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Kerry diaspora doing things the Kerry way

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by Eamonn Fitzgerald

In Part 1 of his exploration into the GAA abroad, Eamonn Fitzgerald tells the story of Kerry Middle East, the Dubai club with strong Killarney connections.

Tomorrow Austin Park, Tralee will be packed to capacity with Kerry and Dublin supporters as the age-old rivalry between the Jackeens and the Culchies will be played out under lights. Jack O’Connor and Dessie O’Farrell will be keen to garner league points, while the spectators will look for even more, especially the bragging rights.

Nothing less than a win tomorrow will appease the supporters, who look to Jack on his third coming to deliver Sam. Jack eile did it when Ireland held its breath during the golden Charlton years. These past number of years have been annoying and frustrating for Kerry, knowing they should have won at least two more All-Irelands. Some of it was our own fault.

Will tomorrow night’s game on home soil provide credence to the high hopes that the famine will be overcome in July?

DUBAI

At home, spectators will wonder, but so too will the Kerry diaspora. Where better to start than in Dubai where the green and gold of Kerry is featuring so prominently. Kerry Middle East (KME) is the name of the newest club founded in 2018 and there is a strong Killarney connection.

Galen Carroll, Jamie Wrenn and David Leacy grew up together in Woodlawn. They attended the local primary and post-primary schools and had the benefits of third level education. Like so many others, they played games. All three Woodlawners loved sport, but they left it all and settled in Dubai.

Of course, most people have family members or friends who emigrated over the years. Now the big attraction is not the Bronx or Kilburn. It’s Sydney and increasingly so Dubai.

The main differences between emigration of over a century ago and that of the present day is that the young Irish of today are highly educated and most of them are graduates with academic degrees. Secondly, many are not leaving Ireland because they have no job. Unemployment was 5% prior to COVID; it has grown these past few years to 7% - still way better than other eras when it approached 20%.

Everywhere the Irish went they took with them their native customs: their music, culture and sport, predominantly Gaelic games, and that has hardly changed over the past 100-plus years. So now, instead of Gaelic Park in New York or McGovern Park, Ruislip, the music, songs and games are thriving in places like Dubai.

The GAA has an international section to deal with overseas and of course Larry McCarthy the President of the GAA emigrated to New York, but has relocated to Ireland for the duration of his term of office.

Kerry Middle East play their games as part of the Middle East GAA club circuit, somewhat like our county board, and it has 16 clubs in its remit across the Gulf Area, mainly in the United Arab Emirates.

Notwithstanding the strong Kerry base, KME are extremely proud to have players from all four provinces as well as the United States and the UK, welcoming people of all backgrounds and skill levels. It is an inclusive club with a strong focus on enjoyment and the social aspect of club membership.

It’s a win-win for members who join KME club, who are one of the only GAA clubs worldwide that do not charge a membership fee. They provide all players with match jerseys. They train one night a week and members only pay for individual training sessions on a “pay as you play” basis.

THE KERRY WAY

Interestingly, this fledgling club aims to train and play "The Kerry Way" with an emphasis on skill development and total football. Many Kerry supporters will be delighted with that and will wonder what other elements must be included in The Kerry Way, the fast highway to title No. 38 in Croke Park.

If KME keep that up, will we see the day when an immigrant MEK player will be flown home for a weekend to slot straight into the Kerry team, having played in Dubai?

KME  had their first tournament game last weekend in temperatures of around 25 degrees. We would term that a heatwave in Ireland. The temperature at the Kerry v Dublin game tomorrow night will be about 4 degrees. Brrr!

Dubai is mostly of the Muslin religion so match/tournament days are usually on Saturday/Sunday to avoid the Muslim Sabbath, which is Friday.

KME have set out their stall with lofty aims. They do not confine membership to Kerry women and men.

With the ever increasing number of young Irish women and men emigrating to the UAE, it  doesn’t surprise me in the least that there are more women playing GAA in the UAE than men, because most of the expats there are teachers and here in Ireland the profession is dominated by females.

There are 35,518 female teachers in national schools and just 6,494 male teachers. At post-primary level there are 15,367 female teachers and 6,991 males.

Too many of the talented teaching graduates find it difficult to be appointed to a permanent teaching post after graduating in Ireland so a significant number emigrate, especially to places such as Dubai, an exciting city in the UAE.

As of December 2021, the Middle East GAA has 1,478 Irish members and a further 199 from other nationalities. Breaking the Irish members down further there are 710 playing ladies football, 23 in camogie and 129 dual players. Compare that to the cohort of active male members: out of a total of 775 players, 549 play football and 117 play hurling. There are 109 dual players.

