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Eamonn Fitzgerald: Jack will do his own thing

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In this week’s column, Eamonn Fitzgerald reflects on the appointment of Jack O’Connor as manager of the Kerry senior football team, while also sharing his memories the late Donie Sheahan and Paddy Prendergast RIP

Managing a losing team is a lonely place to be. Who would want it, was a point I made in last week’s edition and added that Jack O’Connor did want the Kerry job.

Not surprisingly he will take over from Peter Keane, with Micheál Quirke and Diarmuid Murphy as selectors. That will be rubber-stamped on Monday night next. Note it is three selectors so far (manager plus two), not the customary five, and if Jack decides that three is enough, it will be enough. After all, he will be the manager. He will be adding other members to the management team, such as strength and conditioning, tactician and a host of others.

But Jack will be boss. He knows he has the players well capable of winning All-Irelands. What he has to do is to create a style of play and game plans (A and B) that will reap one reward. Bring Sam back to Kerry. That’s the message from the Kerry supporters. They are animalistic in their sole demand. If he fails to win, he will be castigated, as happened to him during his two earlier stints as manager.

He was an All-Ireland winning manager with Coláiste na Sceilge and brought home Sam in both of his terms as manager of the Kerry senior team. That, in my opinion, was the central criteria for success that influenced the Big 5 in their final recommendation to the County Board on Monday next.

Tim Murphy is one of the Kerry chairman unfortunate enough not to welcome home Sam during his five-year reign. Former chairmen Frank King and Gerald McKenna lived on the reflected glory of the Golden Years of the Mick O’Dwyer era. Then they gave O’Dwyer free reign. Jack will also do his own thing and if success follows he won’t have any interference. If you win the Sam Maguire, all other contentious matters in the day-to-day running of the Kerry County Board can be overcome with relative ease. The empty trophy shelf raises all kinds of hassle.

DEFENSIVE COACH

Jack is waiting on confirmation of Paddy Tally’s availability as a defensive coach. He won’t sign up Donie Buckley, even though the Castleisland man is very popular with players wherever he coaches. I believe that had Kerry a good defensive coach for the last number of years, the yawning gaps and unprotected central defensive positions would have prevented those goals. Kerry have plenty scoring power but leaking goals thought the centre was the main reason Sam did not come to Kerry.

It is ironic that Tyrone man Tally will be showing Kerry backs how to defend and we know how successful the Tyrone defence was in winning the 2021 All-Ireland. Expect a new, steely edge.

I am not forgetting the players. All the blame should not be heaped on Peter Keane. The players are not blameless in the crucial defeats over the past three years. Some lacked the ‘never say die’ winning attitude and allowed the opposition to boss them. Jack will have none of that.

KERRY OR KILDARE

He was doing well with Kildare, but knew that he would never win the bit titles with them. He knows that there are enough very good players available from the five-in-a-row All-Ireland minor squads. That won’t even be enough. He will seek out late developers, who did not come through the Kerry development squads. Will he unearth another Kieran Donaghy?

Kerry is the best bet for success and Jack saw the opportunity. He had his card marked and moved early, saying the right things. That Irish Examiner podcast and the reference to Kerry and Man Utd was not a slip of the tongue. That was a great head start. While others rushed to get management teams together, Jack O’Connor consolidated his position. Everyone in Kerry wants to see Sam back and if Jack can do it, so be it.

Many want more than that. If he fails, he will remember the truth of the statement of the late Páidí Ó Sé, even if the language was undiplomatic. The fans that cheer you when you are winning, will turn against you very quickly when Kerry lose. Jack had this criticism, as did Peter Keane ,and even Mick O’Dwyer who masterminded eight All-Irelands. Winner takes all.

Best of luck to Jack O’Connor and his management group when the final composition becomes public knowledge.

WELL INTO THE NINETIES

Two very different kinds of GAA footballing legends passed away last week, both nonagenarians. Donie Sheahan will be remembered in Killarney for the huge lifetime commitment he gave to sport, especially football, horse racing and bridge. He was also a great card player and loved the Wednesday Progressive 31 sessions Fr Paddy Doc organised with Dr Crokes in recent years, until COVID denied Donie and so many more a great social night.

