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Decisions, decisions, decisions: Who will Keane pick for the championship?

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Kerry manager Peter Keane must make some big calls as The Kingdom set sail on their 2021 All-Ireland quest, writes Adam Moynihan

One hundred and thirty-seven minutes. A little over two hours. That’s how long Kerry’s championship lasted in 2020.

The aim will be to get a little over two months out of it this time around but, with no safety net in place, it’s impossible to look beyond the Munster quarter-final against an ever-improving and potentially dangerous Clare side. This Kerry team have been bitten once. They will be on high alert in The Park on Saturday.

Over the course of a promising league campaign which included a draw with the champions and blowout wins over Galway and Tyrone, plenty of players put their paws up for starting berths. Now, Peter Keane and his selectors have some huge calls to make, none more so than deciding who will contest the throw-in at 7pm tomorrow evening.

MORAN

In previous years, David Moran’s inclusion was a foregone conclusion so long as he was physically able, but there is a growing sense that his place is no longer set in stone. The veteran sat out the Tyrone drubbing a fortnight ago and apart from a fine first half against Galway (the first 35 minutes of the season) his form has not been great.

No one can deny Moran’s talent and the physical presence he provides, but there are concerns in some quarters about his ability to get around the pitch at his age (he is 33 on Tuesday), especially given his history of serious injuries.

As an elder statesman and one of a select few with senior All-Ireland medals to his name, he is a leader of this team. However, you have to wonder if, at times, he tries to assume a little too much responsibility, particularly in key moments. In two of the past three seasons, Moran has taken and missed Kerry's last shot in an elimination game (Monaghan in 2018 and Cork in 2020). In the drawn match against Dublin in 2019, he took the ball into contact and turned it over, which resulted in the opposition getting an equalising free at the other end.

Maybe it is unfair to highlight these individual errors – if you went through each of the aforementioned games you would see every single player making a mistake at one point or another. But it does seem as though Moran has developed a habit of trying to drag Kerry over the line almost singlehandedly. He is a terrific footballer who is capable of doing that, but at the same time he is not Kerry’s best player. In clutch moments, the ball should be in David Clifford’s hands 10 times out of 10. If that is literally impossible in a given situation, Seán O’Shea is next up. And I don’t think it’s an insult to David Moran to say that.

Do Kerry have the midfielders to win without him? That’s up for debate. Diarmuid O’Connor has made great strides this year and Kerry supporters are rightly enthused by the 22-year-old’s progress, but he isn’t the finished article just yet. Jack Barry and Adrian Spillane provide athleticism and physicality, but they can’t match Moran for sheer skill.

Peter Keane will be hoping that the Rahilly's man is saving his best for the championship. He has shone on the big stage plenty of times throughout his intercounty career.

Keane can either start with Moran and finish with Barry or Spillane, or hold him in reserve until the right moment. It’s a major decision either way and one that could potentially define Kerry’s season.

FULL BACK

Elsewhere, Tadhg Morley’s place at full back might also be under threat all of a sudden. Jason Foley was Man of the Match at No. 3 against Tyrone and Brian Ó Beaglaoich and Tom O’Sullivan did very well either side of him.

Morley was rested from the start against Roscommon and was wrongly sent off just seconds after his introduction, which ruled him out of that league semi-final two weeks ago.

It would be a very cruel way for him to lose his place if that’s the route that Keane and co. decide to go down, but Ó Beaglaoich and O’Sullivan could also feel hard done by if they’re the ones to miss out.

TONY BROSNAN

The other dilemma for Keane is in the full forward line where Killian Spillane and Tony Brosnan are the main candidates to partner in-form talisman David Clifford. Brosnan is expected to be available after recovering from a hand injury but, at the moment, Spillane seems to be the manager’s preferred option.

