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.
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.
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.
Fossa on cusp of history as club from ‘nine square miles’ eyes senior status
Kerry IFC Final
Fossa v Milltown/Castlemaine
Austin Stack Park
Never before in the history of Kerry football has an Intermediate final attracted so much attention.
On Sunday, two clubs go head-to-head with a trophy and promotion on the line – but this high-profile encounter has far more riding on it than that.
In fact, the consequences of the outcome of this second-tier decider are going to be massive. If Fossa win, they will graduate to senior for the first time in their 53-year existence. It would represent a monumental achievement for the club from the small parish to the northwest of Killarney; few, if any, believed it would ever be possible given their lowly standing as recently as a few years ago.
With two generational talents at their disposal in the form of the Clifford brothers from Two Mile, they have rapidly risen through the ranks. Now they are seeking their second successive promotion following on from last year’s extra time win over Listry in the Junior Premier final.
And if the idea of Fossa going out on their own in the Kery Senior Football Championship wasn’t intriguing enough on its own, there’s more. A Fossa win would mean that East Kerry, winners of four of the last five titles, would lose their Fossa contingent for 2024. Most notable amongst that cohort are Paudie and David Clifford, unquestionably the district’s two most influential players.
There is plenty of intrigue from Milltown/Castlemaine’s perspective too. The Mid Kerry side are aiming to get back to senior level for the first time since being relegated in 2016 following defeat to Kilcummin in a playoff. They were not considered to be amongst the frontrunners for this competition before a ball was kicked, and possibly not after the group stage either, so victory this weekend would be sweet.
Of course, a Milltown/Castlemaine win would also have a huge bearing on the 2024 County Championship. Mid Kerry (runners-up in 2020, 2022 and 2023) stand to lose five starters if Milltown are promoted: Pa Wrenn, David Roche, Gavin Horan, Cillian Burke and Éanna O’Connor. Such a loss would greatly weaken their hand and widen the gap that already exists between them and the reigning champions. Add to that the fact that East Kerry will keep the Cliffords if Milltown/Castlemaine win, and the significance of this game is magnified further still.
There is so much at stake for all the invested parties in East and Mid Kerry, and there is plenty to consider for the neutral fan as well. Many would welcome the weakening of East Kerry’s squad as it would potentially lead to a more competitive County Championship. However, there is serious concern amongst Kerry supporters that the Cliffords are in need of a rest after a long couple of years with club and county. If Fossa prevail they will advance to the Munster Championship and possibly beyond if they manage to keep on winning. This would likely interfere with their star players’ off-season.
There’s no doubt that the nature of Fossa’s matches to date have whetted the appetite for this final. They were involved in exhilarating extra time victories over Castleisland and Austin Stacks in the previous rounds and more excitement of that nature would be more than welcome after a largely disappointing County Championship.
Milltown/Castlemaine also bring plenty to the table and although the momentum from their own semi-final heroics against Legion may have dwindled somewhat over the many weeks between then and now, they can certainly take heart from that result against one of the pre-tournament favourites.
It’s all set up to be a fascinating match-up and a large crowd is expected in Tralee for this one.
The match will also be streamed live by Clubber.
Home double header for St Paul’s and Scotts Lakers
The St Paul’s women’s and men’s teams are both in National League action this Saturday at Killarney Sports and Leisure Centre with their games tipping off at 4.30pm and 7.30pm respectively.
James Fleming’s ladies take on the Phoenix Rockets on the back of that disappointing cup exit at the hands of the Cavan Eagles a fortnight ago and they will be keen to get back to winning ways on home turf.
Paul’s have a perfect 100% record in Division 1 but they are sure to be tested by the Rockets, who gave a fine account of themselves over the course of the 2022/23 season.
They beat Paul’s in Lisburn last February, though the Killarney side exacted revenge in the playoffs in March. The Rockets have made an inconsistent start to the 2023/24 campaign picking up just two wins from the seven games played. The second of those victories came as recently last Saturday when they got the better of the Limerick Sport Eagles at home, but they fell to another defeat against the Huskies back up north the following day.
The Rockets are coached by former Ireland player Breda Dick, a woman who cites Killarney’s own Paudie O’Connor as her role model. Paudie was her first coach at international level and obviously left a huge mark on Breda.
Dick will be looking to the McGrath sisters Charly and Georgie to carry the torch for them as well as American signing Jay Ashby.
For Paul’s, Khiarica Rasheed has been building a good understanding with Sofia Paska and they will be keen to work on that partnership again on Saturday. In the absence of Lorraine Scanlon, who will be attending the LGFA All-Stars, Meabh Barry may be pushed up the ladder. Lynn Jones and Rheanne O’Shea will also be expected to play prominent roles.
Under the guidance of Coach Brian Clarke, Scotts Lakers have established a winning record of 4-2 and as a result they find themselves fifth out of 12 teams in Division 1 of the National League.
They claimed their latest win at home to the Dublin Lions last weekend (81-71) with Americans Braden Bell (26) and Terion Moss (25) accounting for the bulk of the scoring. Jamie O’Sullivan, Oisín Spring and Cian Forde also made their mark on the scoreboard.
Coach Brian Clarke was very pleased with the contribution of his subs on the night. “Our bench was ready to come on and make the difference and I can’t emphasis enough the importance of that,” he told club PRO Enda Walshe.
“Braden and Terion are great shot-makers but they also have a sharp eye for passes to their teammates. Oisín Spring, and Paul Clarke in previous games, are alive to that and make themselves available. It’s a great opportunity for our young players to make their mark and provided they continue to dedicate themselves to their craft, they will get to enjoy that.”
Next up for the Lakers is the visit of the Limerick Celtics on Saturday. The Shannonsiders are currently second in Division 1 having won five of their six matches to date.
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