What many of our readers may not know is that Donie was also a great bridge player and distinguished himself by winning a prestigious British Isles bridge title.

My sporting memories of Donie were outlined at length less than a year ago in this column, In Conversation with Donie Sheahan. To recap very briefly he was a very successful horse owner with several horses from his farm at Lawlor’e Cross winners at racetracks all over the country. What a thrill he got out of leading in his winners in Killarney and his hometown of Listowel.

I admired his infectious enthusiasm and his ability to make a winning team out of several clubs in East Kerry, treating everyone on his own merit, irrespective of what club they came from. He coaxed and cajoled everyone into a unified team. He managed those teams to four Kerry SFC titles in 1965, 1968, 1969 and 1970, several Munster Inter-club titles, and, to crown it all, trained East Kerry to win the first ever All-Ireland Club Football final in 1971. East Kerry were the only divisional board team to win the competition and he reminded me regularly that it was the sweetest day of all.

His prescription for success for the backs was “mark your own man and keep goalside all the time”. For midfielders such as Pat Moynihan, it was “get up high and catch it (the ball) and kick the bloody ball into Tom Long, Johnny Culloty and Mick Gleeson. They’ll do the rest”.

He wasn’t managing Dr Crokes when they won their first All-Ireland Club title in 1992, but he was as eager as ever and played a vital part as an unpaid physical therapist, easing out stiff muscles and joints. Crokes players recalled last weekend of his famous embrocation. Donie’s bottle. No one ever knew the secret ingredient. All that was written on the bottle was ‘The Rub’. It worked wonders.

So too did his legendary cough bottle. Donie’s cough bottle cured when so many other high faulting mixtures failed. On one particular occasion, Maurice Fitzgerald was wrecked by an awful cough, and Kerry so badly needed him. Mentors came to Donie; the magic bottle was dispatched to Cahersiveen and Maurice said the best game he played for Kerry was after taking Donie’s cough bottle. Not a performance enhancing drug in today’s sporting worlds, but a facilitator allowing the Iveragh sportsman to shine once more.

I’m quite sure that there are many parents among our readers that swore by that same cough bottle. Mighty stuff, from a mighty man.

When he set up his pharmacy in 34 Main Street 70 years ago he immediately joined Dr Crokes and gave a lifetime of service in many roles. He was chairman of the club in three different eras, totalling over 30 years in the chair, as well as 50 years as club delegate at the Kerry County Board.

PADDY P

And on Sunday last I heard of the death of the legendary Paddy Prendergast, or Paddy P as he was better known. One year younger than Donie Sheahan, he spent most of his life in Tralee, but never forgot his native Ballintubber.

I never saw him play, but he must have been special to be selected at full back on the football Team of the Millennium. All reports indicate that the garda from Ballintubber commandeered the square in that era when the goalkeeper was well protected by his full back.

He was also the last remaining one of the Mayo team that won the 1951 All-Ireland. They haven’t won any one since and the pain continued just a few weeks ago when Mayo lost yet another final. The whole country wanted Mayo to win, but on the day Tyrone deserved Sam.

The Mayo fans in Ireland and the Mayo diaspora are the most loyal supporters I know of, coming back each year only to suffer excruciating defeats. Think of some players who lost nine semi-finals and six finals in recent years. I think of Lee Keegan who lost seven finals. How does he keep coming back after all the heartbreaks? Yet he was the one player who stood out in the final quarter of this year’s final. He played a sound game at full back, but when he sensed that Sam was slipping away he made his trademark sallies deep into the Tyrone defence.

Brendan Hoban wrote a fine article in the Western People last week dealing with the backlash the Mayo players/families/management received for failing to bring Sam home.

“We need analysis, not bitterness, we take care of our own,” said Brendan.

“The personal criticism on social media was reprehensible, directing their bile to whatever player or players they decided didn’t live up to their inflated expectations.  But worst of all was the dismissive tone of those who like Joe Brolly in the Sunday Independent decided to personalise criticism of Mayo’s defeat by attributing it to a few individuals, in this case the Mayo manager, James Horan and Mayo captain, Aidan O’Shea.”

Analysis and constructive criticism, yes; personal vindictiveness, no. What applies to Mayo applies equally to Kerry.

