It’s championship season in Kerry. Sixteen of our finest football teams going head to head for the county’s biggest prize, the Bishop Moynihan trophy. And, in a win for the nostalgists, it’s straight knockout for the first time since 2001. What more could you ask for?
Well, being allowed through the gate to actually witness the action would be a start.
The recent spike in COVID-19 cases in this country has led to stricter measures which will be enforced over the coming month or so, and the world of sport is no exception. The previous figure of 200 spectators (which in reality was only 80 once players, management, club officials, match officials, county board officials, media and stewards were accounted for) has been cut to zero as all matches are to be staged behind closed doors until September 13.
It’s a difficult one to get the head around. The issue apparently centres around fans congregating before and after matches, as opposed to problems with social distancing in the stands and terraces while the matches themselves are taking place. I can’t speak about the country, or even Kerry, as a whole, but I’ve attended a number of games in Killarney in recent weeks and I must say that I just haven’t seen that happening. Like, at all.
The GAA are understandably perplexed by the new measures and they have asked for “empirical evidence” linking their matches with the recent rise in cases. It will be interesting to see if that evidence exists.
At least we can take some comfort in the fact that the Kerry Senior Football Championship is actually going ahead because that alone seemed fairly unlikely at certain stages earlier on in the year.
Perhaps understandably, much of the pre-tournament talk revolves around the champions, East Kerry. Last October’s triumph may have been the divisional side’s first title for 20 years but it was so emphatic, and their squad looked so strong, there are fears in some quarters that this year’s County Championship could be a foregone conclusion.
Of course there are a few clubs who might have something to say about that but if David Clifford and co. do manage to go back-to-back in 2020, you can bet your life that the calls to deamalgamate the Eastern bloc will intensify.
That won’t perturb manager Jerry O’Sullivan or his players (for the time being at least); their focus will be on the Round 1 match-up against the tournament’s rank outsiders, Feale Rangers.
Without being too unkind to Rangers, it would be fair to say that the odds are against them.
The men from North Kerry have a poor enough record in recent times: in the past five years they have won just two of their 11 matches with their last victory coming in 2017.
They failed to advance beyond the preliminary round last time out following a nine-point defeat to St Kieran’s. It’s safe to say that East Kerry was the last name they wanted to see coming out of the hat and if they manage to beat the holders on Saturday, it would surely constitute one of the biggest upsets in the competition’s history.
One player to keep an eye on is Barry Mahony of St Senan’s. The skilful midfielder got called into the extended Kerry panel this year and he looks to be a very talented operator.
However, with Rathmore and Kilgarvan players now added to the roster, and Dara Moynihan and Dan O’Brien returning from injury, the East Kerry dream team will take some beating.
BLACK AND AMBER
Whenever Dr Crokes meet Austin Stacks, it’s more than the colours that clash. This Tralee/Killarney rivalry is as fierce as they come and when they were drawn to face one another in the first round of the championship, it drew oohs and ahs the length and breadth of the county.
Dr Crokes will naturally be disappointed with how the Club Championship played out for them. Losing to Kenmare, in what was effectively a semi-final, with the last kick of the game was a tough way to go down and it won’t have done much for the confidence. Ideally, they would have preferred a handier tie in Round 1 to get back in their groove but instead they must overcome a vibrant Stacks team to keep their championship ambitions alive.
Stacks will play Kenmare in that club final once both clubs’ involvement in the Kerry SFC comes to an end but the Rockies will be hoping to put that particular fixture on the back burner for another few weeks if they can.
Momentum is certainly on their side. They were terrific against Legion in that must-win game two weeks ago with Joe O’Connor and Brendan O’Sullivan impressing at centre field. That 8 and 9 pairing will provide a very stern test for Crokes midfielders Mark O’Shea and Johnny Buckley. Gaining the upper hand in this particular department could prove crucial.
In another appetising all-club match, Legion will take on Kerins O’Rahilly’s in a battle between two of the more mercurial teams in Kerry.
