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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Opinion: GAA violence is worse than UFC violence. Here’s why…
by Adam Moynihan
Back when Conor McGregor rose to prominence, around ten years ago now, the UFC became quite popular in Ireland. The Dubliner’s fights were big events. You’d go in for a pint and hear lads chatting about spinning back fists and rear naked chokes. (Eyebrow-raising terminology, especially if you were only half-listening.)
I never got into MMA. I couldn’t warm to McGregor (it’s nice being right every now and again) but the primary reason is that the spectacle is just too violent for me. I’m aware that some men have enjoyed observing other men getting their heads kicked in since Ancient Rome, and I’m sure long before that as well, so it’s not that I find the existence of combat sports surprising. It’s just that they don’t really appeal to me. I suppose I’m soft.
Give me a good clean game of Gaelic football any day, I would say to no one in particular, as my friends gleefully watched some Brazilian chap getting his face smooshed into the canvas in a blood-soaked flurry of fists and elbows and kneecaps to the nose.
Of course, the irony of my holier-than-though attitude is that the GAA is violent too, and arguably in a worse way. At least in the UFC you know what you’re getting. If you’re participating, there’s a good chance your arm might get ripped out of its socket or your skull might end up with more cavities than it strictly needs. If you’re sitting in the front row, you could get blood spatter on your shirt. You know that when you’re buying your ticket.
On the other hand, the violence in the GAA is a sneakier kind of violence. It’s always there, lurking in the long grass, waiting to show its angry head. Sometimes – in fact, a lot of the time – it doesn’t bother. But when it does reveal itself, things can get very bad, very fast.
Some of the harder bastards amongst you are probably rolling your eyes at this point. Sure, what would the GAA be without physicality, without a skirmish, without the odd belt?
That would be grand if it actually was just the odd belt. On the contrary, some of the violent acts we’ve seen on GAA pitches are far more serious than that. In fact, not only are they bad by GAA standards, they’re even bad by UFC standards.
Yes, some scenes that unfold in Gaelic football and hurling games are too violent and too dangerous for the most violent mainstream sport in the world.
Take the recent Johnny Glynn incident in the Galway hurling championship. The former county footballer was caught on video apparently choking an opponent with his hand fixed around his neck. The prostrate victim was visibly struggling for air. When he got back to his feet, the skin around his throat was badly marked. In typical GAA fashion both players were yellow-carded at the time.
But then, after the fact (no doubt prompted by the reaction on social media), the Galway CCC stepped in to investigate. Glynn received a one-match suspension – the same punishment he’d get if he was sent off for throwing a punch or for calling the referee a bollocks.
Grabbing an opponent around the trachea with the hand is illegal in UFC.
In January, during the All-Ireland Junior Club final at Croke Park, a Stewartstown Harps player aggressively grabbed Fossa’s David Clifford in the groin area. The referee didn’t see it but the TV footage is pretty clear. The incident sparked outrage but, as far as I can tell, no subsequent action was taken against the perpetrator.
Any attack to the groin area, including striking or grabbing, is illegal in UFC.
In 2022, when the championship match between Armagh and Galway turned into an all-out melee, Armagh panellist Tiernan Kelly, who was injured and not togged out, gouged Damien Comer’s eye. He received a six-month ban, but the timing meant he didn’t miss a single minute of intercounty football.
Eye gouging is illegal in UFC.
Also in 2022, shocking footage emerged from Roscommon showing a team mentor entering the field during an U17 match and physically assaulting a referee. The referee was knocked unconscious and had to be removed from the scene in an ambulance.
A 96-week ban – the maximum suspension allowable by the GAA’s current rules – was proposed at the time. I am assuming it was upheld, although I wasn’t able to find any confirmation online. As of July, the criminal case was still being processed by the courts.
A coach entering the octagon and knocking out a referee is illegal in UFC (and I have never heard of it happening).
As recently as last weekend, an amateur video from a Dublin hurling match brought the issue of GAA violence to the fore once again. Another ugly mass brawl turned uglier when some guy in plain clothes (it’s unclear what role, if any, he has with the team) smacked an opposition player in the side of the head with a hurley. The victim was not wearing a helmet.
‘Some guy’ entering the octagon and assaulting a fighter is illegal in UFC (and I have never heard of it happening).
These instances of violence that we have seen in Gaelic games are not just excessive for a field sport, they are excessive for the most vicious sport out there – a sport that is too bloody for a lot of viewers (myself included).
Does this bother top ranking GAA officials and the people responsible for handing out suspensions? Because it should.
This week the GAA launched a new ‘respect’ initiative alongside the FAI and the IRFU. “The three main sporting bodies in Ireland are working together to remind everyone within their games about the values of ‘Respect’ on and off the field,” the press release reads.
That sounds nice but the reality is that people who engage in violence on our playing fields exhibit a complete lack of respect to our games and “reminding” them of values is unlikely to change their behaviour. They need to face appropriate consequences for their actions – including permanent bans for dangerous assaults – not a slap on the wrist or some time in the bold corner.
Our leaders in Croke Park talk about players and coaches and supporters showing respect but by failing to properly punish violence, the association’s disciplinarians are showing a lack of respect to everyone else.
Almost impossible to look beyond East Kerry but Dingle are best placed to challenge
Adam Moynihan breaks down the groups and likely contenders in the 2023 Kerry Senior Football Championship
Group 1: East Kerry, South Kerry, West Kerry, Templenoe
Defending champions East Kerry are on the hunt for their fourth county title in five years and with a talented squad that’s looking as stacked as ever, only the brave would back against them.