Brosnan’s consistently electrifying form at club level for Dr Crokes effectively forced Keane to bring him into the fold last season; for whatever reason the manager appeared to be reluctant to do so up until that point. Brosnan has fared well, perhaps without truly exploding onto the scene in the manner he would have liked. Maybe this is simply down to the fact that he is playing next to the best forward in the country. David Clifford is going to be Kerry’s first option on most attacking possessions, which means that whoever lines up alongside him is going to get fewer touches than they normally would for their club.

Brosnan shines for Crokes when he’s the main man. He gets the ball and it’s all about him. He can take on his marker, he can check back for a shot, he can play a one-two. It’s probably unreasonable to expect him to do the same thing and kick the same huge scores for Kerry when he’s seeing less of the ball. In fairness to Spillane, he thrives in this role as a second option. He is a real catch-and-shoot kicker – oftentimes he won’t even take a hop or a solo before shooting. But Brosnan is just as capable of fulfilling this role because he’s so accurate.

For the majority of counties, Spillane or Brosnan would be the main forward. To thrive for Kerry, however, they basically have to be David Clifford’s wingman.

As for the half forward line, Paudie Clifford, Seán O’Shea, Dara Moynihan and Paul Geaney should start (Kerry have effectively played with four half forwards so far this season, apart from the Tyrone game when they started five). Stephen O’Brien could be the one to miss out if Keane does opt to bring in another inside forward in the mold of Spillane or Brosnan. The Kenmare player, who was sensational in 2019 before suffering an injury setback in 2020, has struggled to find his feet of late.

Tommy Walsh remains an ever-reliable impact substitute and Micheál Burns is also capable of coming in and doing a job.

SETTLED

The half back line of Paul Murphy, Gavin Crowley and Gavin White is fairly settled at this stage with newcomer Mike Breen a viable alternative if needs be. Jack Sherwood is also likely to see minutes late on.

Between the posts, Shane Ryan looks set to return following a six-week layoff due to injury. Kieran Fitzgibbon did well enough in his stead but Ryan is sure to be Keane’s first choice for the business end of the season (if Kerry get that far). With that in mind, the more gametime the Rathmore man can get under his belt, the better.

So, big decisions for Keane, Maurice Fitzgerald, James Foley and Tommy Griffin to make ahead of Kerry’s first 2021 championship team announcement tonight.

It might “only” be Day 1 and it might “only” be Clare, but the entire group will need to be completely focused to ensure that this campaign lasts longer than a couple of hours.

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No reform for football championship as Plan B falls short

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by Adam Moynihan

There will be no radical change for the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship in 2022 after a motion to restructure the format of the competition failed at GAA Special Congress on Saturday afternoon.

Motion 19 (also referred to as ‘Proposal B’ or ‘Plan B’) proposed that the National League and All-Ireland Championship should become one competition, with the provincial championships being separated from the All-Ireland series for the first time ever.

The motion needed support from 60% of delegates but, contrary to projections, it fell well short of that majority. In the end, after an hour-and-a-quarter of debate, just 50.6% of voters opted for Plan B.

Plan A – four groups of eight “provinces” plus an All-Ireland series – garnered far less support. 90% of those present voted against that particular proposal, which was down as Motion 18 on the agenda.

The end result of the two failed motions is that intercounty football will revert to the status quo as it was before the Super 8s were introduced in 2018, with a qualifier or “back door” system in place. A second tier competition known as the Tailteann Cup will also be staged.

ARGUMENTS

Introducing Motion 19 to delegates at Croke Park, former GAA President John Horan described the proposal as a starting point.

“If we feel we need to improve it, that opportunity would be there,” he said. “This proposal will mean more matches for our players and a better playing to training ratio.”

CEO of the Gaelic Players Association Tom Parsons said the ‘league as championship’ model would spark life into Gaelic football, before reading the testimonies of some intercounty players who supported Plan B. Among them was current Kerry captain Paul Murphy, who was quoted as saying: “The time has come to try a new structure for our football championship.”

Parsons added that some players are being “laughed at” while wearing county tracksuits after suffering heavy defeats.

