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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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Popularity of Ladies Gaelic Football on the rise

According to official TAM Ireland figures, 491,000 tuned into TG4’s coverage of the TG4 Ladies Football finals on Sunday with an average audience of 204,900 people watching the live broadcast […]

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According to official TAM Ireland figures, 491,000 tuned into TG4’s coverage of the TG4 Ladies Football finals on Sunday with an average audience of 204,900 people watching the live broadcast of the Senior Final between Meath and Kerry.

The match had a 30.6% share of viewing among individuals. Viewing peaked at 5.10pm with 279,800 viewers as Meath closed in on the two in a row to retain the Brendan Martin Cup.

A total 46,400 attended the match in person in Croke Park on Sunday, the first TG4 Ladies Football Final to have full capacity allowance since 2019.

Viewers from over 50 countries tuned into the finals on the TG4 Player with 14,000 streams of the game from international viewers. Over 20,000 streams were also registered from Irish viewers.

TG4 Director General Alan Esslemont said: “My deepest gratitude to all the counties especially Wexford and Kerry who battled to the end through this season’s Championship, hearty congratulations to both Laois and Meath and I am really looking forward to the re-match of Antrim and Fermanagh which will be carried live on TG4. A special word of thanks goes to the huge crowd which travelled to the Finals from all the corners of Ireland. County Meath especially have become a role model for other counties in how to build huge attending support for LGFA in both genders and at all ages. Sunday’s massive expression of Meath ‘fandom’ in Croke Park brought their county the greatest credit.

Sunday’s broadcast was the 22nd edition of the TG4 Ladies Gaelic Football Championship, a unique history of a sport minoritized by society being championed by a language media minoritized by the state. By consciously standing together we have grown together. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the LGFA in 2024 let us all hope by that time that we are even further along the road towards true equality of opportunity for both Ladies Gaelic Football and Irish language media.”

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Following her World Championships debut, Leahy is hungry for more

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Adam Moynihan met Killarney sprinter Sarah Leahy at the Killarney Valley AC Arena to chat about her recent appearance at the World Championships, her goals for the rest of the year, and a very special pair of socks

Hi Sarah. Thanks for showing me around Killarney Valley’s facilities. It’s an impressive set-up.

The track facilities here are perfect. We have everything we need and Killarney Valley are always looking to improve the facilities and the club itself. All the people behind the scenes at are the MVPs, people like Jerry and Tomás Griffin, Jean Courtney, and Bríd Stack to mention just a few.

You recently competed in the World Championships in Oregon as part of the Irish 4 x 100m relay team, finishing eighth in your heat. How did you feel the event went for you?

We’re very proud of each other, and we did well, but we definitely could have run better. We had more. We were aiming for and felt we were capable of running a national record. But on the day, it just didn’t happen.

Personally, it was a great experience. I loved every second of it. But I will admit that the actual running part is a bit of a blur. I came onto the track and there’s this huge stadium, but I was more looking around at the people I was running against. Ewa Swoboda – I thought she’d win the World Indoor – she was four people away from me and I was looking at her… She was probably like, ‘Why is this woman staring at me?’ I was very nervous. But it was still amazing and I hope I can do it again.

The fact that I was running against international athletes that have been to the Olympics and been finalists, I was kind of star struck. My trainers are like, okay Sarah, calm down. You’re meant to be here. Don’t act like you shouldn’t.

Can you describe your mindset before a race? Do you often get nervous?

On the line it’s all about how you’re feeling, what you can do. You just have to get mentally prepared for a good start. Especially for me. Get out, and run as fast as you can. Just getting in the zone, I guess. I’ll know if I’m not in the zone, because I’m thinking of other things. If I’m on the blocks my head shouldn’t be wandering. It should be blank and all I should be waiting for is that gun.

Would you say that you’re an ultra competitive person?

I’m a competitive person, obviously. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be competing at this level. But I also come from a team background, and I’m friends with a lot of these girls, so I want them to do well as well. And if they happen to beat me, fair play. You put in the training, you did very well. I’m very happy for you.

We all kind of get prepared differently. A lot of people for the warm-up, which is an hour or half an hour before the race, have the earphones on, gameface on, not talking to anyone, not smiling at anyone. I’m completely different. The more nervous I am, the more I’m going to talk.

There was a situation in Greece where everyone had their earphones on and I was mad to talk to everyone. That could change but as of right now I do tend to talk a lot. And then, going on to the track, obviously there’s no more talking. You’re getting ready for the race and mentally preparing.

Tell me about the socks you wore in Oregon.

[laughs] My socks were a Valentine’s Day gift from my boyfriend, Daniel. They had his face all over them and they say ‘I love you’. So yeah, I just ran the Worlds with my boyfriend’s face on my feet. He was delighted!

Daniel was the person who pushed for me to go back to running. He knew I was no longer enjoying the football and he heard the way I spoke about athletics. He helped me make the decision to go back. It was the best decision so it was only right I wore the socks and he was there in some way. I probably wouldn’t have been there without him.

Did you have some of your own supporters over there?

Yes, my mom and dad (Marie and Mike) actually travelled over. They spent the week and it was unreal to have them there. And then my cousins from Vancouver in Canada drove down which was I think over 10 hours. I was actually warming up before the relay and then I saw and heard my family with all their Kerry jerseys, Irish jerseys, Irish flags, roaring my name. That was really nice.

What’s the plan for the rest of 2022?

I was hopeful that we were going to send a 4 x 100 relay team to the Europeans but I just got an email saying that we wouldn’t, which is disappointing. I know some of top 2022 female sprinters aren’t available but some are and with any of them we would do well over there. We would be competitive. We held our qualification of being in the top 16 teams all summer so it’s a pity that, at the last second, we aren’t going.

In saying that, the women’s Irish relay will continue to work hard and we have a lot more to give. We will prove that next year.

You’re moving to Dublin for work later this year. How will this affect your training?

I might have to change coaches again, which I’m a bit sad about because I really liked the Limerick training group (Leahy was in UL where she trained with the Hayley and Drew Harrison). I think I performed well and I loved the training. I was surrounded by the right people who were really lovely. I hope to find a group like that in Dublin and keep running well and performing better.

And what about next season?

I’d like another good indoor season. I was talking to Lauren Roy in Stockholm and she told me that I have the European standard in the 60m from last year. Which I didn’t know! So that’s kind of in my head now to try and get there, to improve my time. I think I could actually run faster. I ran 7.39 and I’d like to run at least 7.30, hopefully get another European standard, and actually go to the Europeans. I think it’s in Germany. That’d be my target.

And then next summer, there’s the Worlds again. So it’d be nice to continue making the Irish relays and definitely improve my time, because there’s more. I can definitely run faster over 100.

What is your current PB in the 100m? Are you close to bettering it?

I ran 11.67, which I was delighted with. But it was my first run of the season. It’s quite rare that you run a PB in the season opener. But I ran it, and I haven’t ran it since. The closest was 11.70 in Switzerland. So I definitely think there’s more in there. And I think I have a lot to learn as well. I’m still new to the sport and I’m a powerful kind of runner. I was doing a lot of gym work at the beginning of the year, before I ran my PB, and then afterwards usually people taper it off. So I did what other people do. I think that affected my running a little bit. I’m slightly weaker. So I’ve learned that maybe next year I shouldn’t do that. Then hopefully I’ll be running PB after PB, instead of just a one-off.

Onwards and upwards. Chat to you again soon.

Thanks Adam!

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