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‘I genuinely believe that Mayo can win’

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Eamonn Fitzgerald speaks to former Mayo footballer John Gibbons about Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final.

No Kerry v Tyrone game on Sunday due to COVID problems in Tyrone, so the focus is on Dublin and Mayo tomorrow in the All-Ireland semi-final.

It seems like an eternity since Mayo won the Sam Maguire. You have to go back to 1951, in fact, and since then they have lost finals in 1989, 1996 (after a replay), 1997, 2004, 2006, 2012, 2013, 2016 (after a replay), 2017 and 2020. There is just one member alive of that last Mayo team to win the Sam Maguire and that is the powerful Paddy Prendergast, who has been living in Tralee for over 40 years. Glad to say Paddy is alive and in good health.

Many of our readers will remember Willie McGee, the red-headed full forward who really almost single-handedly beat Kerry in an U21 All-Ireland final by scoring four goals. McGee and the stylish centre-forward John Gibbons later teamed up as the central plank of the Mayo senior attack, meeting Kerry in two NFL finals in the early seventies.

EF: John Gibbons and I were working colleagues, but in direct opposition in those finals. During the week I spoke to John in his Louisburgh home and first asked him how Mayo are coping without the injured Cillian O’Connor.

JG: Mayo have coped reasonably well without Cillian, but you cannot lose a player of his quality without seriously diminishing your forward line. He has been Mayo's star forward for years: no other Mayo forward has come close to him with his forward play, his scoring ability from play and, very importantly, his free-taking.

Free takers win All-Irelands. There is a list as long as your arm, from Tony McTeague, Jimmy Keaveney, and a longer list in Kerry alone. Think recently of Michael Murphy, Stephen Cluxton even, Dean Rock, someone who is able to score frees under the biggest pressure. That's what Mayo have lost in Cillian. Young Ryan O'Donoghue has done very well but he is untried at this level.

What of the other younger players?

Tommy Conroy has great talent and played very well in the second half against Galway, but he was anonymous in last year's All-Ireland. Darren McHale, another newcomer, was taken off at half-time against Galway. That's what you get from young players: inconsistency. They are talented but inconsistent and with only two experienced players in the forward line (Aidan O'Shea and Diarmuid O'Connor), it's expecting a lot of the young players to step up to the mark and it took the introduction of 'old-timer' Kevin McLoughlin at halftime against Galway to change the course of the game. I believe that Mayo will really miss Cillian - that will be their first real test without him.

How do you rate the new kids on the block, John?

Of the other newcomers Pádraig O'Hora at full back – provided he has recovered from a shoulder injury – is a fine prospect. He is physically strong and athletic, not afraid to tackle and break forward. He should have Lee Keegan beside him and probably Michael Plunkett in the other corner. I would expect the half back line to be Paddy Durcan, and we all know his ability, Young Player of the Year Oisín Mullen at centre back, and probably Eoghan McLaughlin or Stephen Coen at left half back. That line has the attacking potential to trouble Dublin. It's how they can handle their defensive duties against the Kilkenny, O’Callaghan, Rock – forwards and others who may well decide the match.

At midfield Mattie Ruane is developing into one of the best midfielders in the country but if the real Brian Fenton turns up, Mattie will have his hands full.

Aidan O’Shea has been a huge player for Mayo but has had a disappointing record in Croke Park, scoring so little in 6 outings. Where would you play him?

The dilemma of where to play Aidan O'Shea is a head-scratcher. I thought he had a marvellous game against Galway. His work rate is always top class and if you examine his displays, he never gets the amount of frees that he deserves. He will probably be fouled twice while in possession and yet will have a free given against him for over carrying. I would play him at full forward but I think he prefers to roam around the centre forward spot so that he's involved more in the play.

Are Dublin on the wane?

They are they still a strong force. However, if Mayo play against Dublin in the first half as they did against Galway then the game will be over by half-time regardless of whether Dublin are on the wane or not. Mayo were sloppy in the back line and gave away two sloppy goals. Their forwards in that first half were wasteful in the extreme. You won't get away with that against Dublin.

Having said that I believe Mayo will put it up to Dublin and that it will be a close encounter, as I genuinely believe they can win.

MY VIEW

I take a different view to my friend John Gibbons. Dublin have not been beaten in six years and I expect them to continue on their way tomorrow. Yes, there are signs that they may not be as sharp as heretofore and have lost a few key players, none more influential than goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton. There was a big hullabaloo in the media that he never announced publicly that he had retired. He departed on his own terms. He owed Dublin or the GAA public nothing after a marvellous career. Fear ann féin is ea Cluxton. As far as I can recall, neither did Maurice Fitzgerald make a public announcement about his retirement.

Evan Comerford, the new Dublin keeper, is quite competent but has not yet perfected the skill of consistently finding teammate with the kickout. I wonder will Mayo press up on those kickouts. I believe they should because Dublin love to launch attacks from deep. They are superbly fit and are quite content to inter-pass and hold possession 50 yards from goal. They will not attempt Holy Mary kicks, with a high chance of failure. Hold the ball until a chink appears in the opposition’s defence and the ball is delivered to the player in the best position to score. This is usually predicated by the runner coming from deep. It could be anyone, not just running, but galloping at high speed. It may be Fenton, James McCarthy, Ciarán Kilkenny, Johnny Small, Con O’Callaghan, take your pick. Kerry folk will remember Eoin Murchan doing just that and scoring the goal that deprived us of the All-Ireland we should have won.