All-in-all it was a poor enough Club Championship for Legion. They didn’t really reach their potential in any of their three games and they can have no arguments with where they ended up in the Group 2 table. James O’Donoghue is obviously the focal point of the team; he was Man of the Match in their sole victory over Kilcummin and when injury led to reduced minutes against Dingle and Stacks, the East Kerry champions found the going tough. His availability or otherwise for the County Championship will be massive.
Podge O’Connor is apparently close to making his comeback from injury and that would be a huge bonus for Stephen Stack and his management team.
For their part, Rahilly’s weren’t as bad in the Club Championship as their final day predicament might have suggested. Yes, they needed a result versus Templenoe to avoid the relegation playoff but they should have beaten Kenmare and they gave Crokes enough of it too.
They have a strong enough spine, especially if Tommy Walsh is available for selection, and they will fancy their chances against Legion.
Given the unpredictable nature of these two teams, it’s a very hard game to call. So I won’t.
Kilcummin have a tricky tie against the side they beat in last year’s losers round, Mid Kerry.
The 2019 All-Ireland Intermediate champions have been unlucky with injuries. Their main forward, Kevin McCarthy, only made his first start in the final Club Championship group game against Dingle, and that tie mattered little as their spot in the relegation playoff had already been confirmed. Key midfielder Kieran Murphy was forced off early in the Legion game and he has naturally been missed since, although, to be fair to them, Kilcummin gave a very good account of themselves even without two of their star players.
Kerry underage stars Paul O'Shea and Seán O'Leary appear to be continuing on their upward trajectory and free-taking forward Noel Duggan has been consistent in front of the posts, so there are certainly reasons to be optimistic heading into the County Championship.
Of course, the relegation playoff versus Templenoe looms large but that fixture is not 100% confirmed just yet; if Dan Leary's team can reach the county final they will secure their senior status for another year. It may seem like a tall order but the straight knockout format could throw up one or two shocks. 2020 could be a year for the underdog.
Club finalists Kenmare Shamrocks host Shannon Rangers and, riding a wave as they are, they will be strong favourites to get the better of the divisional side made up of Asdee, Ballydonoghue, Ballyduff, Ballylongford, Beale and Tarbert.
Elsewhere, St Brendan’s, who made great strides last year and even beat the eventual winners in Round 1, take on West Kerry, St Kieran's face South Kerry and Dingle welcome club counterparts Templenoe to Páirc an Ághasaigh.
The gates may be closed but supporters will still be able to watch six of the eight matches live either online or on national television (details below).
It’s not as good as the real thing, but at least it’s something.
Main pic: Shane Cronin of East Kerry in action against Diarmuid O'Connor of St Brendan's. Pic: Séamus Healy.
No reform for football championship as Plan B falls short
by Adam Moynihan
There will be no radical change for the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship in 2022 after a motion to restructure the format of the competition failed at GAA Special Congress on Saturday afternoon.
Motion 19 (also referred to as ‘Proposal B’ or ‘Plan B’) proposed that the National League and All-Ireland Championship should become one competition, with the provincial championships being separated from the All-Ireland series for the first time ever.
The motion needed support from 60% of delegates but, contrary to projections, it fell well short of that majority. In the end, after an hour-and-a-quarter of debate, just 50.6% of voters opted for Plan B.
Plan A – four groups of eight “provinces” plus an All-Ireland series – garnered far less support. 90% of those present voted against that particular proposal, which was down as Motion 18 on the agenda.
The end result of the two failed motions is that intercounty football will revert to the status quo as it was before the Super 8s were introduced in 2018, with a qualifier or “back door” system in place. A second tier competition known as the Tailteann Cup will also be staged.
Introducing Motion 19 to delegates at Croke Park, former GAA President John Horan described the proposal as a starting point.
“If we feel we need to improve it, that opportunity would be there,” he said. “This proposal will mean more matches for our players and a better playing to training ratio.”
CEO of the Gaelic Players Association Tom Parsons said the ‘league as championship’ model would spark life into Gaelic football, before reading the testimonies of some intercounty players who supported Plan B. Among them was current Kerry captain Paul Murphy, who was quoted as saying: “The time has come to try a new structure for our football championship.”