Former GAA President and ex-Kerry GAA Chairman Seán Kelly also spoke out in favour of Proposal B, suggesting that it should be trialled for a period of three years.

“If you stand still, you go backwards,” the Kilcummin native said. “This motion should be trialled for a maximum of three years and then reviewed. To turn our backs on the voice of the players does not make sense to me.”

Michael Duignan from Offaly, Colm Collins from Clare, Seán Carroll from Sligo, Kevin O’Donovan from Cork and Declan Bohan from Leitrim all backed the proposal.

Representatives from Mayo, Donegal, Antrim, Cavan, Derry, Monaghan and Armagh argued against.

Mayo GAA Chairman Liam Moffatt raised concerns about the sixth place team in Division 1 not qualifying for the All-Ireland series while teams from lower divisions would.

Tiernach Mahon of Fermanagh GAA said that “this motion has the potential to destroy the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of Fermanagh people”.

Meanwhile, Kerry GAA chair Tim Murphy called for Motion 19 to be voted on at Congress 2022 instead.

“It’s a really strong motion with really good attributes and something we should really consider. But I would caveat that by saying it would be a travesty today if the motion is put to the floor and defeated. All the work of the committee would go to waste.

“The sense I get from the floor is that everybody is for change and for us to grow and evolve as an Association we have to accept that. I do feel the motion has huge attributes, but maybe we should go around to the provinces and invite in county officers and players to have their view. If we come back in 12 or 13 weeks with the same motion, then no-one can say we haven’t discussed it properly.

“Perhaps bringing this motion to Congress 2022 is the best solution to the situation we find ourselves in.”

Bringing the debate to a close, Horan again urged delegates to back the proposal.

His pleas fell on deaf ears, however – at least for 83 of the 168 people in attendance. 100 ‘yes’ votes were needed for change, but Motion 19 received just 85.

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A lover of music and song: Jimmy O’Brien RIP

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Eamonn Fitzgerald remembers the late Jimmy O’Brien, the eminently popular bar owner, singer and GAA fan who left an indelible mark on the town of Killarney.

Publican Jimmy O’Brien was laid to rest at sunny Aghadoe on Monday last. He wouldn’t want any fuss, but he got his promise from his lifelong friend, Jimmy Doyle. Jimmy was on the button accordion playing ‘Mary from Bonane’, a firm favourite, and even more so in recent weeks when Bonane native Seán O’Shea was kicking points from all angles.

After his love for his family, nothing meant more to Jimmy O’Brien than football, music and song.

Born in the town land of Lyreatough, Kilcummin in 1932, he attended the local Anabla NS and was well inducted in the various stages of getting the turf from sleán to the reek in the haggard. He was of the bog and proud of it. But he knew it was very hard work and headed for town, specifically Culloty’s Garage at Fair Hill (now Killarney Hardware). There he learned his trade as a mechanic. He didn’t boast about it but was very proud of the papers he received to certify him as fully qualified.

Like so many more people of that time, he was taken to America by Patrick Cronin in 1956 and was home for good in 1961. He must have collected a fair fistful of dollars and held on to them because, when Conno Healy’s pub came up for sale in 1959 (across the road from Culloty’s), he bought it. He returned home to open up Jimmy O’Brien’s pub along with his wife, Mary.

The family came along in due course – Siobhán, Ann and Jim – and the business grew. All went well until September 29, 1994, when his beloved Mary passed away aged 61. Too young to die and it hit him hard. No wonder; wasn’t she his life and soul?

His three children, the bar and his twin loves of football and song kept him going. He had no time for soccer, recounting times he would go up to the Friary, say the rosary, and still no score when he returned.

He was an ardent supporter of the Kerry football teams, but even more passionate about club football. Which was his club?

ROGUES

Set the scene in the Fair Hill bar, with a nice crowd inside. That’s the way he liked it – he got a bit flustered if it became jam-packed. It’s summer time and the O’Donoghue Cup draw has been published.

