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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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Popularity of Ladies Gaelic Football on the rise

According to official TAM Ireland figures, 491,000 tuned into TG4’s coverage of the TG4 Ladies Football finals on Sunday with an average audience of 204,900 people watching the live broadcast […]

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According to official TAM Ireland figures, 491,000 tuned into TG4’s coverage of the TG4 Ladies Football finals on Sunday with an average audience of 204,900 people watching the live broadcast of the Senior Final between Meath and Kerry.

The match had a 30.6% share of viewing among individuals. Viewing peaked at 5.10pm with 279,800 viewers as Meath closed in on the two in a row to retain the Brendan Martin Cup.

A total 46,400 attended the match in person in Croke Park on Sunday, the first TG4 Ladies Football Final to have full capacity allowance since 2019.

Viewers from over 50 countries tuned into the finals on the TG4 Player with 14,000 streams of the game from international viewers. Over 20,000 streams were also registered from Irish viewers.

TG4 Director General Alan Esslemont said: “My deepest gratitude to all the counties especially Wexford and Kerry who battled to the end through this season’s Championship, hearty congratulations to both Laois and Meath and I am really looking forward to the re-match of Antrim and Fermanagh which will be carried live on TG4. A special word of thanks goes to the huge crowd which travelled to the Finals from all the corners of Ireland. County Meath especially have become a role model for other counties in how to build huge attending support for LGFA in both genders and at all ages. Sunday’s massive expression of Meath ‘fandom’ in Croke Park brought their county the greatest credit.

Sunday’s broadcast was the 22nd edition of the TG4 Ladies Gaelic Football Championship, a unique history of a sport minoritized by society being championed by a language media minoritized by the state. By consciously standing together we have grown together. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the LGFA in 2024 let us all hope by that time that we are even further along the road towards true equality of opportunity for both Ladies Gaelic Football and Irish language media.”

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Following her World Championships debut, Leahy is hungry for more

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Adam Moynihan met Killarney sprinter Sarah Leahy at the Killarney Valley AC Arena to chat about her recent appearance at the World Championships, her goals for the rest of the year, and a very special pair of socks

Hi Sarah. Thanks for showing me around Killarney Valley’s facilities. It’s an impressive set-up.

The track facilities here are perfect. We have everything we need and Killarney Valley are always looking to improve the facilities and the club itself. All the people behind the scenes at are the MVPs, people like Jerry and Tomás Griffin, Jean Courtney, and Bríd Stack to mention just a few.

You recently competed in the World Championships in Oregon as part of the Irish 4 x 100m relay team, finishing eighth in your heat. How did you feel the event went for you?

We’re very proud of each other, and we did well, but we definitely could have run better. We had more. We were aiming for and felt we were capable of running a national record. But on the day, it just didn’t happen.

Personally, it was a great experience. I loved every second of it. But I will admit that the actual running part is a bit of a blur. I came onto the track and there’s this huge stadium, but I was more looking around at the people I was running against. Ewa Swoboda – I thought she’d win the World Indoor – she was four people away from me and I was looking at her… She was probably like, ‘Why is this woman staring at me?’ I was very nervous. But it was still amazing and I hope I can do it again.

The fact that I was running against international athletes that have been to the Olympics and been finalists, I was kind of star struck. My trainers are like, okay Sarah, calm down. You’re meant to be here. Don’t act like you shouldn’t.

Can you describe your mindset before a race? Do you often get nervous?

On the line it’s all about how you’re feeling, what you can do. You just have to get mentally prepared for a good start. Especially for me. Get out, and run as fast as you can. Just getting in the zone, I guess. I’ll know if I’m not in the zone, because I’m thinking of other things. If I’m on the blocks my head shouldn’t be wandering. It should be blank and all I should be waiting for is that gun.

Would you say that you’re an ultra competitive person?

I’m a competitive person, obviously. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be competing at this level. But I also come from a team background, and I’m friends with a lot of these girls, so I want them to do well as well. And if they happen to beat me, fair play. You put in the training, you did very well. I’m very happy for you.

We all kind of get prepared differently. A lot of people for the warm-up, which is an hour or half an hour before the race, have the earphones on, gameface on, not talking to anyone, not smiling at anyone. I’m completely different. The more nervous I am, the more I’m going to talk.

There was a situation in Greece where everyone had their earphones on and I was mad to talk to everyone. That could change but as of right now I do tend to talk a lot. And then, going on to the track, obviously there’s no more talking. You’re getting ready for the race and mentally preparing.

Tell me about the socks you wore in Oregon.

[laughs] My socks were a Valentine’s Day gift from my boyfriend, Daniel. They had his face all over them and they say ‘I love you’. So yeah, I just ran the Worlds with my boyfriend’s face on my feet. He was delighted!

Daniel was the person who pushed for me to go back to running. He knew I was no longer enjoying the football and he heard the way I spoke about athletics. He helped me make the decision to go back. It was the best decision so it was only right I wore the socks and he was there in some way. I probably wouldn’t have been there without him.

Did you have some of your own supporters over there?

Yes, my mom and dad (Marie and Mike) actually travelled over. They spent the week and it was unreal to have them there. And then my cousins from Vancouver in Canada drove down which was I think over 10 hours. I was actually warming up before the relay and then I saw and heard my family with all their Kerry jerseys, Irish jerseys, Irish flags, roaring my name. That was really nice.

What’s the plan for the rest of 2022?

I was hopeful that we were going to send a 4 x 100 relay team to the Europeans but I just got an email saying that we wouldn’t, which is disappointing. I know some of top 2022 female sprinters aren’t available but some are and with any of them we would do well over there. We would be competitive. We held our qualification of being in the top 16 teams all summer so it’s a pity that, at the last second, we aren’t going.

In saying that, the women’s Irish relay will continue to work hard and we have a lot more to give. We will prove that next year.

You’re moving to Dublin for work later this year. How will this affect your training?

I might have to change coaches again, which I’m a bit sad about because I really liked the Limerick training group (Leahy was in UL where she trained with the Hayley and Drew Harrison). I think I performed well and I loved the training. I was surrounded by the right people who were really lovely. I hope to find a group like that in Dublin and keep running well and performing better.

And what about next season?

I’d like another good indoor season. I was talking to Lauren Roy in Stockholm and she told me that I have the European standard in the 60m from last year. Which I didn’t know! So that’s kind of in my head now to try and get there, to improve my time. I think I could actually run faster. I ran 7.39 and I’d like to run at least 7.30, hopefully get another European standard, and actually go to the Europeans. I think it’s in Germany. That’d be my target.

And then next summer, there’s the Worlds again. So it’d be nice to continue making the Irish relays and definitely improve my time, because there’s more. I can definitely run faster over 100.

What is your current PB in the 100m? Are you close to bettering it?

I ran 11.67, which I was delighted with. But it was my first run of the season. It’s quite rare that you run a PB in the season opener. But I ran it, and I haven’t ran it since. The closest was 11.70 in Switzerland. So I definitely think there’s more in there. And I think I have a lot to learn as well. I’m still new to the sport and I’m a powerful kind of runner. I was doing a lot of gym work at the beginning of the year, before I ran my PB, and then afterwards usually people taper it off. So I did what other people do. I think that affected my running a little bit. I’m slightly weaker. So I’ve learned that maybe next year I shouldn’t do that. Then hopefully I’ll be running PB after PB, instead of just a one-off.

Onwards and upwards. Chat to you again soon.

Thanks Adam!

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