Does it surprise you in light of the statistics shown above that the top occupations of the immigrants are 1,318 for teaching? And you can be sure that the majority of these are females. IT/professional services/sales (89), engineering and construction (59), banking and finance (39), healthcare (38) account for the rest.

The top 3 home counties of these Irish are Cork (90), Kerry (60), and Dublin (54). Is it any wonder that the drain on Kerry GAA players, male and female, to the Middle East and elsewhere, makes it hard to compete with the Dubs?

It has a population of well over a million, making those five-or-six-in-a-rows extra hard to achieve for Kerry and other counties. Food for thought for Kerry sport and indeed for our politicians.

But enough statistics for this week. Part 2 of GAA in Dubai and elsewhere in our next edition on February 11.

Idir an dá linn I expect Kerry to beat Dublin tomorrow night even without the service as of their most valuable defender Gavin White. He will be lucky if the mighty physio Jimmy Galvin has that hamstring injury cleared up by Round 3 of the National League.

ALL-IRELAND FINALS

Best of luck to Kilmoyley hurlers in their bid for a first ever All-Ireland club title. The same goes for Gneeveguilla in Croke Park. Four goals in the first half of last weekend's semi-final showed what the Sliabh Luachra men are capable of. But tabhair aire. Rosie did climb those hallowed steps for Sam. So, too, can you, but All-Ireland finals are never easy to win.

The cows may not be milked for days if you do it. Give Tim Joe and Jimmy O’Brien a reason to take out the rosary beads. Prayer does work. Good luck.

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Kerry Camogie vow to back players in shorts/skorts controversy

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by Adam Moynihan

The Kerry County Board will back their players if they decide to defy the rulebook and wear shorts after officials at the Camogie Association’s National Congress voted to keep the controversial skort.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry Camogie chairperson Ann Marie Russell confirmed that she is fully behind the players, the vast majority of whom want the skort to be binned.

“I know there have been calls for a protest, that they would all go out the first weekend of the championship and wear shorts,” Russell said. “If the players felt that was something they wanted to do, Kerry Camogie would absolutely support them.

“It should be up to the people who it affects. It doesn’t matter to me what the players wear or what they look like. They should be comfortable.”

The punishment for not wearing the correct playing gear is a yellow card which can be followed by a red card for dissent if not rectified.

Players say the skirt-like garment is not comfortable and they were hopeful that it would finally become a thing of the past when the issue was raised at Congress in Kildare last weekend.

However, a motion by Tipperary and Kerry to replace it with shorts was defeated by 64% to 36%. A similar proposal by Great Britain and Meath which would have given players the option to choose between skorts and shorts also fell well short of the two-thirds majority required (55% against, 45% in favour).

Voting was carried out by delegates from the various county boards as well as members of central and provincial councils. The majority of voters were female.

As one of Kerry’s two delegates, Russell confirmed that she voted in line with the players’ wishes, but she fears that delegates from some counties didn’t do likewise.

“Our job as delegates is to speak on behalf of the players and I definitely felt as though that wasn’t reflected by some of the other counties. I don’t know any girl in any age group at any level that goes to training in a skort. That, in itself, should speak volumes to the powers that be. Even the counties that wanted to keep the skorts, there’s no way their girls go training in skorts. I know they don’t.

“When camogie first started, women weren’t allowed to wear pants, so they had no choice but to wear skirts. They were longer at the time and things have evolved since then. The design is better. But there is a misconception that there are shorts underneath the skirts so ‘what’s the big deal?’ They’re not shorts, they’re compression shorts. That’s not the same thing.

“And look, I’m not wearing the skorts so it doesn’t matter to me. You have to listen to the players. That’s what I feel.

“We’re making decisions that really have little relevance to us, so we really have to take our players’ opinions into it. I’m not sure how many delegates go back and ask their players about these motions before they vote on them.”

Also speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry senior player Niamh Leen outlined the specific issues players have with the skort.

“If you went around the country, I guarantee you that you’d only find a handful of girls actually training in a skort,” the Clanmaurice woman said. “I’ve never been to a training session where someone was wearing a skort. We’re all in shorts.

“The practical side of it is that they’re really uncomfortable. They’re constantly rising up and I spend the majority of the match pulling the skort down instead of concentrating on the game. It shouldn’t be that way.”

According to Leen, the discomfort felt by players is not just physical. There is also a psychological discomfort involved.

“I am very paranoid about the skort, especially the length. You spend a lot of time bending over to pick up the ball and I am conscious of it. Even if you size up, it’s still too short. The only way to counteract it is to wear Skins (base layer) underneath which I don’t really like doing because that’s not overly comfortable either.