Parsons added that some players are being “laughed at” while wearing county tracksuits after suffering heavy defeats.
Former GAA President and ex-Kerry GAA Chairman Seán Kelly also spoke out in favour of Proposal B, suggesting that it should be trialled for a period of three years.
“If you stand still, you go backwards,” the Kilcummin native said. “This motion should be trialled for a maximum of three years and then reviewed. To turn our backs on the voice of the players does not make sense to me.”
Michael Duignan from Offaly, Colm Collins from Clare, Seán Carroll from Sligo, Kevin O’Donovan from Cork and Declan Bohan from Leitrim all backed the proposal.
Representatives from Mayo, Donegal, Antrim, Cavan, Derry, Monaghan and Armagh argued against.
Mayo GAA Chairman Liam Moffatt raised concerns about the sixth place team in Division 1 not qualifying for the All-Ireland series while teams from lower divisions would.
Tiernach Mahon of Fermanagh GAA said that “this motion has the potential to destroy the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of Fermanagh people”.
Meanwhile, Kerry GAA chair Tim Murphy called for Motion 19 to be voted on at Congress 2022 instead.
“It’s a really strong motion with really good attributes and something we should really consider. But I would caveat that by saying it would be a travesty today if the motion is put to the floor and defeated. All the work of the committee would go to waste.
“The sense I get from the floor is that everybody is for change and for us to grow and evolve as an Association we have to accept that. I do feel the motion has huge attributes, but maybe we should go around to the provinces and invite in county officers and players to have their view. If we come back in 12 or 13 weeks with the same motion, then no-one can say we haven’t discussed it properly.
“Perhaps bringing this motion to Congress 2022 is the best solution to the situation we find ourselves in.”
Bringing the debate to a close, Horan again urged delegates to back the proposal.
His pleas fell on deaf ears, however – at least for 83 of the 168 people in attendance. 100 ‘yes’ votes were needed for change, but Motion 19 received just 85.
A lover of music and song: Jimmy O’Brien RIP
Eamonn Fitzgerald remembers the late Jimmy O’Brien, the eminently popular bar owner, singer and GAA fan who left an indelible mark on the town of Killarney.
Publican Jimmy O’Brien was laid to rest at sunny Aghadoe on Monday last. He wouldn’t want any fuss, but he got his promise from his lifelong friend, Jimmy Doyle. Jimmy was on the button accordion playing ‘Mary from Bonane’, a firm favourite, and even more so in recent weeks when Bonane native Seán O’Shea was kicking points from all angles.
After his love for his family, nothing meant more to Jimmy O’Brien than football, music and song.
Born in the town land of Lyreatough, Kilcummin in 1932, he attended the local Anabla NS and was well inducted in the various stages of getting the turf from sleán to the reek in the haggard. He was of the bog and proud of it. But he knew it was very hard work and headed for town, specifically Culloty’s Garage at Fair Hill (now Killarney Hardware). There he learned his trade as a mechanic. He didn’t boast about it but was very proud of the papers he received to certify him as fully qualified.
Like so many more people of that time, he was taken to America by Patrick Cronin in 1956 and was home for good in 1961. He must have collected a fair fistful of dollars and held on to them because, when Conno Healy’s pub came up for sale in 1959 (across the road from Culloty’s), he bought it. He returned home to open up Jimmy O’Brien’s pub along with his wife, Mary.
The family came along in due course – Siobhán, Ann and Jim – and the business grew. All went well until September 29, 1994, when his beloved Mary passed away aged 61. Too young to die and it hit him hard. No wonder; wasn’t she his life and soul?
His three children, the bar and his twin loves of football and song kept him going. He had no time for soccer, recounting times he would go up to the Friary, say the rosary, and still no score when he returned.
He was an ardent supporter of the Kerry football teams, but even more passionate about club football. Which was his club?