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Big weekend ahead in Kerry Club Championships

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A tantalising 48 hours of club football lies ahead with key semi-finals or finals taking place at every grade of the Kerry Club Championship.

There are several exciting fixtures taking place across the county but the keenly anticipated senior final between Kenmare Shamrocks and Austin Stacks is surely the headliner.

Both finalists looked impressive throughout the group phase with Stacks in particular showing their strength by claiming victory in all three of their games. Legion, Rahilly’s and Dingle all fell to the men from Connolly Park and three late goals propelled them past Templenoe in the semi-final. That last four encounter was not of the highest calibre (the scoreline at half-time read Stacks 0-4 Templenoe 0-2), but the Tralee club came good in the second period to secure their progression to the finale.

Kenmare, meanwhile, topped a pool containing Dr Crokes, Spa and Templenoe and yet another Seán O’Shea winner sealed a one-point victory over Dingle in the semi-final. Remarkably, O’Shea has now scored a late winner in four of Shamrocks’ last six Club Championship victories across this and last season.

The fact that Kenmare and Stacks also met in the 2020 decider adds a significant amount of spice to Sunday’s clash. Stacks won last year’s game after extra time, and they are likely to be slight favourites this time around, but Kenmare will fancy their chances of causing an upset. If they manage to get over the line it will cap an incredible 10-year period for the club during which time they have also won the Junior Club Championship (2012) and the Intermediate Club Championship (2016).

INTERMEDIATE

Things are taking shape in the intermediate too as 16 clubs have now become four. Rathmore, who lost their senior status in 2019 after 20 years at the top table, are one step closer to promotion following a solid win over neighbours Glenflesk. Mark Reen (1-6, 5f), Chrissy Spiers (0-4, 2f) and Paul Murphy (0-3) accounted for the bulk of Rathmore’s scores as they ran out 1-18 to 1-11 winners. Aidan O’Mahony once again lined out in the full forward line and he chipped in with a point from play.

Rathmore’s opponents in the semis will be beaten 2020 finalists Beaufort after they inflicted a heavy defeat upon Kilcummin in Kilcummin. Liam Carey kicked 1-8 and Kieran Dennehy added 1-3 for the Mid Kerry side as they romped to a 2-21 to 0-10 victory. Coming so close to promotion just a matter of weeks ago before falling short  (the 2020 edition didn’t finish until September) apparently hasn’t knocked Beaufort too far off their stride.

The other semi-final will see Na Gaeil take on Castleisland Desmonds after they accounted for Ballydonoghue and An Ghaeltacht in their respective last eight ties.

JUNIOR

In the Junior Premier, Listry are on the brink of the final following their excellent 1-15 to 2-6 win over local rivals Fossa. The East Kerry club will take on Skellig Rangers on Sunday with Gneeveguilla up against St Michael’s-Foilmore in the other semi-final.

At Junior level, Firies will be hoping to move one step closer to promotion when they take on Reenard in Killorglin on Saturday. The winners will face either Cordal or Castlegregory in the final.

In the Novice Club Championship, Sneem/Derrynane play Ballylongford with Cromane up against either Asdee or Moyvane.

Senior Club Championship Final

Sun 3pm – Austin Stacks v Kenmare Shamrocks (Fitzgerald Stadium)

Intermediate Club Championship Semi-Finals

Sat 7pm – Na Gaeil v Castleisland Desmonds (Austin Stack Park)

Sun 1pm – Beaufort v Rathmore (Fitzgerald Stadium)

Intermediate Club Relegation Semi-Finals

Sat 4pm – John Mitchels v Currow (Castleisland)

Sat 4pm – Ardfert v Laune Rangers (Ballymac)

Junior Premier Club Championship Semi-Finals

Sat 4pm – Gneeveguilla v St Michael’s-Foilmore (Beaufort)

Sun 2.30pm – Listry v Skellig Rangers (Glenbeigh)

Junior Premier Club Relegation Playoff

Sat at 4pm – Finuge v St Pat’s Blennerville (Mountcoal)

Junior Club Championship Semi-Finals

Sat 4pm – Reenard v Firies (Austin Stack Park)

Sun 2.30pm – Cordal v Castlegregory (Strand Road)

Novice Club Championship Quarter-Final

Sun 2.30pm – Asdee v Moyvane (Asdee)

Novice Football Championship Semi-Final

Sat 4pm – Sneem/Derrynane v Ballylongford (Cromane)

KERRY SFC

Meanwhile, the times and venues for Round 1 of the County Championship have been confirmed. In one of the ties of the round, Killarney rivals Legion and Spa will face off in the Fitzgerald Stadium on Saturday, October 30 at 3pm. Later that evening at 7pm,  defending champions East Kerry will take on Austin Stacks in Austin Stack Park.

