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Eamonn Fitzgerald: Tyrone defeat an opportunity missed

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Eamonn Fitzgerald gives his assessment of Kerry’s shock defeat to Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final

The scoreboard did not lie at Croke Park on Saturday last. After extra time it was Tyrone 3-14 Kerry 0-22.

GUBU all over again. For weeks now the media had informed us that COVID was rampant in Tyrone with up to 17 of the players/management recording positive results, thus making it impossible for them to play their All-Ireland semi-final v Kerry. Shenanigans, I termed it last week. They called the bluff of the GAA, who relented. First, one week’s postponement, and then stretched to two, leaving Kerry without a game for five weeks.

That was the scenario for Kerry, ambushed at Croke Park and losing out on the All-Ireland final pairing with Mayo, which would have been the popular choice for most GAA fans. Even with Tyrone’s shenanigans, I expected Kerry to win.

All-Ireland semi-finals are not notable per se, just hurdles on the way to the big prize. It is a case of work in progress.

Well, it wasn’t progress for Kerry on Saturday last. The better team won on the day, not necessarily the better football team, but a team of players who fought like dogs, swarming Kerry at every turn and delivering three KO punches. Goal, goal, goal. 22 points would win most matches, led by the brilliant David Clifford and the impeccable free-taking of Seán O’Shea (eight points each). That left six points for the rest.

Two Kerry players scored 16 points while nine Tyrone players shared the spoils of 3-14. Even more startling was that after 45 minutes of play, Clifford and O’Shea were the only Kerry scorers, while the Tyrone goalkeeper and two of his full back line had scored. How did that happen? More tellingly, why was it allowed to happen that these defenders/attackers were allowed the freedom of the park to come up unhindered and score? To complete that unforgivable statistic, the whole Tyrone full back line and one of the wing backs eventually found the target. One could not legislate for Niall Morgan’s massive free just on half-time to send his side 1-7 to 0-9 point clear. It was a strategic lead for Tyrone.

LEAKING GOALS

Once again conceding goals led to Kerry’s defeat, two from Conor McKenna and one from Cathal McShane. This Kerry team has leaked goals in crunch games and at vital stages. Peter Keane will remember them all. A careless knock-down from the throw-in after half-time by David Moran in 2019 was gladly accepted by Dublin defender Eoin Murchan .The small man motored through the middle all of 70 yards. Green flag. Dublin rejuvenated.

Last year in rain-lashed Cork with five seconds left on the clock the Rebels latched onto a Holy Mary hit-and-hope by Luke Connolly. Collingwood AFL player Mark Keane caught the ball unhindered, while Kerry’s former AFL player stood rooted to the ground. Goal. Another year gone.

2021 was to be our year. Kerry were unbeaten, finishing the league with a six-goal trouncing of Tyrone. There was no real test in the championship, although Cork ran up a good score in the Munster final, including a goal, all before the first water break. Then Kerry demolished them, inflicting a 22-point massacre.

With Dublin out of the equation, and all the shenanigans about COVID in Tyrone - would they be able to field a team at all? - Kerry were looking good.

Backtrack a little to those Tyrone goals. In each case there was no blame on Kerry keeper Shane Ryan. He was manning the bearna baol and it must have felt like General Custer’s last stand at the The Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

On Saturday last, Kerry had plenty opportunities for goals and none more clear-cut than the one afforded to Paul Geaney in the 22nd minute. He got clear inside the Tyrone defence just yards from Niall Morgan and no one else to beat. Instead of pulling the trigger for a certain goal he opted to pass it across the goal to Stephen O’Brien, who was inside the small square and diving to the ground. Disallowed goal, a correct decision by the referee. I believe that a Kerry goal at that stage would have put them in the driving seat. Tyrone would have been chasing the game; the hunted, not the hunters. Killian Spillane and Seánie O’Shea also fluffed great goal opportunities.

