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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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Killarney Valley AC named Club of the Year at national awards ceremony

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Members of Killarney Valley Athletics Club had cause for celebration on Wednesday as they picked up the prestigious Development Club of the Year prize at the 123.ie National Athletics Awards.

The award is handed out annually to a club who have made a positive impact on behalf of the sport within their community.

Sprinter Sarah Leahy of Killarney Valley and UL was also honoured with the Female University Athlete of the Year award.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, coach and committee member Tomás Griffin said he and his clubmates were “delighted” and “very proud” to accept the Club Development award on behalf of all their athletes, coaches and administrators. The opening of their new track alongside St Brendan’s College in 2020 has been crucial, Griffin explained.

“The facility a catalyst but the passion was always there and we had people doing their best and coaching long before there was a track. To see the momentum that came with the opening of the track being maintained is great. We now have a waiting list of people looking to join the club.

“Did we see ourselves winning an award like this, in an organisation of 53,000 members and 400 clubs? No. But was it always possible? Yes. Killarney as a town across all sports – Gaelic football, soccer, basketball, cycling, judo, rock climbing – it’s a place where people excel. The bar is already raised. But being able to reach this level and achieve what we have in just two years shows what other talent is out there.”

Killarney Valley now boast five Irish internationals, 320 registered members and 22 Athletics Ireland accredited coaches. The club won 107 provincial and national medals in 2022, and they had 155 graduates from their Couch to 5k programme. Many of these participants are now regulars in the local Park Run and are continuing their personal health and fitness journeys with the club.

Nine Killarney Valley representatives attended the awards ceremony on Wednesday: Tomás Griffin, Jerry Griffin (chairperson), Bríd Stack, Gene Courtney, Con Lynch, Karen Smith, Sarah Leahy, Jordan Lee, and Madie Wilson-Walker. Sarah’s parents Mike and Marie also made the journey.

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Jiu-jitsu champion Wilson da Silva sets sights on world title

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This week Adam Moynihan called to the Movement & Fitness Club on New Street to catch up with Killarney man Wilson da Silva. The 38-year-old Brazilian recently won gold at the European Championship for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and now he’s gunning for a world title.

Wilson, congratulations on your latest success in Rome and Abu Dhabi.

Thank you, Adam.

Before we chat about that, let’s go back to the start. How did you end up living in Killarney?

I came here around 15 years ago because I met someone from Killorglin and we went out for five or six years. After we broke up, I came to Killarney. I’m pretty much half-local, half-Brazilian now.

What part of Brazil are you from?

The northeast. A place called Recife. If you look at the map, it’s the nearest point to Ireland.

Do you get to go home often?

I try to go once a year, you know? I was home earlier this year and then before Covid. But once a year I go home in the summertime.

It must be nice to get some sunshine.

It’s nice, man. Even recently the doctor told me I have Vitamin D deficiency. My skin colour needs the sun! So I go home once a year. I follow the doctor’s advice.

How did you get into jiu-jitsu?

I did it back home in Brazil but I continued here in Killarney. I trained with guys here, Pedro Bessa and Tom McGuire. Then there is another club in Killarney and I trained with them up until four years ago. Things weren’t working out so I started my own gym. I just wanted to do things my way which was to have a clean place, no ego, no drama, no stress, no jealousy. Just come, train jiu-jitsu and help each other. And it’s going well.

Was it hard to go out on your own?

In the beginning it was really difficult because I was opening a second club in the town, on my own. There was really only one guy who wanted to train with me, but then my fiancé (Ewelina) started training and one became two, two became three, and it started to grow. Now we have classes for babies from three years up, kids and teenagers. We’re doing jiu-jitsu and capoeira for all ages. I guess it’s something good for the community.

Can you tell me a bit about jiu-jitsu? Is it similar to other sports?

If you were to describe jiu-jitsu to someone who never saw it, it would be very similar to judo. You have people throwing each other and putting each other on the floor. The jiu-jitsu match is five minutes long and the goal is to checkmate the opponent, to make your opponent quit, or tap out. So there is a lot of ground work, grappling, and wrestling. It’s an excellent sport and great for self-defence. I can’t recommend jiu-jitsu enough.

So there’s no striking?

There is no striking but [in terms of self-defence] there is ducking from striking, turning a strike into a mobilisation. It’s about finding locks on the body – the joint moves this way for example (he turns his arm) – figuring out how the anatomy of the body works.

It seems quite technical and intellectual.

Yes, it’s a very intelligent sport. I trained in weightlifting for a long time, for many years. With time it simply comes down to reps, breaking muscle fibre, and you’re not learning anything. It’s boring. With jiu-jitsu you’re constantly thinking. You’re constantly working your brain.

