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High-flying Templenoe on cusp of impossible dream

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by Adam Moynihan

Club Championship Final

Templenoe v Kerins O’Rahillys

Sunday at 3pm

Fitzgerald Stadium

Last weekend, Kilmacud Crokes were crowned champions of Dublin following a narrow one-point victory over Na Fianna in the county final. With 5,000 members and 2,900 players to choose from (including a Footballer of the Year contender who recently transferred from his home club in Galway), Crokes’ success is hardly surprising. Being a superclub doesn’t guarantee success but it certainly helps.

Meanwhile, here in Kerry, an outfit who can perhaps be described as the antithesis of a superclub are preparing for a county final of their own.

Templenoe, a club from a tiny parish on the south side of the Iveragh Peninsula, have around 100 members and 30 senior players. Those figures are small even by Kerry standards. When compared with the likes of Kilmacud, you would have to assume that the two clubs are operating in different galaxies.

However, should they prevail in Sunday’s Club Championship final against Kerins O’Rahillys, Templenoe will be Kerry’s representatives in the Munster Club Championship. Should they manage to navigate the provincial competition and should Kilmacud do likewise in Leinster, the two will meet in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Of course, that’s looking too far ahead but it does put into context how remarkable Templenoe’s success to date has been. From Division 5 and the Novice Championship to Division 1 and the final of the Senior Club Championship in a decade or so - no time at all in the context of an 89-year-old club. Winning the Senior Club Championship shouldn’t really be possible for them, but now they’re on the brink.

It’s no fluke that they’ve made it to this final, by the way. In fact, their form in the competition so far has installed them as marginal favourites to prevail against a far more established Rahillys team. After defeating Kerry kingpins Dr Crokes and Austin Stacks and drawing against neighbours Kenmare, Templenoe advanced to the semi-final stage where they met Dingle. There, Killian Spillane kicked 0-5 to help them to a 0-14 to 0-10 win.

Injuries took their toll in the County Championship as they failed to progress beyond the group stage (with such a small playing population, any absentees are bound to be sorely missed) but now they appear to be approaching full strength. One of their four Kerry seniors, Gavin Crowley, is hoping to return from a calf injury.

On the other side of the coin, Kerins O’Rahillys are also coming into this final on the back of a disappointing County Championship. They were the ones put to the scythe in the Group of Death as heavy defeats to East Kerry, Dingle and Spa left them rooted to the bottom. Key players Jack Savage and Cormac Coffey were missed when they weren’t around – the pair have emigrated to Dubai – but they are expected to be available on Sunday.

The 2021 Kerry SFC finalists have plenty of talent at their disposal. David Moran, Barry John Keane and Tommy Walsh are household names and diminutive young forward Conor Hayes has caught the eye during his nascent senior career. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if things clicked for them in the Park on Sunday and they claimed their first Senior Club Championship title since 2010.

Templenoe have perhaps shown more promise over the course of this season, though. Another solid hour could be enough to complete their incredible ascension to the summit of Kerry football.

Verdict: Templenoe by one.

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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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