SHINING STAR

Even though David Clifford was closely marked by Ronan McNamee, the Fossa star shone as brightly as ever. He showed the way with a delightful point after 24 seconds and he was sorely missed in extra time. He was unable to resume due to injury telegraphed by a hospital pass from O’Shea.

Tyrone had done their homework and realised the importance of Paudie Clifford in the Kerry game plan. Conor Meyler stuck to him like glue and Clifford didn’t really come into the game until the third quarter. Then we saw his worth, but Kerry were chasing the game and had been bossed by Tyrone, a key point I made in last week’s preview of the game. “Kerry must initiate, not imitate.” I also queried Tyrone’s shenanigans re: COVID.

There were some saving graces. In defence Shane Ryan did well and varied his kickouts, finding David Moran, especially in the opening half. Jason Foley played very well, as did Tom O’Sullivan. Gavin White made plenty of his trademark up-field sallies, but was gunned down by the Tyrone defence funnelling in from all sides. Invariably, there wasn’t a Kerry forward available for the offload.

David Moran was probably playing his last game in the Kerry geansaí and this great servant gave it everything. 33 years old, cruciates done not just once but twice, he did so well, especially as the target man for Shane Ryan’s kickouts. No wonder he tired as Jack Barry contributed very little and displayed his naivety six minutes into the first half of extra time by gifting Tyrone that important goal, throwing his leg carelessly at a ball that was going wide and kicking it straight into the scoring zone. Santa Claus came early for Conor McKenna. Game over, effectively, but full credit to Kerry to fight back tenaciously, inspired by Paudie Clifford and Paul Murphy.

FIGHT BACK

Kerry played now like they should have played earlier in the game and brought it down to a single point deficit. Tommy Walsh did get one chance to equalise and send the game into a penalty shoot-out, but the wrong forward got the opportunity and his effort went tamely wide.

Paul Murphy finished very well, even scoring a point, but brave and all as the Rathmore man is, he does not have the physique essential for a centre back. Was he the designated centre back on Saturday last? I’m not sure. If he wasn’t, who was assigned the duty of guarding the middle of the defence?

I have highlighted many times this lacuna in the Kerry defence. Many years ago, I asked Mick O ’Dwyer why he persisted with Tim Kennelly at centre back. After all, The Horse was quite limited in basic skills. Dwyer did not disagree, but came with the punchline that centre back is a difficult position to master. You have to mark your man and also mark space. Kennelly could do both. His outstretched hands meant no opposing player had a free passage through the middle. Even when Tony Hanahoe drifted towards the wing, Kennelly still wasn’t codded. I could say the same about Mick Morris, centre back in the 60s/early 70s. Dublin used Ray Boyne to reveal some home truths.

If Kerry are unable to find an orthodox centre back, surely with all the backup personnel in the statistics/coaching sector someone can devise a strategy to close out that bearna baol. Dublin did it getting Cian O’Sullivan (married to a Ballyhar lady) to adapt and shore up the centre. He was the one who was minding the gap, an unsung hero when others claimed the limelight.

HAMPSEY

I am well aware that the modern game has evolved significantly, but team managers at club and county level must come up with a strategy to man the bearna baol. Pádraig Hampsey did the business for Tyrone on Saturday last.

The Kerry forward division has been magnificent all year, ramping up huge scores including those demolitions of Tyrone and Cork in the Fitzgerald Stadium.

David Clifford is a class apart and Seánie O’Shea as free-taker kept Kerry in the game. I always expect more from O’Shea in general play. I thought that his marker Padraig Hampsey was the standout Tyrone player, the type of centre back Kerry need so badly. Himself and Clifford were the stars that brought Kerry five All-Ireland minor titles in a row. The other forwards made little progress.

In the modern game judicious use of the bench is often the key to victory. I wondered why Jack Barry started at midfield instead of Diarmuid O’Connor, his club mate from Na Gaeil. The latter limped off early in the Munster final with an ankle injury, but surely himself and Dara Moynihan were the only Kerry beneficiaries from the extended five-week period arising out of the COVID debacle.