In the Leinster final Brian Fenton was largely invisible. He will be influential tomorrow.

For Mayo, Aidan O’Shea has to be a leader; he must lead from the front tomorrow, to inspire the young cohort playing with the big boys on the grand stage for the first time. I have been impressed by the progress of the young ones on the Mayo team and wish them well tomorrow.

Mayo bridesmaids once more? Unfortunately, I think so.

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Killarney Valley AC named Club of the Year at national awards ceremony

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Members of Killarney Valley Athletics Club had cause for celebration on Wednesday as they picked up the prestigious Development Club of the Year prize at the 123.ie National Athletics Awards.

The award is handed out annually to a club who have made a positive impact on behalf of the sport within their community.

Sprinter Sarah Leahy of Killarney Valley and UL was also honoured with the Female University Athlete of the Year award.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, coach and committee member Tomás Griffin said he and his clubmates were “delighted” and “very proud” to accept the Club Development award on behalf of all their athletes, coaches and administrators. The opening of their new track alongside St Brendan’s College in 2020 has been crucial, Griffin explained.

“The facility a catalyst but the passion was always there and we had people doing their best and coaching long before there was a track. To see the momentum that came with the opening of the track being maintained is great. We now have a waiting list of people looking to join the club.

“Did we see ourselves winning an award like this, in an organisation of 53,000 members and 400 clubs? No. But was it always possible? Yes. Killarney as a town across all sports – Gaelic football, soccer, basketball, cycling, judo, rock climbing – it’s a place where people excel. The bar is already raised. But being able to reach this level and achieve what we have in just two years shows what other talent is out there.”

Killarney Valley now boast five Irish internationals, 320 registered members and 22 Athletics Ireland accredited coaches. The club won 107 provincial and national medals in 2022, and they had 155 graduates from their Couch to 5k programme. Many of these participants are now regulars in the local Park Run and are continuing their personal health and fitness journeys with the club.

Nine Killarney Valley representatives attended the awards ceremony on Wednesday: Tomás Griffin, Jerry Griffin (chairperson), Bríd Stack, Gene Courtney, Con Lynch, Karen Smith, Sarah Leahy, Jordan Lee, and Madie Wilson-Walker. Sarah’s parents Mike and Marie also made the journey.

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Jiu-jitsu champion Wilson da Silva sets sights on world title

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This week Adam Moynihan called to the Movement & Fitness Club on New Street to catch up with Killarney man Wilson da Silva. The 38-year-old Brazilian recently won gold at the European Championship for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and now he’s gunning for a world title.

Wilson, congratulations on your latest success in Rome and Abu Dhabi.

Thank you, Adam.

Before we chat about that, let’s go back to the start. How did you end up living in Killarney?

I came here around 15 years ago because I met someone from Killorglin and we went out for five or six years. After we broke up, I came to Killarney. I’m pretty much half-local, half-Brazilian now.

What part of Brazil are you from?

The northeast. A place called Recife. If you look at the map, it’s the nearest point to Ireland.

Do you get to go home often?

I try to go once a year, you know? I was home earlier this year and then before Covid. But once a year I go home in the summertime.

It must be nice to get some sunshine.

It’s nice, man. Even recently the doctor told me I have Vitamin D deficiency. My skin colour needs the sun! So I go home once a year. I follow the doctor’s advice.

How did you get into jiu-jitsu?

I did it back home in Brazil but I continued here in Killarney. I trained with guys here, Pedro Bessa and Tom McGuire. Then there is another club in Killarney and I trained with them up until four years ago. Things weren’t working out so I started my own gym. I just wanted to do things my way which was to have a clean place, no ego, no drama, no stress, no jealousy. Just come, train jiu-jitsu and help each other. And it’s going well.

Was it hard to go out on your own?

In the beginning it was really difficult because I was opening a second club in the town, on my own. There was really only one guy who wanted to train with me, but then my fiancé (Ewelina) started training and one became two, two became three, and it started to grow. Now we have classes for babies from three years up, kids and teenagers. We’re doing jiu-jitsu and capoeira for all ages. I guess it’s something good for the community.

Can you tell me a bit about jiu-jitsu? Is it similar to other sports?

If you were to describe jiu-jitsu to someone who never saw it, it would be very similar to judo. You have people throwing each other and putting each other on the floor. The jiu-jitsu match is five minutes long and the goal is to checkmate the opponent, to make your opponent quit, or tap out. So there is a lot of ground work, grappling, and wrestling. It’s an excellent sport and great for self-defence. I can’t recommend jiu-jitsu enough.

So there’s no striking?

There is no striking but [in terms of self-defence] there is ducking from striking, turning a strike into a mobilisation. It’s about finding locks on the body – the joint moves this way for example (he turns his arm) – figuring out how the anatomy of the body works.

