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Fossa and Rathmore all set for Croker double-header

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by Eamonn Fitzgerald

It is still only January but what an antidote to the seasonally wild, wet, and windy weather it is for supporters of Rathmore and Fossa to be heading off to Croke Park.

The Devil’s Ladder was cleared on Saturday last. The pinnacle lies ahead. Will it be scaled successfully, and will major silverware be brought home so early in the year?

Both clubs will be grateful to Seán Kelly, the former GAA president who extended the opportunity for even the smallest GAA club in the country to win an All-Ireland title and to play those finals in Croke Park.

Both finals will go ahead at HQ on Sunday, commencing with the junior final at 1.30pm followed intermediate final at 3.30pm. TG4 will carry both games live .

FOSSA v STEWARTSTOWN HARPS

Fossa came through with flying colours at Portlaoise last weekend. This venue has been a graveyard for so many Kerry teams but after an uncertain start when Castletown could have gone five points clear, Fossa asserted supremacy. Once Cian O’Shea finished the ball to the net after 19 minutes and Emmett scored a second one, Castletown struggled badly. They were 2-7 to 0-6 in arrears at half-time.

The result was never in doubt two minutes after the restart when Eoin Talbot scored their third goal. Passage to the final was secured.

The Clifford brothers were as consistently brilliant as ever. Paudie’s endless energy setting up attacks from centre back was not wasted up front by younger brother David who scored seven points.

Fossa manager Adrian Sheehan will be delighted with the form of Matt Rennie, the O’Sheas and goalkeeper Shane O’Sullivan who is getting good cover from the defence.

Will Fossa be All-Ireland Junior club champions on Sunday next? I expect so. Not just as easy as that, of course. All-Ireland finals are won on the day by the team that delivers its best display when it really matters.

The Clifford brothers are so far ahead of any other players at this level that the Tyrone side will have to do something special to cause an upset.

However, Kerry teams never get it easy against Tyrone opposition. Eamonn Fitzmaurice will remember the pain of losing to this opposition when he was a player with Finuge. On Sunday next, he will be on the management team with Fossa.

A lot will depend on the referee. If he ignores blatant pulling, dragging, body checking and much worse than that, then it will take the extra class of the Cliffords to steer the boat to the safety of the prized harbour.

Stewartstown Harps had a real battle and had to go to extra time to beat Galway champions Clifden 1-14 to 1-9 after extra time at Dr Hyde Park. They are strongly Catholic and Nationalist, tough and resilient. They will not bend their knee easily and will relish the challenge of a Kerry club team.

I believe that Croke Park will bring out the best in the Cliffords, and class will tell once overconfidence is banished. It is not a foregone conclusion, but I expect Fossa to be crowned All-Ireland Junior Club champions.

RATHMORE v GALBALLY PEARSES

As expected, Rathmore eased into the Intermediate final by defeating St Mogue’s Fethard of Wexford 2-16 to 1-10.

With a score like that one would expect Chrissy Spiers, Rathmore’s top scorer in this campaign, to end with 10 points or so. Not so on this occasion as the Ryan brothers delivered 1-8 between them.

Kerry All-Star goalkeeper Shane Ryan, playing at corner forward, grabbed the goal initiative in the 12th minute and the Sliabh Luachra men went on a scoring spree of 2-5. The second goal was scored by the ever-consistent poacher, John Moynihan.

The Wexford side did engineer somewhat of a rally, before half-time scoring 1-4, but no doubt Denis Moynihan used the half-time talk to get them back on track. Rathmore were so much on top in the second half that they did not have to depend on Kenneth O’Keeffe to make a great save at the finish. The veteran goalkeeper is still playing so well, releasing Shane Ryan to add potency to their attack.

What a day it will be for the three Ryan brothers in Croke Park, Shane, Mark, and Cathal. Will Rathmore bring home the All-Ireland cup?

They have plenty of good players in all lines of the field, but their full-back Andrew Moynihan may not start. He pulled a hamstring in training during Christmas and hamstrings are notoriously slow to heal fully. He has had a great season and will be a big loss if unable to start.

Their ability to score goals was the difference between Dunmore McHales of Galway and Galbally last weekend. The former lost 1-9 to 4-4 after conceding three of those goals in the first half. Galbally do not have any county player and their best-known member is Paddy Tally. The former Tyrone player and much-travelled coach was a key man in Jack O’Connor’s management team in 2022.

Rathmore have skated through all opposition this year once they got over An Ghaeltacht in the Kerry final. They need to control play from the start on Sunday, keep the defence tight and avoid conceding goals. O’Keefe is playing so well in goals and Kerry star Paul Murphy will marshal their defence.

I expect brothers Mark and Cathal Ryan to win midfield and with Shane Ryan, Brian Friel, and ace free-taker Spiers to point the way, they have the winning formula. Just like Fossa, they need to assert supremacy and impose their dominance on the scoreboard. They must avoid the expected Tyrone ambush.