I believe O’Connor will be Kerry’s first choice midfielder from now on. Was he unfit to start? If so, why was he brought on in the 55th minute?

Paul Geaney made no progress apart from a point very late in the proceedings. Surely Micheál Burns was tailor-made for action? His tearaway, brave, incisive running at the Tyrone defence would have drawn fouls or led to scores. The baby was well thrown out with the bathwater when he came on with four minutes left in extra time.

BLACK CARDS

Tyrone (and Dublin) play on the edge: aggressive, in your face, inviting punishing cards, be they black, yellow or red.

Kerry had a numerical advantage with Tyrone black-carded on two occasions, yet they never drove home that advantage. Even in rugby when a player is sin-binned the opposition has the window of opportunity to tack on winning scores. Not so on Saturday. You hardly noticed that Tyrone were down a man. Of course, they were cute enough to literally wind down the clock with delaying tactics. The 10-minute concession is highly abused by the black-carded team with time-wasting tactics.

Kerry have played great football all season, but they are not in the All-Ireland final because they leak too many goals through the centre and, when they are on top, they do not know how to close out a game.

It’s that stark and clinical for a team with great potential.

CÉN TREO ANOIS?

We should have been looking forward to a classic Kerry v Mayo All-Ireland final between two great, open, footballing teams.

Kerry supporters are hurting, but spare a thought for the players/management and their respective families, who have had to live in quasi-hermitic seclusion during the Tyrone shenanigans.

Back to grass roots in Kerry and no Ghost Train to Croke Park. What’s another year? Annoying and frustrating that the Sam Maguire hasn’t come back home since 2014. Opportunities such as 2021 do not present themselves that often.

Sport

Tobin hails Spa teammates following ‘fairytale’ final

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by Adam Moynihan

Spa have been desperate to win Kerry’s Intermediate Club Championship, and earn promotion back to senior level, since 2010 when they were demoted at the first time of asking following their Intermediate final victory the year before.

With the other clubs in the parish (Dr Crokes and the Killarney Legion) operating at senior, and with a strong batch of young players coming through in recent years, returning to the top table as quickly as possible has been the club’s primary target. They came close on a number of occasions in the intervening years, losing three finals between 2012 and 2015.

They finally managed to reach the mountain top on Sunday last and there was one remarkable link between 2009 and their latest triumph. Cian Tobin’s last full season with Spa was in 2009. He then emigrated to London and later Abu Dhabi, before returning to Killarney this year and linking up with his club.

Tobin played a key role for Spa as they broke their hoodoo by defeating Beaufort in last Sunday’s decider at the Fitzgerald Stadium. The skilful corner forward bagged 3-1 in the 4-18 to 1-19 win, a tally which earned him the sponsor’s Man of the Match award.

As far as comebacks go, this one is fairly special. However, amidst all the celebrations, the fact that Tobin missed out on a decade of hard graft and tough losses has not been lost on his colleagues.

“The lads have been giving me an awful slagging this week,” the 30-year-old says with a smile. “They’ve been saying, ‘you are so jammy, you’ve been away for years and you come back and we win it straight away!’

“I missed a lot of the hard work in those winter months. I was joking with them that I was doing the warm weather training for the last 10 years while they were up in Spa in the rain.

“To be fair, I found it easy to fit in when I came back because the young fellas and the management team are outstanding to work with it.”

GOALS

Beaufort, who are relative newcomers to intermediate having won the Junior Premier Championship in 2018, gave as good as they got in the first half of Sunday’s final, but Tobin’s opening goal in the 25th minute came at just the right time for Spa.

“I thought Beaufort were excellent,” Tobin reflects. “I went with Shane Cronin to watch their semi-final (versus Na Gaeil) and I was very impressed. Some of their kicking the last day was outstanding too. There was great forward play. Liam Carey got a point that was an absolutely scandalous score.

“It was tight in the first half until the first goal came. It just fell to me in the right position. I got lucky. Until then it was very close.”

Goals two and three followed in the second half. They were neatly tucked away by Spa’s No. 15, but, to his mind, the credit goes to his teammates for teeing him up.

