by Eamonn Fitzgerald
Cheltenham will hold centre stage next week. Even people who say they have no interest in sport are enthused by the Aintree Grand National and the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Celebrating St Patrick’s day, our national feast day, is special worldwide for parades such as the big one in Dublin and the marvellous effort here locally in Killarney, with a parade the centrepiece of a wonderful programme of events.
The Gold Cup evokes so many memories of Irish spirits raised as Florida Pearl, Forget Me Not, Beef or Salmon and so many more lifted the treasure of National Hunt racing, An Corn Óir.
Look no further than 2002, 2003 and 2004 and Killarney’s outstanding jockey Jim Culloty charging up that Cheltenham hill to victory. Those were famous years for the local followers of the equine stakes. Three years in a row by the outstanding Lewis Road jockey. Best Mate won his third Gold Cup in 2004, becoming the first horse since Arkle 40 years earlier to seal the treble.
Trained by Henrietta Knight and ridden by Culloty, the horse ran in the claret and blue colours of Aston Villa. No doubt Jim’s mother Maureen will be following all the action at Cheltenham from her home in Killarney.
I suppose it was a longshot for Jack Kennedy to be fit to ride in this year’s big race. The Dingle jockey has not fully recovered from a broken leg sustained early last January. Disappointment for the 23-year-old Dingle man, so it looks like 43-year-old Davy Russell will take his place.
Move just a few miles down the road on our bothairín na smaoite from Moss Keane’s Currow to Castleisland and, more specifically, the Latin Quarter of same for memories of one of the greatest sports writers of all to come rolling back to us.
Con Houlihan was different and what’s more he made a difference in sports journalism. Not for him the blow-by-blow account of who scored what and how many minutes were left in the contest. He saw the bigger picture. He ever went into a press box in his life, be it Croke Park, Fitzgerald Stadium, Cheltenham, Harold’s Cross, Lansdowne Road, Old Trafford, or wherever there was a sporting contest. He wanted to be among the plain people of Ireland, savouring how much sport meant to them.
Who can ever forget Con’s take on his annual trips to the Cotswold Hills to be among the plebs with the ham sandwiches wrapped in the racing pages of the newspapers - in stark contrast to the well-heeled ‘beef or salmon’ upper classes.
However, when Killarney’s own Jim Culloty coaxed Best Mate for more coming up that hill, the Irish roar and the mini-tricolours signalled supremacy for the small nation over the best from the British Empire. A win over the auld enemy is special in any sport. Big Con reported from Cheltenham as follows:
“When Arkle stormed up the hill to his first Gold Cup, few of his myriad admirers realised that nibs of snow had started to come with the wind; yesterday it was very cold in the Cotswolds but in retrospect most of those who were on Cheltenham’s racecourse will remember the time between about half past three and four o’clock as a fragment of Summer. Such was the enormous outburst of emotion that for a little while the thin wind seemed not to matter. And no doubt there are decent men and women who will dip into their imaginations at some distant date and say that they were there – and they will be right.”
Con died in 2012 and I had the privilege of a two-hour visit with him at St James’ Hospital, Dublin a very short time before he died.
What a wonderful report he would have had in 2022 when Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the 182-year history of the race. She also became the first woman to be leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival with six victories, including the Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle, in 2021.
The following year she became the first female jockey to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard A Plus Tard for Henry de Bromhead.
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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