THE FOSSA NUGGET

Best of luck to Fossa and Rathmore, who will be looking for support for their fund-raising efforts to defray the very significant cost involved in an All-Ireland Club campaign.

Contributions from the Munster Council and the Central Council are miserable. Surely, the GAA will rethink that financial support this year. After all, David Clifford has been such a box office draw wherever he played, attracting so many extra hundreds of supporters. When the final whistle is blown where do the hordes of supporters and neutrals rush, but to be near the Footballer of the Year, David Clifford. The Nugget from Fossa.

But even the goose that lays the golden egg needs to be nourished.

The two Tyrone clubs’ main fundraisers for the finals are sponsorship for the full panel of players at €100 a pop, and the response has been magnificent with great help from the Tyrone diaspora, particularly in the USA.

MORAN SHOWS CLASS

Kilmacud Crokes won their Senior Club semi-final but just by one goal. Kerins O’Rahillys did so well to take them to the last seconds in the five minutes of overtime.

Who else but David Moran, my Man of the Match, to win that that late ball and punch for an equaliser. The keeper was beaten but a defender swept the ball away to safety.

Well played Kerins O’Rahillys. It was fitting that Moran, Kerry’s best club midfielder that I have seen for the past number of years, almost sent the game into extra time. Yes, he has been that consistent and Jack O’Connor will be looking for a replacement if David calls it a day at intercounty level. He has been magnificent.

Diarmuid O’Connor, Jack Barry and others will compete for the midfield spots for Jack’s team in 2023 but none are in Moran’s class. Are there more potential Kerry midfielders around the county?

PAUDIE PALMER RIP

Too young to die. Too full of life, energy, enthusiasm and Kerry roguery. Paudie Palmer RIP was laid to rest at Innishannon on Wednesday last following an untimely and heart-breaking hit-and-run road accident.

I have known Paudie for many years and our lives and paths crossed so often, especially in relation to GAA games at individual colleges and intercounty levels. He spent most of his teaching life at St Brogan’s College, Bandon, where he was a very popular teacher of science and was very involved with Cork VEC football teams.

When we met on opposite sides in the Kerry colleges and county teams the banter was energising. After his retirement from teaching, he brought the same enthusiasm to his work as a radio commentator with C103. Knowledgeable, effective and articulate, he had a way with words on air and in the printed media with the Echo.

He never forgot where he came from or lost his native endearing Kerry smile, plámás, unfailing good humour, or whatever it took to enliven your day. Paudie was the kind of soul you loved to meet and anywhere there was ball to be kicked, he was there.

Pre-match exchanges were great until he stopped you in full flow. “Yerra, we’ll get back to that and we’ll certainly meet up at the weekend for the next match. Must go now, on the air in 90 seconds. Go on, go on, go on…”

He loved Templenoe and was very proud of the achievements of that team making great strides up through the divisions of the Kerry leagues.  022 could not have been better with so many All-Ireland medals won by club members to add to the collections of the Spillane brothers. Paudie travelled to Tralee on the day prior to his accident to attend the funeral of the great Kerry defender of the 1950s, Mixie Palmer, son of PW, the Sneem native related to Paudie.

From Direendaragh, Blackwater and Templenoe and for most of his life in Cork, he was a wonderful person and he had a great way with people. The airwaves are silent, and we are so glad to have had the opportunities to be with him. He was a tonic to meet. One is grateful for the days you met Palmer; the memories of the grámhar Kerryman adopted by Cork live on.

Well, his journey in this life is over and what a heartbreak that is for his beloved wife Colette and daughters, Claire and Emily. To those closest to him and his huge extended GAA family of friends and listeners, guím solas na bhFlaitheas ar Phaudie agus solas na Síorraiochta ar a chlann.

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Kerry will need more intensity, more physicality and more collaboration to bounce back from Dub drubbing

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by Adam Moynihan

In the 22nd minute of last Saturday night’s league match in Croke Park, Lee Gannon collected a pass on his own 65 and carried the ball unchallenged right into the heart of Kerry’s defence. Brian Fenton took over and a tackle by Diarmuid O’Connor slowed the attack.

Then Fenton looked up and saw that Niall Scully was standing at the top of the D, completely unmarked. It was a simple five-metre handpass to the centre, and Scully had all the time in the world to steady himself and shoot. His point made it Dublin 2-8 Kerry 0-5. Ten shots for Dublin. Ten scores. One-way traffic.

The Dubs deserve credit for their accuracy in front of the posts – Con O’Callaghan was particularly excellent – but the ease with which they were creating their openings was startling from a Kerry perspective. For Scully’s score, the resistance was non-existent. If the same thing happened in a training match, the manager would be well within his rights to call off the session and send everyone home.