Johnny Batt (Cronin) was the instigator, and his Spa club mates the Herlihy brothers (Dave and William) stirred it further. Who was Jimmy going to support in the forthcoming matches, in which the rivalry would be intense? Mick Gleeson was as philosophical as ever; he knew better than to try and win this one.

The McCarthy brothers from Gneeveguilla, Thado, Joe and Billy, were in fast to lay claim to the boss of the house. After all, wasn’t he reared in the traditions of Sliabh Luachra and one of its finest sean-nós singers? Rosy was far more definite. Gneeveguilla, of course, I have to say.

Kilcummin’s Dermot Moynihan was in no doubt about how the allegiance would stand. After all, Jimmy was born in the parish, went to school in the parish and the parish rule was, and still is, sacrosanct in Kerry football.

The odds favoured the country clubs and were stacked against the townies. Weeshie Fogarty was a regular and he had lined Jimmy up for Terrace Talk.

His daughter, Ann, married Harry O’Neill (Dr Crokes), Tom Long was his gun club friend traipsing around Cock Hill and not a word out of him, but beside him supping porter and watching the scene develop was Mike Cooper, the man who was born just inside the county bounds and was now living in Killarney. The Crokes are the team, said Mike, his chest swelling with pride. He had just returned from Cahersiveen where Dr Crokes had defied the odds to beat the Maurice Fitzgerald-led South Kerry team in the Kerry County Championship. Five of his sons played the full match to secure victory. But I thought there were only four?

“No, I have five, all good, but the youngest is only a slip of a lad. You’d think you’d blow him over, but the foxy boy will be the best of all of them.” How right he was. The boy became a man and won five All-Irelands with Kerry. Crokes went on to win the 2000 Kerry SFC, managed by Harry O’Neill, Jimmy’s son-in-law.

How was the proprietor going to get out of this one before the gallery of rogues? Sure, he was the greatest rogue of all himself, but we loved him for it.

Everyone looked to Jimmy for an answer, but he turned to another regular, the independent voice of Bracker, from the Rock.

Plenty of grimacing and carry on, but no answer to Johnny Batt’s question. Jimmy O’Brien had the knack of not falling out with anyone and he couldn’t win this one, so he carried confirmation of club allegiance with him to his grave.

I’m pretty sure it is Gneeveguilla, in the heart of Sliabh Luachra, which made Jimmy O’Brien a household name in traditional music, especially with his lifelong ‘brother’ Jimmy Doyle. He embraced the greatness of Julia Clifford, Denis Murphy, Johnny O’Leary, the Doyle brothers and many more.

SINGING

What’s more, he enhanced that marvellous tradition, not in playing, but in singing. I asked Jimmy Doyle at the graveside about Jimmy on the melodeon. “Oh, he could play… But he was only alright! But for singing he was tops, pure and just outstanding. He could interpret a song so well. You wouldn’t hear a pin drop when he sang unaccompanied.”

Is it any wonder that his pub in Fair Hill was a mecca for traditional singers and musicians? They came to the master’s pub for a session.

Paddy Moloney, chief of The Chieftains, was a regular caller; as were The Dubliners; and the Kelly brothers, Luke of ‘Raglan Road’ and Paddy, who was also a beautiful singer. When Paddy was head of the Trade Unions, they held their conferences in Killarney’s Great Southern Hotel. Business over, they trooped down to O’Brien’s. The pint was much cheaper there and they would have a right session singing, and what are you having yourself, sir?

Dolly McMahon, The Wolfe Tones, and the Begley’s all came to sing and play.

There were so many impromptu sessions and you’d get the discreet phone call that the session had already started. “Come, you’ll enjoy it, but ná h-abair focal to anyone.” What an invitation to listen to musical greats from the list above.

“Johnny O’Leary and the Doyles will be here around 10. We have Seán Ó Sé (Poc ar Buile), Johnny Lehane and Diarmaidín Ó Súillabháin will be here from Cúl Aodh. He’ll have the recorder for Radio na Gaeltachta.”