I compare it to a game of chess. First you figure out how to move the pieces, and then you have to play strategy. Look ahead to the next move and what your opponent can do to you. The moves are complicated and you’re always learning new things. It requires a lot of focus and discipline to get good at it. You don’t get bored with jiu-jitsu.

Is the focus and discipline side of it good for the kids who come to your gym?

Yes, definitely. I find that it is so beneficial for the kids. The kids want to win but if they want to win, they need to learn the moves. In order to learn the moves, they have to pay attention. So straight away it develops focus and concentration and discipline. If they do not pay attention, if they run around the place, they’re going to lose when they spar. It fixes itself. The guys who come in, pay attention, and it makes the others not want to lose so they pay attention and worker hard to learn the moves.

You can see the difference in the kids when they come here. We try to make them comfortable in uncomfortable situations so that when you take the child out of the jiu-jitsu class and they have a to deal with a hard subject in school, or a bully, they are mentally stronger.

I have witnessed that myself. I worked in security for many years and before I dedicated myself to jiu-jitsu, I found it easy to lose the head. But the more hours I put into the gym and training in jiu-jitsu, the more comfortable I became with frustrating situations. You’re able to remain calm. That’s a benefit of jiu-jitsu.

How important is size in jiu-jitsu?

That’s a tricky one. People say that size doesn’t matter. It definitely does. There’s no doubt about that. But the beauty of jiu-jitsu is that once you have the technique, you’re able to apply it against bigger guys. You know, the bigger guys have big muscles and bigger egos, but if the small guy trains hard he will be able to move the big guy’s body in a way that works against him. The big guy who goes to the gym, he’s used to pushing the bar this way (straight out), whereas the guy who knows jiu-jitsu knows that if he moves the bigger guys arms here (upwards), he’s not strong anymore. Now the bench press is worth nothing.

Bigger guys think they are unbeatable. The small guys have to work for it. I always motivate the guys here in the gym to be humble. You always have to consider yourself the second best, the guy who wants to be first. The moment you think that you’re bigger and better than everyone else, you stop working.

Tell me about your recent victories in London, Rome and Abu Dhabi.

Yeah, so I went to the UK and managed to win four golds at the London Open in the ‘Gi’, ‘A’, ‘No-Gi’ and ‘Absolute’ categories. (The ‘Gi’ is a uniform sometimes worn in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. There are categories in which the Gi is worn – ‘Gi’ – and categories in which it is not – ‘No-Gi’. The ‘Absolute’ is an open weight division).

Then a couple of weeks ago I travelled to Rome to compete in the European Championship. The day before that event, the Rome Open was on and since I was already there, I signed up for that too. I won the first fight, submitted the guy, but then in the final I lost. It was a good lesson for me. Coming from so many wins, I thought I was going to smash this other guy. I got a bit cocky. Losing settled me down and humbled me a little bit. I went back to my accommodation and analysed my mistakes. I hoped that the next day I would be able to play a strategy to win.

In the end I managed to win four fights and win the biggest European tournament – the No-Gi European Championship. It was my dream. I have been there twice before and got knocked out in the quarter-final, and came third in the Gi division.

It was really emotional for me. It was a great achievement. Even now when I’m talking, I feel emotional. I don’t train that much with No-Gi so to come first in Europe, it’s hard to believe.

It’s really hard to run and promote a club and also train and win tournaments, a lot of people say it’s not possible, but I’m putting a lot of hours into this and proving that it is possible. When you work so hard, with the help of my training partners, the results have to come.

And you weren’t finished yet. Where did you go next?

Yeah, to finish the story, after winning the European tournament on the Saturday, I flew to Abu Dhabi on Monday for the World Championship. I managed to go there and win three fights before losing the semi-final after getting beat pretty hard. I got my ass kicked by the winner. Then I had to fight to win the third place [match]. So, even though it’s only third place, it’s third place on the biggest podium in the sport.

Is it normal to compete in this number of events in quick succession?

No. It’s crazy to do so many competitions in a short period of time. I usually take a month or two months off before the next competition. It’s expensive too and I must thank Kevin Leahy [from the neighbouring Black Sheep Hostel] for sponsoring me. But after London, I had a feeling that there was no stopping me. I’m healthy. I’m not injured. Now is my moment and I have to take the chance.

It was hard enough to believe that I won the European Championship but to go to Abu Dhabi and fight against the best guys in the world… It’s a dream. Well, it’s not a dream now because it happened. It’s a reality.

Is this it for you now? Have you achieved all you want to achieve?

No, there’s more. Much more. I want to win the World Championship in California next year. For sure I would like to win the European Championship next year too.

But my goal is more than just winning championships, it’s to build champions. I want to teach people and share techniques that are proven to work. As I try to grow the gym, I will continue competing for as long as God blesses me with this health. That’s it.

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