It seems quite technical and intellectual.

Yes, it’s a very intelligent sport. I trained in weightlifting for a long time, for many years. With time it simply comes down to reps, breaking muscle fibre, and you’re not learning anything. It’s boring. With jiu-jitsu you’re constantly thinking. You’re constantly working your brain.

I compare it to a game of chess. First you figure out how to move the pieces, and then you have to play strategy. Look ahead to the next move and what your opponent can do to you. The moves are complicated and you’re always learning new things. It requires a lot of focus and discipline to get good at it. You don’t get bored with jiu-jitsu.

Is the focus and discipline side of it good for the kids who come to your gym?

Yes, definitely. I find that it is so beneficial for the kids. The kids want to win but if they want to win, they need to learn the moves. In order to learn the moves, they have to pay attention. So straight away it develops focus and concentration and discipline. If they do not pay attention, if they run around the place, they’re going to lose when they spar. It fixes itself. The guys who come in, pay attention, and it makes the others not want to lose so they pay attention and worker hard to learn the moves.

You can see the difference in the kids when they come here. We try to make them comfortable in uncomfortable situations so that when you take the child out of the jiu-jitsu class and they have a to deal with a hard subject in school, or a bully, they are mentally stronger.

I have witnessed that myself. I worked in security for many years and before I dedicated myself to jiu-jitsu, I found it easy to lose the head. But the more hours I put into the gym and training in jiu-jitsu, the more comfortable I became with frustrating situations. You’re able to remain calm. That’s a benefit of jiu-jitsu.

How important is size in jiu-jitsu?

That’s a tricky one. People say that size doesn’t matter. It definitely does. There’s no doubt about that. But the beauty of jiu-jitsu is that once you have the technique, you’re able to apply it against bigger guys. You know, the bigger guys have big muscles and bigger egos, but if the small guy trains hard he will be able to move the big guy’s body in a way that works against him. The big guy who goes to the gym, he’s used to pushing the bar this way (straight out), whereas the guy who knows jiu-jitsu knows that if he moves the bigger guys arms here (upwards), he’s not strong anymore. Now the bench press is worth nothing.

Bigger guys think they are unbeatable. The small guys have to work for it. I always motivate the guys here in the gym to be humble. You always have to consider yourself the second best, the guy who wants to be first. The moment you think that you’re bigger and better than everyone else, you stop working.

Tell me about your recent victories in London, Rome and Abu Dhabi.

Yeah, so I went to the UK and managed to win four golds at the London Open in the ‘Gi’, ‘A’, ‘No-Gi’ and ‘Absolute’ categories. (The ‘Gi’ is a uniform sometimes worn in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. There are categories in which the Gi is worn – ‘Gi’ – and categories in which it is not – ‘No-Gi’. The ‘Absolute’ is an open weight division).

Then a couple of weeks ago I travelled to Rome to compete in the European Championship. The day before that event, the Rome Open was on and since I was already there, I signed up for that too. I won the first fight, submitted the guy, but then in the final I lost. It was a good lesson for me. Coming from so many wins, I thought I was going to smash this other guy. I got a bit cocky. Losing settled me down and humbled me a little bit. I went back to my accommodation and analysed my mistakes. I hoped that the next day I would be able to play a strategy to win.

In the end I managed to win four fights and win the biggest European tournament – the No-Gi European Championship. It was my dream. I have been there twice before and got knocked out in the quarter-final, and came third in the Gi division.

It was really emotional for me. It was a great achievement. Even now when I’m talking, I feel emotional. I don’t train that much with No-Gi so to come first in Europe, it’s hard to believe.

It’s really hard to run and promote a club and also train and win tournaments, a lot of people say it’s not possible, but I’m putting a lot of hours into this and proving that it is possible. When you work so hard, with the help of my training partners, the results have to come.

And you weren’t finished yet. Where did you go next?

Yeah, to finish the story, after winning the European tournament on the Saturday, I flew to Abu Dhabi on Monday for the World Championship. I managed to go there and win three fights before losing the semi-final after getting beat pretty hard. I got my ass kicked by the winner. Then I had to fight to win the third place [match]. So, even though it’s only third place, it’s third place on the biggest podium in the sport.

Is it normal to compete in this number of events in quick succession?

No. It’s crazy to do so many competitions in a short period of time. I usually take a month or two months off before the next competition. It’s expensive too and I must thank Kevin Leahy [from the neighbouring Black Sheep Hostel] for sponsoring me. But after London, I had a feeling that there was no stopping me. I’m healthy. I’m not injured. Now is my moment and I have to take the chance.

It was hard enough to believe that I won the European Championship but to go to Abu Dhabi and fight against the best guys in the world… It’s a dream. Well, it’s not a dream now because it happened. It’s a reality.

Is this it for you now? Have you achieved all you want to achieve?

No, there’s more. Much more. I want to win the World Championship in California next year. For sure I would like to win the European Championship next year too.

But my goal is more than just winning championships, it’s to build champions. I want to teach people and share techniques that are proven to work. As I try to grow the gym, I will continue competing for as long as God blesses me with this health. That’s it.

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