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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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Ladies’ Semi-Final Preview: Armagh stand between Kerry and a third shot at glory

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LGFA All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final

Kerry v Armagh

Saturday 7.15pm

O’Connor Park, Tullamore

Live on TG4

The Kerry ladies are just 60 minutes away from their third All-Ireland final in a row but they will have to bring their ‘A’ game to overcome the challenge of Armagh at O’Connor Park in Offaly later today.

The Kingdom have been installed as competition favourites after beating Meath (and after champions Dublin lost to Galway) in the quarters and they should be in confident form following that victory over the Royals in Tralee a fortnight ago.

However, they are unlikely to have it all their own way against an Armagh side who have beaten them twice already this season, in the league in March and then in the league final in Croke Park in April.

Losing star player Aimee Mackin to an ACL injury in the Ulster final came as a tremendous blow to the Orchard County. Mackin scored 2-6 (2-5 from play) and 1-4 (1-2) from play in the two games against Kerry this year so her teammates will have to make up the difference in her absence.

Kerry, meanwhile, have been buoyed by the return from an ACL injury of Síofra O’Shea, who scored 0-3 off the bench against Meath. The skilful trio of Danielle O’Leary (1-28, 3f), Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh (2-15, 9f) and Emma Dineen (4-5) have accounted for the bulk of the team’s scores this season with Hannah O’Donoghue and team captain Niamh Carmody also capable of finding the target.

Managers Declan Quill and Darragh Long will be hoping that this attacking threat coupled with the teak tough defending of Eilís Lynch, Deirdre Kearney and Aishling O’Connell will be enough to see them over the line. With the dependable Ciara Butler between the sticks, Kerry have kept three clean sheets in their last four games which is a record they would love to improve upon today.

Armagh, who haven’t played in a senior ladies’ football All-Ireland final since 2006, arrive at the semi-final stage on the back of wins over Meath and Mayo. Eve Lavery is their top scorer to date with 0-11 (7f) to her name. Blaithin Mackin, younger sister of Aimee, has chipped in with 1-5.

Kerry v Armagh will be preceded at O’Connor Park by the other All-Ireland semi-final between Galway and Cork. The Rebels last made the final in 2020 while The Tribeswomen are aiming to reach their first decider since 2019. Both counties lost to Dublin in those respective finals.

Galway v Cork starts at 5pm. Both matches will be shown live on TG4.

Kerry team to play Armagh: C Butler; E Lynch, K Cronin, C Murphy; A O’Connell, D Kearney, A Dillane; M O’Connell, A Galvin; N Carmody (captain), D O’Leary, N Ní Chonchúir; H O’Donoghue, E Dineen, L Ní Mhuircheartaigh.

Armagh: A Carr; G Ferguson, C McCambridge (captain), R Mulligan; C Towe, L McConville, D Coleman; N Coleman, C O’Hanlon; E Druse, A McCoy, B Mackin; E Lavery, N Henderson, K Mallon.

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Jordan Lee vows to bounce back as injury ends 2024 Paralympic dream

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Killarney high jumper Jordan Lee is determined to bounce back stronger than ever after announcing his withdrawal from the Paralympic Selection Process due to injury.

The Killarney Valley AC athlete, who represented Ireland at the Tokyo Games in 2021, was hoping to wear the green singlet again in Paris in August/September but he was forced to pull out “due to an injury that had developed over the past couple of weeks”.

“[To say that I’m] absolutely gutted is an understatement considering the season that we’ve just had and being ranked number 6 in the world rankings on the lead-up,” Lee said via Instagram.

“This is sport at the highest level and unfortunately this is an injury that couldn’t turn right in time for Paris which is only a few weeks away.”

The local lad went on to thank Killarney Valley and his coaches Tomás Griffin, Alan Delaney and Shane O’Rourke for their support, as well as his sponsors PTSB, Puma, Toyota, Kellihers Garage and Output Sports.

“To my family and my friends, I’ve always repped that Irish vest with the utmost pride, not just representing myself and my beautiful country, but my amazing family and friends that I have too. I love ye all.

“Wishing my teammates within Paralympics Ireland all the very best in Paris.

“Roll on 2025 for the Europeans. I’ll be back better and ready for vengeance. Believe that.”

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