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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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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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