Rathmore’s promotion back to senior level means that Kerry players Shane Ryan and Paul Murphy are missing from last year’s nine-point final victory over Mid Kerry but East Kerry’s strength in depth in all sectors means that no individual player is irreplaceable – excepting the obvious.
David Clifford’s performance for the ages in Fossa’s landmark intermediate semi-final win over Stacks provided a stark reminder of his awe-inspiring talents. Paudie Clifford was excellent too and this year the Two Mile brothers are joined on the panel by four clubmates – another glaring indicator of how far Fossa have come.
James O’Donoghue must be considered an injury doubt after only managing a cameo in Legion’s last outing but his clubmates Brian Kelly, Jonathan Lyne, Darragh Lyne and Cian Gammell are all likely to feature. Current Kerry senior panelists Chris O’Donoghue and Darragh Roche (Glenflesk), Ronan Buckley and Ruairí Murphy (Listry), and Donal O’Sullivan (Kilgarvan) would also be expected to play their part, with plenty of young talent from all seven clubs hoping to break into the starting line-up.
Realistically, the holders should navigate Group 1 with little fuss with South Kerry, West Kerry and Templenoe battling it out for second.
South Kerry and Templenoe played out a draw in the group stage of last year’s championship so there might not be much between them this year either.
West Kerry will be aiming to pick up at least one result after losing all three of their fixtures in 2022.
VERDICT: East Kerry and Templenoe
GROUP 2: Kenmare Shamrocks, Rathmore, St Kieran’s, Feale Rangers
Kenmare came mightily close in the Senior Club final and they should be able to carry that momentum through to the County Championship. Seánie O’Shea is obviously their one bona fide match winner but they’re also strong around the middle third where James McCarthy, David Hallissey and Kevin O’Sullivan put in the hard yards.
The fact that Feale Rangers reached last year’s semi-final indicates that they’re on an upward trajectory. The question now is can they repeat the trick? In 2022 the team was backboned by Listowel Emmets players (seven started that defeat to Mid Kerry) and those lads are coming into this competition in confident form having secured a spot in the still-to-be-played Junior Premier final.
Rathmore are always a tough championship team and the Ryans (Cathal and Mark at midfield and Shane at full forward) are sure to be a handful for any opposition.
St Kieran’s have troubled decent teams in the not-too-distant past – although they lost all three group games (including one against Kenmare) a year ago.
VERDICT: Kenmare and Feale Rangers
GROUP 3: Mid Kerry, Spa, Kerins O’Rahillys, Shannon Rangers
In 2022, Spa found the going tough in a Group of Death that included East Kerry and Dingle. The draw has been kinder to them this time around and they would probably expect to beat Rahillys and Shannon Rangers.
The wheels came off against Dingle in this year’s Senior Club Championship but they impressed the week before against Kenmare. Dara Moynihan, Evan Cronin and Cian Tobin will be important players in attack, with Dan O’Donoghue manning the midfield and Shane Cronin protecting their defensive third from number 6.
Mid Kerry, runners-up last season, will provide their sternest test in this pool. A lot of eyes (including those of Jack O’Connor) will be on Cillian Burke after his heroics for Milltown/Castlemaine in the semi-final of the Intermediate Club Championship. His clubmate Éanna O’Connor (son of the Kerry bainisteoir) will also play a crucial role at centre forward.
Rahillys are facing a relegation playoff if they fail to reach the final of the Kerry SFC and their form in recent weeks would suggest that making it that far is a long shot.
VERDICT: Mid Kerry and Spa
GROUP 4: Dingle, Dr Crokes, St Brendan’s, Na Gaeil
Breaking free of East Kerry’s stranglehold will not be easy but crafty Senior Club champions Dingle are surely best placed to wriggle loose. With four in-form Geaneys in the forwards – Paul, Mikey, Conor and Dylan – they have the tools to trouble any defence, and the return of their established AFL player Mark O’Connor adds solidity going the other way. They also have the incomparable Tom O’Sullivan pulling the strings. As things stand, they are easily the standout club team in the county.
Their Group 4 opponents Dr Crokes will be aiming to improve upon their showing in 2022 when they bowed out at the quarter-final stage. Naturally much will depend on the availability or otherwise of star players Gavin White and Tony Brosnan. White missed the recent Senior Club semi-final defeat to Kenmare with a hamstring injury. Encouragingly, Brosnan (who has been sidelined with a recurrence of a lung problem) was togged for that match, though he did not play.
The Killarney club will be fancied to qualify from their group alongside Dingle, although St Brendan’s – strengthened by the addition of an unknown number of Austin Stacks players to their ranks – could be dangerous.
The other team in the pool, Na Gaeil, are facing a relegation playoff against Rahillys once both sides are finished with the Kerry SFC. Reaching the final of this competition would spare them but Na Gaeil can count themselves unlucky to have been handed a difficult draw for the second year in a row.
VERDICT: Dingle and Dr Crokes
All things considered East Kerry and Dingle appear to be the frontrunners to capture the Bishop Moynihan trophy but there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way, starting this weekend with a full round of fixtures.
All eight matches will be either televised or streamed online. Dingle v Dr Crokes is on TG4. The remaining seven matches are on Clubber.
Friday 8pm Na Gaeil v St Brendan’s (Austin Stack Park)
Saturday 3pm Templenoe v West Kerry (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Saturday 5.30pm Rahillys v Shannon Rangers (Austin Stack Park)
Saturday 7.30pm East Kerry v South Kerry (Austin Stack Park)
Sunday 1.30pm Rathmore v St Kieran’s (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Sunday 2.15pm Dingle v Dr Crokes (Austin Stack Park)
Sunday 3.30pm Feale Rangers v Kenmare Shamrocks (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Sunday 4.15pm Mid Kerry v Spa (Austin Stack Park)
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