Regular visitors were Mick O’Connell, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, Donncha Ó Dulaing and Cíarán Mac Mathúna. Thankfully, Ciarán recorded so many of Jimmy’s songs, preserving this priceless legacy for the Irish oral tradition.

And then there were the American tourists drawn to a real Irish pub. They wanted ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Galway Bay’. They also wanted to know what music college from which the vintner graduated. The prime boys from UCC provided him with the answer for the Yanks question. The University of Sliabh Luachra, with its constituent college in Lyreatough. “Wow, fancy that. Must Google that when we get back to the States.”

FRIENDSHIP

My friendship with Jimmy O’Brien goes back a long ways, but specifically to November 1969, when East Kerry won the second of their Kerry SFC titles and the Bishop Moynihan Cup had pride of place.

He introduced me to so many people, including Con Houlihan, sitting in the high seat inside the door, hair well down his back, no pigtail and his hand cupped to his nose. This genius of a wordsmith was a shy man that I met many times later in Dublin.

Just like Paddy Moloney, Jimmy shared his talents with so many young up and coming singers who went on to great things in life. I recall one such case. A very young nervous girl was preparing for her first time on stage, a recitation in Scór. Would he help her out?

Would he what? Bring her along. To this day the now adult woman recalls sitting up on that seat inside the door and this gentle, loving man encouraging her with great tips.

That seat is long gone, but not the bar stand. He splashed out on a magnificent mahogany piece, surplus to the requirements of the Great Southern. “That’s not like you,” says Johnny Batt. “What’ll you use it for?”

“It’ll be a fine bar counter,” Jimmy replied. “And what’s more, when its job is done, won’t it make a fine coffin?”

He was a great Friary man and the highlight of St Patrick’s Day was the singing of the Ár nAthair. Father and daughter, Jimmy and Siobhán, the All-Ireland champion singer unaccompanied in touching harmony. Flawless. Enchanting.

His relationship with his son Jim was more like that of brothers, looking after each other. They got great joy out of travelling to matches in the ageless red Mercedes, certainly the only one in Killarney, if not in Europe. He never got a parking ticket and definitely was never caught for speeding. I’m convinced that the former mechanic set cruise control at 40km and away she went with co-pilot Jim Bob. No need for GPS, Jim Bob in control. God help the poor motorist trying to pass out on the rural roads.

July was his favourite month to live his passions. The Munster final in Killarney on the first Sunday of July was the occasion to meet so many of his friends from afar. It was also the first day of the Willie Clancy festival at Miltown–Malbay and that ran for a week. He never missed it, linking up with Galway hurlers Joe McDonagh and the Connolly brothers and especially their aunts and uncles, the Jimmy O’Brien cultivators of traditional singing and music in Connemara. It was his spiritual retreat. Sustenance for another year.

His nephew, Fr Liam O’Brien, celebrated the touching funeral mass, enhanced by the singing of Maura Reen.

I had the good fortune to spend an hour with Jimmy less than a fortnight before he died. He wanted to know the inside story on Jack O’Connor’s return and then sang ‘The Boys of Bárr na Sráide’ and Garry McMahon’s ‘Kerry’s Green and Gold’.

Pitch perfect. Word perfect. Never a faltering note.

“Not bad for an ould fella,” were his parting words. He knew he could still do it and I was so happy to video live the Master of Songs, treasured recordings for the memory bank.

I wonder if St Peter will listen in on the hop balls between new neighbours, Johnny Batt and Jimmy O’Brien?

To Siobhán, Ann, Jim and extended families, as well as friends from far and near, comhbhrón ó chroí.

Traditional cultural Ireland has lost some great people in recent weeks: Tony Loughnane, Paddy Moloney, Máire Mac an tSaoí, Brendan Kennelly and Jimmy O’Brien. Class acts.

And Jimmy, go gcloisfidh tú na h-aingil ag déanamh ceoil leat ar Neamh.

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