“It should be a players’ vote at the end of the day. We’re the ones who actually have to wear them and we should be the ones having the say. But, unfortunately, it’s not up to us.

“It’s very, very annoying. I could use harsher words but it is just frustrating, you know? We’ve wanted this motion to be passed for so many years.

“Nobody I know likes playing in a skort and it’s frustrating that our own organisation aren’t taking the players into account.”

This is not the first time a proposal to replace the skort has been rejected and players will have to wait another three years for the next Congress to try to alter the rules on an official basis.

Leen believes that she and her colleagues should not have to wait that long and questions the reasoning of those delegates who voted to keep the status quo.

“Honestly, I think it’s to keep the tradition and to keep us unique, and maybe they see the skorts as being more feminine, which is just mind-boggling for me. I just don’t understand how that could be a reason to keep something that’s making girls uncomfortable.

“I understand that it’s the tradition, but sometimes traditions have to move on.”

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MATCH PREVIEW: Kerry name strong team for league final showdown with Armagh

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by Adam Moynihan

Lidl National League Division 1 Final

Kerry v Armagh

Sunday 3pm

Croke Park

Live on TG4

The Kerry ladies return to Croke Park on Sunday hoping to retain their Division 1 crown and managers Declan Quill and Darragh Long have named a strong-looking line-up for their battle against Armagh.

Kerry mostly used the league for experimenting but they still managed to win five of their seven matches, enough to secure a top two finish.

Now almost all of The Kingdom’s big hitters are back in play, as evidenced by the team they have selected for this weekend’s Division 1 decider at HQ.

Eleven members of the side that lost to Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland final have been selected to start against Armagh. The four “new” starters are goalkeeper Mary Ellen Bolger, full back Deirdre Kearney, midfielder Mary O’Connell and full forward Emma Dineen.

Dineen has rejoined the panel following a spell abroad and has slotted seamlessly into Kerry’s full forward line. She will be flanked by Footballer of the Year Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh and the skilful Hannah O’Donoghue, who scored 1-2 against Galway a fortnight ago.

The only really notable absentee – apart from veterans like Emma Costello and Louise Galvin who haven’t yet featured for the team in 2024 – is Síofra O’Shea. The dynamic attacker, who heroically came off the bench in last year’s All-Ireland despite damaging her ACL in the lead-up to the game, is still rehabbing that serious injury.

Meanwhile, the return of All-Star defender Cáit Lynch bolsters Kerry’s back six. The Castleisland Desmonds woman has been used sparingly so far this year and she came on at half-time in that final regulation league game versus Galway.

Quill and Long are likely to call on substitutes Amy Harrington and Danielle O’Leary to make an impact if and when required.

Kerry’s sole loss in the league came at the hands of their final opponents, Armagh, who are looking to emulate what The Kingdom achieved last season by winning Division 1 at the first attempt after gaining promotion from Division 2 the previous season.

The Orchard County beat Kerry by 3-14 to 1-13 at the Athletic Grounds just over a month ago.

They flew through the regular phase of the 2024 competition, winning six games in a row before losing to Dublin in Round 7 with many key players being rested.

Star forward Aimee Mackin has been in blistering form. She has racked up 6-21 (4-15 from play) to date, including 2-6 (1-6 from play) in that meeting between the eventual finalists in March.

Armagh had not yet named their team for the final as this article was being published.

This match forms part of a double header with the Division 2 final between Kildare and Tyrone (1pm). Both games will be televised live on TG4.

Kerry team to play Armagh:

1. Mary Ellen Bolger (Southern Gaels)

2. Cáit Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds)

3. Deirdre Kearney (Na Gaeil)

4. Eilís Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds)

5. Aishling O’Connell (Scartaglin)

6. Ciara Murphy (MKL Gaels)

7. Kayleigh Cronin (Dr Crokes)

8. Mary O’Connell (Na Gaeil)

9. Anna Galvin (Southern Gaels)

10. Niamh Carmody (Captain – Finuge/St Senan’s)

11. Niamh Ní Chonchúir (Corca Dhuibhne)

12. Lorraine Scanlon (Castleisland Desmonds)

13. Hannah O’Donoghue (Beaufort)

14. Emma Dineen (Glenflesk)

15. Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh (Corca Dhuibhne)

Subs: Ciara Butler, Danielle O’Leary, Amy Harrington, Ciara McCarthy, Ciara O’Brien, Katie Brosnan, Aoife Dillane, Bríd O’Connor, Kate O’Sullivan, Eilís O’Connor, Fay O’Donoghue, Jess Gill, Róisín Smith, Siobhán Burns, Keri-Ann Hanrahan.

Follow Adam on Twitter/X for all the latest updates from the Ladies Division 1 final at Croke Park

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