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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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‘There’s definitely more in me’ – Leahy feeling positive after close-run thing at nationals

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Kerry woman Sarah Leahy chats to Adam Moynihan about her recent outing at the National Outdoor Championships in Dublin. The Killarney Valley AC sprinter competed with the best of the best, including new Irish record holder Rhasidat Adeleke.

Adam Moynihan: You recently took part in the 100m final at the National Championships. How was that experience for you?

Sarah Leahy: Atmosphere-wise it was absolutely amazing. Just very good energy all around. And coming out for the final, obviously, Rhasidat brought a massive crowd. So that was really cool to be a part of because I don’t think there’s ever been a crowd that big at nationals before. To be in the final where so many people were there to watch her was obviously amazing.

What about the race itself?

I came fifth and ran a time of 11.74. On the day, with the whole excitement of it all, I was actually really happy with that. I was a bit disappointed but I was like, it’s a great day overall. I ran well, didn’t get a medal but I was really close. I didn’t get the perfect start like I did in the heat. So I was a little bit behind, but I just managed to come fifth in the end.

A week on, the excitement has kind of worn off, and I think there’s definitely a lot more in me. I could’ve pipped the third place But yeah, it is what it is. It was still good. I’m happy with it.

It was very tight for third place, wasn’t it?

Yeah, it was two-or-three-hundredths of a second and it was a blanket finish for four of us. So it was close but no cigar. Not this time. I came fifth last year as well, so I was hoping for at least fourth this year, but it ended up being the same. At least it wasn’t sixth! And there’s definitely more in me as well. Time-wise I’m just waiting for it to kind of happen a little bit. I believe it will. It was amazing to be in a race where a national record was broken.

And the standard was obviously very high across the board. All the big names were there.

It was a very high standard, yeah. Going in we kind of knew that first and second were gone (to Adeleke and Sarah Lavin). Everyone else was battling for that third medal and only one person could get it in the end. (Mollie O’Reilly got the bronze.) We were all close.

But overall I was super grateful to be in the mix, especially in a race that was that big. It’s one that will go down in history. It was a massive weekend and it was very enjoyable.

Rhasidat is a massive superstar now. What’s it like to run alongside her?

Rhasidat is a great athlete and a very nice girl. As you can see in interviews, she’s very humble. So to compete next to her, to literally be running in the lane right beside her, was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for more from the day in that respect. I thought she might have ran sub-11 because she did it before but she still got a national record. To be part of that race was a big deal for me.

Athletics in Ireland seems to be in a good place, particularly after the success the Irish team had in the recent European Championships in Rome. Does it feel like the sport is getting more attention and more recognition these days?

Oh 100%. Support for athletics has grown hugely in the last few years and I think it’ll continue to grow, especially with the success that Ireland had at the European Championships. I think the Olympics this year is going to drive that on even more because we have such great athletes going. The support is growing and rightfully so. The athletes are really getting the recognition they deserve. I think the future is very exciting for athletics in Ireland.

What about your own career? What’s next for you?

I have one last race of the season left, which is at the AAI Games on Sunday in Dublin. I’m hoping to just get a good run out, a good time, and execute the race well. Training will continue until the end of July, I’ll get a month off, and then we’re back training for indoors next year. I love indoors. I think I excel at that. There’s European Indoors and World Indoors next year, so to qualify for them would be a huge, huge goal.

As for outdoors, I’d like to get on the Irish relay team, but I’ll be focussing on indoors first. It should be a good year.

Are you enjoying it?

Yeah, I’m really enjoying it. I think sometimes you might put too much pressure on yourself and try to get a PB in every race but this year I’ve really learned that I’ve done the training, so it will happen when it happens. Just go out and run and let your body do its thing. And I’m actually really enjoying competing this year. I know I’m going to continue enjoying it for the next few years.

With the surrounding support of the club and coaches and my training group, it’s all going really well for me at the moment. I have no complaints at all. I’m very lucky.

Thanks for your time, Sarah, and all the best for the rest of the season.

Thank you very much, Adam. It was lovely talking to you.

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Kingdom ladies hoping for repeat performance against Royals

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LGFA All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final

Kerry v Meath

Saturday 5.15pm

Austin Stack Park

Live on TG4

Just like they did in 2023, the Kerry ladies will take on Meath in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Tralee this weekend and a repeat of the result they earned that wintry day 12 months ago will do just fine.

Last year’s encounter at Stack Park was a classic game of two halves as the home team ran up a 10-point lead with the unseasonable elements at their collective back.

Meath, who at the time were on the hunt for their third All-Ireland in a row, fought back admirably in the second period but the Kerry women held firm and won by four (2-8 to 0-10) after an emotionally charged final quarter.

Síofra O’Shea was Kerry’s top scorer on the day with 1-1 and her return from injury in recent weeks is a major boost to Darragh Long and Declan Quill’s squad.

The Kingdom made light work of Meath when the sides met in the league in March as Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh kicked 0-8 in a 1-15 to 0-5 victory. Shane McCormack’s charges subsequently lost to Dublin in the Leinster final by 18 points before finishing second to Armagh in the All-Ireland group stage.

Marion Farrelly, Emma Duggan and Meadhbh Byrne caught the eye in their recent win over Tipperary, combining for 2-11 of the team’s total of 2-15.

Former Player of the Year Vikki Wall could be in line for a dramatic comeback after a spell with the Ireland Rugby Sevens team.

As for Kerry, they should arrive at the last eight in decent spirits having put in their best display of the season so far against Waterford three weeks ago. The Munster champions were excellent and eventually ran out 4-13 to 0-9 winners with skilful forward Hannah O’Donoghue (1-3) and all-action half back Aishling O’Connell (0-2) particularly impressive.

Meath are a capable opponent on their day, though, so another professional performance will be required if Kerry want to keep their All-Ireland dream alive.

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