The cameras may have been trained on Kerry’s full back line and, yes, Jason Foley and Dylan Casey were struggling against O’Callaghan and Paddy Small, but Kerry were found wanting all over the pitch. You could have sailed the Titanic down the centre of their defence and O’Callaghan exploited that space to great effect for his third goal. Foley got hoodwinked by a lovely piece of movement by the Dublin full forward, but where was the help?

Centre back Tadhg Morley was pushing up on Dublin dangerman Seán Bugler but that’s the thing with Dublin: all their forwards are dangerous in one way or another. Maybe Tadhg was following instructions but you wonder if he could have cheated off Bugler when the all-action centre forward was outside the 45.

Whether it’s Morley or someone else, that gap in front of the goal needs to be filled – especially against teams of Dublin’s calibre.

What we saw in Croke Park last Saturday was a far cry from the solid defensive structure that won Kerry an All-Ireland in 2022, that’s for sure. You can be certain that Jack O’Connor will be demanding a far more intense, more physical and more collaborative performance against Tyrone on Sunday (1.15pm).

KICKOUTS

Speaking after the Dublin game, O’Connor said that his side “malfunctioned” on the kickouts. While Dublin keeper David O’Hanlon was firing out his kicks like a machine gun, Shane Ryan was far more measured with his. Dublin’s press was brilliant in fairness to them but you’d have to question Kerry’s appetite for making honest, hard runs and receiving the ball in potentially tight areas.

Graham O’Sullivan and Brian Ó Beaglaoich (who is currently injured) are outstanding when it comes to breaking free and accepting that responsibility. You’d like to see one or two more backs getting in on the act.

As for Ryan himself, could he be a bit quicker and a bit more adventurous with his distribution? Look, if there’s nothing on, there’s nothing on, but I think at times he could back himself more resolutely. He has the range and the accuracy.

Of course, if he takes a risk and it gets intercepted he’ll be in line for even sharper criticism, so you can understand him being cautious when the kick isn’t 100% on.

Whatever the solution, on the evidence of the Dublin and Derry games, Kerry do need to try something a bit different to beat the press. Tyrone are unlikely to be as aggressive as Dublin were but when they do push up, it will be fascinating to see how Kerry deal with it.

Kerry’s midfielders also need to compete aerially against whoever they’re up against when it goes long – even if that’s Brian Fenton or Conor Glass or Brendan Rogers. It’s not easy to get the better of these guys in the air (or to break even, which would do) but that’s the level required.

Joe O’Connor showed that his ball skills have improved markedly by taking his goal and his point so cleanly, and he is doing well in general, but he and his namesake Diarmuid will have to be more impactful both from kickouts and without the ball if Kerry want to be a real force this season.

Personally, I would like to see Seán O’Brien getting some more game time. He has only played six minutes since being taken off early on his debut against Derry five weeks ago. Kerry will need back-up at midfield as the season goes on and O’Brien has a lot of potential.

FORWARDS

Up front, the main positive is that Cillian Burke continues to make his presence felt. Even when his more experienced teammates were faltering the last night, Burke stood tall and played his usual game. And he swung over a great score for good measure.

David Clifford will be disappointed that he didn’t convert one of his goal chances – the first one was definitely there for the taking – but you know that over the course of the season he’ll finish more of those than he misses. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if he comes out and strokes one in on Sunday.

It’s nice to see Tony Brosnan back on the pitch as well. He deserves some kind fortune following a tough spell with illness and injury.

Tyrone coming to Killarney gives the players the perfect opportunity to bounce back quickly and show supporters – and themselves – that the Dublin game was a glitch and nothing more. Improvements are needed all over the pitch but the sight of the Red Hand should bring focus and resolve.

A good performance, a win and two points would put a lot of minds at ease.

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Killarney girls will answer Ireland’s call

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A trio of talented young Killarney rugby players have been called up to the Ireland U18 squad for the upcoming Six Nations festival in Wales.

Ava O’Malley, Fia Whelan and Emma Dunican have all been included in Matt Gill’s panel for the tournament, which will take place between March 29 and April 6. They will link up with their new teammates for three weekend training camps at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin during the month of March.

Gill, the current Women’s Provincial Talent Coach for Leinster, will be assisted by Sana Govender, who has previously coached Munster Women’s teams.

“I’m really looking forward to continuing our Irish U18 Women’s Six Nations preparations and getting our camps underway,” the head coach said. “I’m excited to work with Sana and our management team, and to work with this incredibly talented group of players.”

O’Malley, Whelan and Dunican are products of Killarney RFC’s blossoming youth set-up and all three were on the U18.5 team that recently won the Munster League.

Including the Killarney girls, there are seven Munster-based players on the 35-woman squad with 15 hailing from Leinster, eight from Connacht and five from Ulster.

“It’s a very proud day for the girls, their families, teammates and coaches, and for Killarney RFC,” the club commented. “Best of luck, girls!”

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