Dr Crokes will get their championship underway against West Kerry the following day at 3pm. That match will form part of a double-header in Stack Park with Dingle and Mid Kerry squaring off at 5pm.

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Lakers and Cougars take positives from defeats

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Killarney’s two Men’s National League teams suffered opening round defeats last weekend but both sides can take plenty of positives from their first outings of the 2021/22 season.

The Scotts Lakers had a tricky first day at the office as they travelled to Limerick to take on the Celtics. Thanks in part to the offensive prowess of newcomers Emilian Grudov, Rui Saravia and Ben Miller and the defensive efforts of local lads Mark O’Shea and Paul Clarke, the visitors appeared to be in control of proceedings heading into the fourth quarter. Jarlath Lee’s team led by 86 points to 79 and a valuable road win was on the cards.

Credit to the hosts, however, who put together a remarkable 18-0 run to completely turn the game on its head. With Andre Wolford (who finished with 51 points) to the fore, the Celtics seized control and although the Lakers fought back admirably, they just about came up short. The final score at Munchin’s College was Limerick Celtics 111-104 Scotts Lakers.

Encouragingly, the Lakers’ imports all made an impression on the scoring charts with Grudov (31 points), Miller (30) and Saravia (12) combining for 70% of the team’s points total. Youngster Jamie O’Sullivan also made his mark by chipping in with an impressive tally of 18.

Next up for the Lakers is another away match, this time in Cork against Fr Mathews. Tip-off on Saturday is at 7.30pm.

In cup news, the Lakers have been drawn to play the Portlaoise Panthers at home over the October Bank Holiday weekend (October 23/24). This will be the team’s first home game of the season.

Lakers fans can now buy their season tickets with a ‘single’ costing €50. A ‘patron’ option (two adults) is available for €100, which includes a mention in the gameday programmes. The ‘family’ season ticket (two adults and two under 16s) is €120. This entitles fans to entry to every home league and cup game. Visit the St Paul’s Killarney Facebook page for details on how you can get your hands on these tickets through Eventbrite. Alternatively, you can contact any club officer.

COUGARS

In what was their first ever game in the National League, newcomers Killarney Cougars came up against a strong UCC Demons outfit in the Pres Gym. The Cougars started well and threes by Conor Flynn and Con O’Mahony contributed to an early 14-11 lead. The Demons have been tipped as title contenders, however, and they showed their considerable class thereafter, with Tala Fam Thiam in particular standing out.

The away team led by 45-30 at the half but a strong third quarter which included threes by Flynn, Justin Tuason and Mark O’Shea helped cut the deficit to just five.

But Demons regrouped and reassumed control thereafter, eventually running out 87-59 winners.

Next weekend the Cougars travel to Limerick to tackle the UL Eagles with a home game against the Portlaoise Panthers on October 23.

ST MARY’S

Team Garvey’s St Mary’s (Castleisland) were no match for hosts Glanmire when the sides met in the first round of the Women’s Super League on Friday last. It was always expected to be a tough challenge for the visitors considering Glanmire’s many years of experience at this level and the Cork women had a huge first quarter, hitting 28 points to Team Garvey’s 13.

Team Garvey’s Le’Jzea Davidson sustained an ankle injury in the early part of the game but to her credit managed to keep going. However, she went over on the same ankle in the dying stages. Glanmire continued to excel as the game progressed leaving the final score at 112-41 in favour of the Cork team. Killarney native Rheanne O’Shea chipped in with six points for St Mary’s.

The Kerry team’s next game is on Saturday against Fr Mathews. Tip-off in Castleisland Community Centre is at 6.30pm.

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