, but they showed last weekend that they’re not all that far away from doing just that.

Elsewhere in this weekend’s championship action, Ballyheigue take on Lixnaw on Saturday at 7.30pm. Ballyheigue fell to a heavy enough defeat to defending champions Kilmoyley (4-23 to 1-16) in their opening Group 2 fixture so it’s do or die for them this time out. Lixnaw, the 2018 champions, will be a tough challenge.

In Group 1, Ballyduff take on a Causeway outfit who had a big win over St Brendan’s last weekend (3-20 to 0-13). That match is on Sunday at 2pm and Causeway will fancy themselves to prevail and book a place in the quarter-finals.

All matches will be played in Austin Stack Park in Tralee.

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Killarney girls will answer Ireland’s call

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A trio of talented young Killarney rugby players have been called up to the Ireland U18 squad for the upcoming Six Nations festival in Wales.

Ava O’Malley, Fia Whelan and Emma Dunican have all been included in Matt Gill’s panel for the tournament, which will take place between March 29 and April 6. They will link up with their new teammates for three weekend training camps at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin during the month of March.

Gill, the current Women’s Provincial Talent Coach for Leinster, will be assisted by Sana Govender, who has previously coached Munster Women’s teams.

“I’m really looking forward to continuing our Irish U18 Women’s Six Nations preparations and getting our camps underway,” the head coach said. “I’m excited to work with Sana and our management team, and to work with this incredibly talented group of players.”

O’Malley, Whelan and Dunican are products of Killarney RFC’s blossoming youth set-up and all three were on the U18.5 team that recently won the Munster League.

Including the Killarney girls, there are seven Munster-based players on the 35-woman squad with 15 hailing from Leinster, eight from Connacht and five from Ulster.

“It’s a very proud day for the girls, their families, teammates and coaches, and for Killarney RFC,” the club commented. “Best of luck, girls!”

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After six frustrating years in green and gold, latest setback was the last straw for Burns

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by Adam Moynihan

The news that Micheál Burns has left the Kerry panel raised a few eyebrows this week as Jack O’Connor indicated that the Dr Crokes man was unhappy with the amount of time he had been getting on the pitch.

On the surface it might seem a little rash. After all, Kerry have only played two competitive matches this year and the 27-year-old started one of them. But a closer look at his career in green and gold reveals that getting dropped for the Monaghan game a fortnight ago is the latest in a long line of setbacks that would take their toll on any footballer.

They say you make your own luck in sport and I’m sure Micheál himself would accept that he could have made more of some of the opportunities that he got, but all things considered he was unfortunate enough at times.

DEBUT

Burns first came to the attention of Kerry football supporters when he won the Man of the Match award in the 2014 All-Ireland minor final.

He eventually made his senior debut against Donegal in 2018, the same day Eamonn Fitzmaurice handed David Clifford and Seánie O’Shea their first starts at senior level. The diminutive but well-built wing forward kicked a point and he kept his place throughout the entire league campaign, scoring in six out of seven games (0-9 in total). It was an impressive return for a rookie.

However, he was still subbed off in six of those games, and this pattern would continue for much of his Kerry career. He started three times in the 2018 championship and scored 0-2 against both Cork and Kildare, yet he was taken off in all three matches.

2019 began with Crokes’ run to the All-Ireland Club final so he didn’t feature for Kerry in the league. His one start all year – against Meath in the Super 8s – ended on bad terms as Peter Keane subbed him off four minutes before half-time. Burns was visibly upset as he sat on the bench. It did seem like a harsh decision at the time. He didn’t play again that season.

The following year, 2020, turned out to be an annus horribilis for all of us but it actually started well for Burns. For my money he played his best football for his county in the pre-pandemic league matches. He wasn’t really known for his kicking at the time but he had clearly been working on this element of his game because he came out with all guns blazing.

After coming off the bench against Dublin in Croke Park, he started and scored in the next four matches, registering 0-2 against Galway, 0-1 against Tyrone, 0-3 against Meath and 0-1 against Mayo. Some of these points were real beauties. But he was still taken off in three of four games.

Covid was a disaster full stop but it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the industrious half forward from Killarney. He started both of the outstanding league fixtures when the season resumed in October but he couldn’t recapture that early season form. He didn’t see action in that disastrous defeat to Cork in the Munster semi-final as Keane started the match with a midfielder and a back in the half forward line.

FRUSTRATION

He started two games in the shortened 2021 season (against Dublin in the league and Tipperary in the championship) and once again his year ended in frustration when Keane left him lingering on the bench during Kerry’s extra time defeat to Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Burns might have been expecting his name to be called when David Clifford went down with an injury at the end of normal time – he was the last remaining forward on the bench – but instead Kerry turned to Paul Geaney, who had already been subbed off earlier in the game. Burns was eventually brought on as Kerry’s tenth sub with just four minutes of extra time to go. Whatever way you spin it, that must have been tough to take.

Jack O’Connor returned in 2022 and Burns hasn’t started a championship match since, although he did come on when Kerry beat Galway in the All-Ireland final. He also saw game time in each of Kerry’s last five championship outings of 2023. He didn’t score in those appearances last year and the lack of scoring threat from Kerry’s half forwards was a talking point at season’s end, but it could have been quite different for Burns had things gone his way.

He might have had a tap-in goal against Tyrone if Seánie O’Shea was feeling generous, and against Derry he was all alone and in a far better position when David Clifford decided to stop up and take a point to give Kerry a two-point lead late on. They were small moments but if they fell his way they could have shifted the narrative in Burns’ favour.

He played against Derry in the 2024 season opener but he didn’t have his best game and was substituted at half-time. Then he didn’t play against Monaghan the following weekend. After experiencing an uncommon amount of setbacks in his six-year career, this was evidently the straw that broke the camel’s back.

COMMITMENTS

No doubt some will say that it’s an honour to even be on the Kerry panel and there’s no shame in playing second fiddle to the calibre of forwards that Burns was up against. They’re right, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the man has to be content with not starting. The commitments that come with intercounty football are enormous. It’s hard enough when you’re getting the rewards you feel you deserve; it’s much harder when you’re not.

Burns will go back to his club and I’m sure he will be an important player for them for years to come.

As for Kerry, having a squad member depart mid-season is ideally something that you wouldn’t want to happen but if a guy isn’t happy, maybe it’s for the best. I’m sure Micheál’s friends on the panel will be sad to see him go but it shouldn’t be a big distraction. They are a professional group and it will be business as usual against Mayo on Saturday night.

For Kerry and for Burns, life goes on.

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