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Killarney buzzing for once-in-a-lifetime Crokes v Legion showdown

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by Adam Moynihan

Kerry Senior Club Relegation Playoff

Killarney Legion v Dr Crokes

December 5 at 12 noon

Fitzgerald Stadium

It’s county final weekend. Tralee is awash with blue and black and amber. Stack Park will be packed to the rafters for Sunday’s decider between Kerins O’Rahillys and Austin Stacks as two fierce rivals meet in one of the biggest games the county’s capital has witnessed in decades. Based on what we have seen from both teams in this year’s championship, it promises to be a fascinating encounter.

But as far as Killarney folk are concerned, that’s all small potatoes. Forget about Rahillys-Stacks. Forget about Covid. Forget about Christmas. There is only one topic up for discussion this week: Legion versus Crokes in the relegation playoff.

Barring a draw (which will result in a replay) one of the town’s biggest clubs will lose their senior status at lunchtime on Sunday.

For Legion, demotion would be a major disappointment. Ever since a talented crop of players that included James O’Donoghue, Jonathan Lyne, Brian Kelly and Podge O’Connor came of age, the Derreen outfit have harboured dreams of winning Kerry football’s top prize: the County Championship.

They came within inches of glory under Peter Keane in 2015, falling to South Kerry after extra time in a replay. Although they haven’t reached a final since, that dream is still there. Relegation would be a significant step in the wrong direction.

For Crokes, dropping down to intermediate is perhaps even more unthinkable. The team from Lewis Road are one of the traditional powerhouses of Kerry football and, after various stints with the now-defunct Dick Fitzgeralds and a combined Killarney selection, they have been out on their own in the senior championship since the 1980s.

The 13-time champions were All-Ireland finalists as recently as 2019. If they were to be relegated now, two-and-a-half years after gracing Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day, it would surely constitute one of the biggest shocks in the history of Kerry football.

Blessed as Crokes are with intercounty calibre players like Gavin White, Micheál Burns, Shane Murphy, Tony Brosnan and David Shaw, not to mention decorated veterans like John Payne, Mike Moloney, Johnny Buckley, Daithí Casey, Brian Looney and Kieran O’Leary, relegation is the last thing they would have expected.

OPTIMISTIC

Some of the more optimistic observers in our community have suggested that Legion and Crokes have too much about them and whatever happens this weekend, they will come straight back up to senior by virtue of winning the 2022 Intermediate Club Championship. The record books suggest that this is far easier said than done. Of the last 10 clubs to have been relegated, only Kilcummin have managed to return to senior. And they have since been relegated again.

Finuge, Currow, St Michael’s-Foilmore, Laune Rangers, Ardfert, Milltown-Castlemaine, An Ghaeltacht and Rathmore have thus far failed to regain their senior status.

In fact, more relegated clubs have been relegated again than have been promoted back to the top table. St Michael’s-Foilmore are now operating in the Junior Premier (third tier), as are Ardfert and Currow who meet in a relegation playoff on Saturday. The losers will join Finuge, another former senior club, in the Junior Championship (fourth tier) in 2022.

On paper, Legion or Crokes would be the strongest team in next year’s intermediate, but it is clearly not an easy competition to win. Just ask Spa.

There is also the small matter of next year’s County Championship. Becoming an intermediate club will make either team’s players eligible to line out for the 2018 and 2019 champions, East Kerry. Although they fell at the first hurdle this time around, the argument has been made that East Kerry already have too many clubs. Adding Legion or Crokes would unquestionably strengthen their hand further still.

That’s if the footballers in question make themselves available. Ever since Crokes “qualified” for this playoff and the idea of them joining East Kerry first entered people’s minds, some fans have wondered aloud if Crokes’ players would be comfortable pulling on the colours of East Kerry when as recently as two years ago the sides were facing off in a county final.

It’s just idle gossip at this point but it might be something to keep an eye on, particularly if Crokes are defeated.

SPARED?

It is perhaps unsurprising that talk has already turned to championship structures and the opinion that there are not enough senior clubs in Kerry is currently being bandied about. Former GAA President Seán Kelly suggested on Twitter this week that there should be “at least 12”. If the number of senior clubs were to be increased for 2022, it would spare the losers of Sunday’s playoff the ignominy of being relegated at all.