“Shane Cronin is a machine when he gets going, he’s very hard to stop. He put [the second goal] on a plate for me. I didn’t really have much to do again. But yeah, once that went in there was a bit of daylight. In all our matches we have been pushing on in that third quarter, and that’s when we kind of pulled away again on Sunday.

“The third one was a great turnover by Ciarán Spillane and, again, he put it on a plate for me. It was one of them days… I know someone has to score them but the work was done out the field really.”

Guided by the management team of Ivor Flynn, Kieran Herlihy, Brian Gleeson, Neily Kerins and Arthur Fitzgerald, Spa powered to an eight-point win. Does the manner of their performance perhaps underline the fact that they deserve a crack at senior?

“I think so,” Tobin nods. “Everyone from No. 5 up, bar one, scored. That’s a massive spread of scorers. And then we have the full back line of Brian Lynch, Shane Lynch and Eoin Fitzgerald… In years past maybe we would have had a few weaker spots in the team but I think we’re strong all over the field now.”

INTRODUCTION

The effect COVID-19 has had on the 2020 and 2021 GAA calendars means that the 2020 Intermediate champs now have a rapid turnaround ahead of their long-awaited senior bow. First up is a group phase match against their neighbours and fierce rivals, Dr Crokes, on Sunday.

“Nice introduction, isn’t it?!” Tobin jokes. “That’s where you want to be, though. Playing in those kinds of games in the Fitzgerald Stadium against the club kingpins in Kerry. Now that we’re there, hopefully we can do ourselves justice.

“It means a lot [to be a senior club]. We thought ourselves that we deserved to be there, and we’ve put in the work to be there, we just haven’t always got the rub of the green in recent years. It felt like, ‘are we ever going to get over the line?’

“The feeling at the final whistle on Sunday was just relief more than anything, I think, because we’ve been there so many times.

“Maybe not so much me because I’ve been away, but I think it was three finals we lost, and we lost some close games against Templenoe recently. We always thought we were good enough to get over the line but we just hadn’t been doing it.

“To be honest, it was fairytale stuff for me.”

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Late drama at exciting Celtic Golf Classic

The last team out at the Killarney Celtic Golf Classic carded 106 points to overtake all who went before at an entertaining fundraiser staged over two days at the pristine Beaufort Golf Club. From Friday to late Saturday afternoon, the imposing tally of 101 points registered by the O’Donoghue Ring Hotel Group team of James […]

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The last team out at the Killarney Celtic Golf Classic carded 106 points to overtake all who went before at an entertaining fundraiser staged over two days at the pristine Beaufort Golf Club.

From Friday to late Saturday afternoon, the imposing tally of 101 points registered by the O’Donoghue Ring Hotel Group team of James McCarthy, Brian McCarthy, Cian Harte and Gavin Murray looked like being a winning one. The got a scare when the Spa GAA team almost caught them; Seánie Kelliher, Donal Cronin, John Cahill and Seán Devane ultimately carded a great score of 100 points to go second.

With the O’Donoghue Ring Hotel Group quartet hanging on for victory, it was all down to Kissane Meats and Pat O’Neill, John England, Tony Sugrue and Donie Brosnan snatched first place by hitting a weekend high of 106 points.

The Nearest to the Pin was won by Aaron Jones of the Dawn Meats team while the Longest Drive came from the club of Mark O’Shea who was representing Tom Meehan’s team.

Speaking at the prizegiving, Killarney Celtic Vice Chairman Paul Sherry thanked all involved for contributing to another hugely successful fundraising day for the club.

“Killarney Celtic is indebted to its members who volunteered over the two days,” he said, “to those who sponsored the prizes, entered teams, took signs, provided the fruit and chocolate and of course, most importantly, played on Friday and Saturday.
“We also must thank the staff at Beaufort, both working on the course and those in the clubhouse.

“A sign of a good golf classic is the number of returning teams and sponsors and already a number have committed to join us again in August/September 2022.”

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