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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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James O’Donoghue retires from intercounty football

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James O'Donoghue during the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Final. PICTURE: BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE

by Adam Moynihan

Former Player of the Year and two-time All-Star James O’Donoghue has announced his retirement from intercounty football.

The Killarney Legion forward stepped away from Peter Keane’s panel in 2021 to focus on club football, leading to speculation surrounding his future in the green and gold.

O’Donoghue has not featured under new manager Jack O’Connor and today, speaking to Off The Ball, he confirmed that he had actually privately retired last year.

“It’s all over, it’s all over bar the shouting,” the 31-year-old said.

“Last year, I was fighting an uphill battle. Realistically, I stepped away from the panel just before the going got very serious because I wasn’t really contributing. I told them at that stage that I was retiring but because Kerry were going too well, we decided not to put out a statement and throw all the good vibes out of the camp. So we just kept it under wraps.

“It’s a painful one, it’s definitely something that’s going to be hard, but it’s the right thing.”

Although he had initially resigned himself to stepping away for good, O’Donoghue did admit that he tried to get himself right for another cut under Jack O’Connor.

“I know Jack well, very well and have always got on great with him, and I know that if I was right, I could have picked up the phone and rang him and said ‘I’m thinking about changing my mind, what do you think?’

“I actually did give a go at getting into very good nick for it, just to see if I could give it one last go, but do you know what – my body wasn’t up to it, just that the way it is. I’ll go back to the club now, tailor my programme and I guarantee you that I might not see another injury, just the slight drop in intensity might suit me.

“If I was right I could have picked up the phone and we’d have had a chat, but it just didn’t feel right.”

O’Donoghue was speaking on The Football Pod, the OTB podcast which he will now host alongside Paddy Andrews and Tommy Rooney.

Despite his battles with injuries, the Killarney native enjoyed a memorable career for The Kingdom. After making his league debut in 2010, he soon became a key figure in Kerry’s forward division and was integral when Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side won the 2014 All-Ireland final against Donegal.

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Killarney girls prepared for Munster final duel

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U16 Munster League Final

Killarney RFC v Ennis

Saturday at 1pm

LIT

The Killarney RFC U16 girls’ team are heading for Limerick today (Saturday) hoping to cap a magnificent season with a trophy.

This talented group of players, many of whom are new to the sport, have taken on all comers en route to the decider and now Ennis stand between them and provincial glory.

Even reaching the final is a great achievement for the Aghadoe-based club. Coach Diarmuid O’Malley says his charges will need to find “another level” to get over the line.

“We have seen [Ennis] play on a couple of occasions this season and what’s clear is that they have being together for many years,” O’Malley said. “We again will need to step it up to another level in order to be able to compete effectively against them.

“I look back on the success of the Limerick hurling team when they reached the All-Ireland final in 2018, not many gave them much of a chance at the time. The common theme was that “it’s a young team and their time will come”. They not only took the opportunity in 2018 but have since won three out of the last four All-Irelands.

“Finals are all about being present, patient and taking your opportunity, and not letting the occasion get to you. These girls have a great approach to everything they have done in the most challenging environment this year in the current global circumstances.

“It’s going to be one hell of a battle against a very good Ennis team and they are very much favoured to win, but nothing is beyond this capable bunch of Killarney girls.”

If Killarney are to cause an upset, their defence will be key.

“We have had a phenomenal run to get to the final and all through the journey the girls have not compromised on the quality of the rugby they are playing. The most pleasing aspect of our semifinal win against Bruff was keeping them to zero as we have put huge emphasis on our defence all season.

“We will very much approach the final versus Ennis in the same way.”

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