Set the scene in the Fair Hill bar, with a nice crowd inside. That’s the way he liked it – he got a bit flustered if it became jam-packed. It’s summer time and the O’Donoghue Cup draw has been published.
Johnny Batt (Cronin) was the instigator, and his Spa club mates the Herlihy brothers (Dave and William) stirred it further. Who was Jimmy going to support in the forthcoming matches, in which the rivalry would be intense? Mick Gleeson was as philosophical as ever; he knew better than to try and win this one.
The McCarthy brothers from Gneeveguilla, Thado, Joe and Billy, were in fast to lay claim to the boss of the house. After all, wasn’t he reared in the traditions of Sliabh Luachra and one of its finest sean-nós singers? Rosy was far more definite. Gneeveguilla, of course, I have to say.
Kilcummin’s Dermot Moynihan was in no doubt about how the allegiance would stand. After all, Jimmy was born in the parish, went to school in the parish and the parish rule was, and still is, sacrosanct in Kerry football.
The odds favoured the country clubs and were stacked against the townies. Weeshie Fogarty was a regular and he had lined Jimmy up for Terrace Talk.
His daughter, Ann, married Harry O’Neill (Dr Crokes), Tom Long was his gun club friend traipsing around Cock Hill and not a word out of him, but beside him supping porter and watching the scene develop was Mike Cooper, the man who was born just inside the county bounds and was now living in Killarney. The Crokes are the team, said Mike, his chest swelling with pride. He had just returned from Cahersiveen where Dr Crokes had defied the odds to beat the Maurice Fitzgerald-led South Kerry team in the Kerry County Championship. Five of his sons played the full match to secure victory. But I thought there were only four?
“No, I have five, all good, but the youngest is only a slip of a lad. You’d think you’d blow him over, but the foxy boy will be the best of all of them.” How right he was. The boy became a man and won five All-Irelands with Kerry. Crokes went on to win the 2000 Kerry SFC, managed by Harry O’Neill, Jimmy’s son-in-law.
How was the proprietor going to get out of this one before the gallery of rogues? Sure, he was the greatest rogue of all himself, but we loved him for it.
Everyone looked to Jimmy for an answer, but he turned to another regular, the independent voice of Bracker, from the Rock.
Plenty of grimacing and carry on, but no answer to Johnny Batt’s question. Jimmy O’Brien had the knack of not falling out with anyone and he couldn’t win this one, so he carried confirmation of club allegiance with him to his grave.
I’m pretty sure it is Gneeveguilla, in the heart of Sliabh Luachra, which made Jimmy O’Brien a household name in traditional music, especially with his lifelong ‘brother’ Jimmy Doyle. He embraced the greatness of Julia Clifford, Denis Murphy, Johnny O’Leary, the Doyle brothers and many more.
What’s more, he enhanced that marvellous tradition, not in playing, but in singing. I asked Jimmy Doyle at the graveside about Jimmy on the melodeon. “Oh, he could play… But he was only alright! But for singing he was tops, pure and just outstanding. He could interpret a song so well. You wouldn’t hear a pin drop when he sang unaccompanied.”
Is it any wonder that his pub in Fair Hill was a mecca for traditional singers and musicians? They came to the master’s pub for a session.
Paddy Moloney, chief of The Chieftains, was a regular caller; as were The Dubliners; and the Kelly brothers, Luke of ‘Raglan Road’ and Paddy, who was also a beautiful singer. When Paddy was head of the Trade Unions, they held their conferences in Killarney’s Great Southern Hotel. Business over, they trooped down to O’Brien’s. The pint was much cheaper there and they would have a right session singing, and what are you having yourself, sir?
Dolly McMahon, The Wolfe Tones, and the Begley’s all came to sing and play.
There were so many impromptu sessions and you’d get the discreet phone call that the session had already started. “Come, you’ll enjoy it, but ná h-abair focal to anyone.” What an invitation to listen to musical greats from the list above.
“Johnny O’Leary and the Doyles will be here around 10. We have Seán Ó Sé (Poc ar Buile), Johnny Lehane and Diarmaidín Ó Súillabháin will be here from Cúl Aodh. He’ll have the recorder for Radio na Gaeltachta.”
