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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.

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Kerry ladies must bounce back at home to Waterford

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All-Ireland Senior Championship Group 2

Kerry v Waterford

Saturday 3pm

Fitzgerald Stadium

The Kerry ladies will be looking to get back to winning ways against Waterford on Saturday following last weekend’s frustrating draw against Donegal in Ballybofey.

The Kingdom led with seconds remaining in treacherous conditions but a late Donegal free snatched a draw for the home side (Donegal 1-6 Kerry 0-9). It was a game that Kerry would have been expecting to win and the result puts a lot more pressure on them this weekend as they try to top the three-team group and earn a home quarter-final.

If they beat Waterford and Donegal do likewise next week, Kerry and Donegal will be level in first place on four points each. The top seed will then be decided by the head-to-head record between the teams. As Kerry v Donegal was a draw, the deciding factor will be whoever scored the most points in that draw. That would be good news for Kerry as they scored nine points to Donegal’s six.

When Kerry and Waterford last met (in this year’s Munster Championship), Kerry needed a late winner by Fiadhna Tangney to prevail by narrowest of margins (1-8 to 1-7). If Waterford beat Kerry and then lose to Donegal, Kerry would be eliminated from the championship.

The Kerry squad has been boosted by the return of Síofra O’Shea who came off the bench against Donegal following a lengthy period out with a knee injury.

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US-bound Kerry runner Lynch hopes to emulate Mageean magic

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by Adam Moynihan

Killarney middle distance runner Oisín Lynch is taking inspiration from newly crowned European 1500m champion Ciara Mageean as he gets set for the next stage of his career in the United States.

This week Lynch confirmed that he will be heading Stateside after accepting a scholarship at Adams State University in Colorado. The promising 800m and 1500m competitor caught the eye of coaches at the leading American college after representing Ireland in the Youth Olympics and also by winning two national titles in recent months.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, the 18-year-old Killarney Valley AC athlete, who is currently doing his Leaving Cert at St Brendan’s College, says he one day hopes to emulate Mageean’s heroics on the international stage.

“The Irish are on the up at underage and at senior level,” Lynch notes. “We have been improving a lot in recent years. When you see Ciara Mageean winning the 1500m it just shows that it can be done by Irish people.

“Sometimes Irish athletes don’t really believe in themselves when they’re getting knocked out of championships by English or European athletes. Mageean winning that European title is definitely something to drive me on. It shows that I can actually do it.”

DREAM

For Lynch, moving to the United States is a hugely significant step, and one that he has dreamed about making since he was a child.

“It’s unbelievable. I always hoped I could earn a scholarship. I worked hard over the last few years, so it’s nice to see that work paying off.

“I had a few schools onto me but when Adams State got in touch, I sized it up and I knew it was a really good opportunity.

“The fact that the college is at 7,500 feet… That’s a crazy altitude. It’s double the height of Carrauntoohil. Altitude training has massive benefits for distance running and nowadays nearly every pro spends most of their year training at altitude. The chance to get that training for the next couple of years is great.

“And their athletics programme is unbelievable. Coach Damon Martin has been there for 40 years and he has coached 12 Olympians. Adams State is in the top 15 for distance in the country and the standard out there in America is very high.”

STRIDES

Killarney Valley AC have made enormous strides since building their new, state-of-the-art facility in 2020 and Lynch is a grateful beneficiary of that progress.

“I can’t thank the club enough. Going back a couple of years we were training on grass in parks. When you want to be a track runner, it’s just not the same. After a lot of hard work by a lot of good people, we managed to get a 200-metre track in Killarney. That’s massive for us and it’s all we need for training.

“The coaches down there are putting in the hard work, including my dad (Con), Tomás Griffin, Jean Courtney, Jerry Griffin, Bríd Stack, Alan Delaney… I could go on. It’s a great club and there are some good athletes coming through. It’s an exciting time for Killarney Valley.”

After Lynch completes his Leaving Cert, he will start preparing for life as a college athlete. He will study kinesiology in Colorado and on the track he hopes to keep on moving in the right direction. That means getting his times down (his current PBs are 1.50.59 over 800m and 3.51 over 1500m), representing Ireland, and hopefully winning a national title in America.

“Obviously I’ll take every step as it comes,” the ambitious Kerryman says, “but the Olympics is the main long-term target, hopefully in LA in 2028.”

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