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Kerry need to cultivate a ruthless defensive culture

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by Adam Moynihan

Stephen O’Brien’s disallowed goal. Seán O’Shea’s pass to David Clifford. Peter Harte’s block on Killian Spillane. Paudie Clifford’s fisted effort. The rebound from Darragh Canavan’s shot. Jack Barry’s attempted clearance. Tommy Walsh’s final kick.

If any one of those individual moments had gone Kerry’s way, we could well be looking forward to an All-Ireland final next weekend.

But as fine as the margins were, the bottom line is that the performance itself was not good enough to get the job done, and no one will be feeling that sting as keenly as the players themselves, and the management. Where they are this week is a rough spot to be in. I suppose having people like me sifting through the wreckage of their broken dreams will do little to help in that regard.

This is Kerry, though. Standards are high (often unrealistically so), and that’s why we’re still on top of the honours list.

So, let us sift.

WANTING IT

During RTÉ’s coverage of the match, Pat Spillane said that Tyrone “wanted it more”. He even insisted that Cathal McShane scored his goal because he wanted to get to the rebound more than his marker, Jason Foley, did. With all due respect to Pat, who is one of the greatest Kerry players of all time, that, to my mind, is a truly abysmal piece of analysis.

First of all, to say that Jason Foley didn’t want to get to that loose ball as much as McShane did is ridiculous. The ball popped up directly to the Tyrone man and there was nothing Foley or anyone else could have done about it. “Wanting it” didn’t enter into the equation.

Spillane’s wider point about Tyrone wanting it more is nonsense too. Kerry put in a huge shift and they showed great heart to fight back from five down in ET to almost force penalties. Saying that a team didn’t want it as much as the opposition is effectively saying that they didn’t try hard enough.

I would like to see the look on the Kerry players’ faces if Spillane made his way down to the sideline during extra time and shouted, “Come on, lads! Try harder!”

CULTURE

What I will say is that the Tyrone team’s culture, particularly their defensive culture, allowed them to go to a place that Kerry simply could not. I firmly believe that Kerry gave their version of 100% effort without the ball, but their version of 100% is different to Tyrone’s. The Ulster champions were absolutely ravenous on Saturday, smothering Kerry’s ball-carriers and tackling with ferocious intensity.

(I must say, I thought the referee’s fairly lax enforcement of the laws of the game favoured the Red Hand in this regard. That sounds like sour grapes, and I suppose it is, but it was a factor on the day.)

This ferocity was the winning of the game for Tyrone. They all but nullified the threat of Kerry’s playmaker, Paudie Clifford (although Paudie kept battling and was influential during extra time), they forced turnover after turnover, and, ultimately, they kept a clean sheet. Seeing Tyrone aggressively repel Kerry at one end while cheap goals were shipped at the other probably prompted a lot of Kerry fans to think, “why can’t we do that?” And it could well be where Spillane was coming from with his comments.

It was not due to a lack of effort, though, or not caring. To my mind Kerry’s defensive problems boil down to not having (A) a defensive structure that’s fit for purpose and (B) the right defensive culture.

The former is a coaching issue and whoever is in charge of Kerry in 2022 needs to nail that down as quickly as possible.

The latter is more nebulous but, in short, it appears to me as though some of the players don’t revel in defending like players from the other top teams do. Runs from deep go unchecked or untracked. Holes are not plugged. Marks are not left on opposition dangermen. And there is a distinct absence of what can loosely be termed as the Dark Arts. This mindset of absolute ruthlessness has to come from the top down. I just don’t see enough evidence of it in this current Kerry team.

SPOILERS

The panel is overflowing with ballers, but there is a shortage of spoilers. Players who are willing to do anything, and I mean anything, to prevent the opposition from scoring. Tyrone seemed to have a panel full of those guys last weekend. They stopped runs at the source. They interrupted Kerry’s gameplan using any means necessary. They were cynical, and they rejoiced in that cynicism. They took joy from the notion that they might destroy their opposite number’s day and Kerry’s year.

Mayo have players like this who will step over the line if needs be. Dublin have them. Cork had them last November. Kerry don’t, and they don’t appear to have the culture in place that will promote or encourage these types of individuals either.

Until Kerry unearth a spoiler or two, or at least cultivate a culture that will motivate some of their players to spoil, they will always be susceptible to ambushes by teams who are, in pure footballing terms, inferior to them.

Engaging in the Dark Arts might not get you into Heaven but I would have thought that for a Kerry footballer, Heaven is sitting in a rural pub the Tuesday morning after an All-Ireland with Sam Maguire on the table staring up at you.

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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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