Regular visitors were Mick O’Connell, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, Donncha Ó Dulaing and Cíarán Mac Mathúna. Thankfully, Ciarán recorded so many of Jimmy’s songs, preserving this priceless legacy for the Irish oral tradition.
And then there were the American tourists drawn to a real Irish pub. They wanted ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Galway Bay’. They also wanted to know what music college from which the vintner graduated. The prime boys from UCC provided him with the answer for the Yanks question. The University of Sliabh Luachra, with its constituent college in Lyreatough. “Wow, fancy that. Must Google that when we get back to the States.”
My friendship with Jimmy O’Brien goes back a long ways, but specifically to November 1969, when East Kerry won the second of their Kerry SFC titles and the Bishop Moynihan Cup had pride of place.
He introduced me to so many people, including Con Houlihan, sitting in the high seat inside the door, hair well down his back, no pigtail and his hand cupped to his nose. This genius of a wordsmith was a shy man that I met many times later in Dublin.
Just like Paddy Moloney, Jimmy shared his talents with so many young up and coming singers who went on to great things in life. I recall one such case. A very young nervous girl was preparing for her first time on stage, a recitation in Scór. Would he help her out?
Would he what? Bring her along. To this day the now adult woman recalls sitting up on that seat inside the door and this gentle, loving man encouraging her with great tips.
That seat is long gone, but not the bar stand. He splashed out on a magnificent mahogany piece, surplus to the requirements of the Great Southern. “That’s not like you,” says Johnny Batt. “What’ll you use it for?”
“It’ll be a fine bar counter,” Jimmy replied. “And what’s more, when its job is done, won’t it make a fine coffin?”
He was a great Friary man and the highlight of St Patrick’s Day was the singing of the Ár nAthair. Father and daughter, Jimmy and Siobhán, the All-Ireland champion singer unaccompanied in touching harmony. Flawless. Enchanting.
His relationship with his son Jim was more like that of brothers, looking after each other. They got great joy out of travelling to matches in the ageless red Mercedes, certainly the only one in Killarney, if not in Europe. He never got a parking ticket and definitely was never caught for speeding. I’m convinced that the former mechanic set cruise control at 40km and away she went with co-pilot Jim Bob. No need for GPS, Jim Bob in control. God help the poor motorist trying to pass out on the rural roads.
July was his favourite month to live his passions. The Munster final in Killarney on the first Sunday of July was the occasion to meet so many of his friends from afar. It was also the first day of the Willie Clancy festival at Miltown–Malbay and that ran for a week. He never missed it, linking up with Galway hurlers Joe McDonagh and the Connolly brothers and especially their aunts and uncles, the Jimmy O’Brien cultivators of traditional singing and music in Connemara. It was his spiritual retreat. Sustenance for another year.
His nephew, Fr Liam O’Brien, celebrated the touching funeral mass, enhanced by the singing of Maura Reen.
I had the good fortune to spend an hour with Jimmy less than a fortnight before he died. He wanted to know the inside story on Jack O’Connor’s return and then sang ‘The Boys of Bárr na Sráide’ and Garry McMahon’s ‘Kerry’s Green and Gold’.
Pitch perfect. Word perfect. Never a faltering note.
“Not bad for an ould fella,” were his parting words. He knew he could still do it and I was so happy to video live the Master of Songs, treasured recordings for the memory bank.
I wonder if St Peter will listen in on the hop balls between new neighbours, Johnny Batt and Jimmy O’Brien?
To Siobhán, Ann, Jim and extended families, as well as friends from far and near, comhbhrón ó chroí.
Traditional cultural Ireland has lost some great people in recent weeks: Tony Loughnane, Paddy Moloney, Máire Mac an tSaoí, Brendan Kennelly and Jimmy O’Brien. Class acts.
And Jimmy, go gcloisfidh tú na h-aingil ag déanamh ceoil leat ar Neamh.
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