While such speculation will be of comfort to Legion and Crokes supporters, who are no doubt experiencing quite a bit of discomfort at present, the reason this debate is cropping up now is fairly transparent. There may well be valid arguments for increasing the number of senior clubs, but the likes of Rathmore, Kilcummin and An Ghaeltacht will be wondering where all this commotion was when it was their necks on the line.

For the time being at least we must work off the assumption that there will be no change in the number of senior clubs next year and that one of Legion or Crokes are going down. If there is a change, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

FATE

Whoever is defeated on Sunday will lose face as all relegated teams do, but added to the mix is the fact that it will be their greatest, most hated enemies who will seal their fate.

It truly is a once in a generation game – maybe even once in a lifetime – and rain, hail or shine it is sure to draw a huge crowd to Killarney’s Theatre of Dreams. So much is at stake and emotions will be running so high that flash points are almost inevitable. Certainly on the pitch, and maybe even off it.

It might be enjoyable for the neutral (it’s safe to assume that Killarney’s third team, Spa, are not too upset about the current situation) but it is shaping up to be a match that the rest of us will have to endure rather than enjoy.

Only one club can survive. For the other, the unimaginable is about to become a reality.

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Fleming and Doherty top Killarney crew at Boggeragh

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The Boggeragh Rallysprint, organised by Cork Motor Club and based in the forest complex of the same name, took place over the Christmas break.

Based near the village of Nad, the event attracted a strong 60-plus car entry and was won by West Cork driver David Guest and his Millstreet co-driver Liam Moynihan in a Ford Fiesta Rally 2. The latter is a member of Killarney and District Motor Club.

The first all-Killarney crew to make the finish were David Fleming and Kieran Doherty in their Honda Civic. The Killarney-based crew finished 20th overall on what was only their second time competing on a gravel rally.

World Rally Championship launch

The new Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid that Craig Breen and Paul Nagle will drive in this year’s World Rally Championship is set to be unveiled on Saturday in Austria.

The World Rally Championship will undergo major environmental changes this year when new technical regulations drive the series towards a more sustainable future.

The season launch takes place at Red Bull’s headquarters near Salzburg ahead of the first round of the WRC, next week’s Rallye Monte Carlo, as a new era for the sport dawns.

Breen and Nagle will be in attendance and the launch will be live streamed on WRC.com

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Killarney Valley athletes rubbing shoulders with the best

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Killarney Valley AC continued their upward curve last Sunday when they entered men’s and women’s teams in the prestigious National Indoor Track and Field Championships, which were held in Abbotstown in Dublin.

Despite going up against the best of the best in terms of Irish athletics, the Killarney Valley contingent gave a good account of themselves at the state-of-the-art National Indoor Arena, with coaches Tomás Griffin and Con Lynch coming away with plenty of positives to reflect upon.

The women’s team was comprised of Sarah Leahy, Ciara Kennelly, Alison Butler, Grace O’Meara, Ellen Moloney and Melissa Ahern, while the men’s team included Conor Gammell, Oisín Lynch, Kevin O’Callaghan, Sam Griffin, Jason O’Reilly, Dara Looney and Darragh O’Leary.

The nature of the team event presents a number of challenges and opportunities for the forward-thinking club, as coach Tomás Griffin explained to the Killarney Advertiser this week.

“The indoor league is senior elite level so you’re competing against really strong athletes, including some Olympians,” Griffin said. “Part of the criteria is that you try to cover as many of the events as you possibly can within all of the athletic disciplines. You compete as a team, as opposed to normal athletics competitions which are very much based on the individual.

“If you are 16 or you turn 16 in the year of competition, you can participate. That allows us to give our up-and-coming athletes the opportunity to compete as part of a representative team alongside our more established, older athletes.

“There are two rounds with half the events in all disciplines covered in Round 1 and the other half in Round 2. Last week in Round 1 the track events were the 50m sprint, the 200m sprint, and the 800m, along with the 4 x 400m relay. So, for those events alone, you have to have sprinters and you have to have middle distance athletes all stepping up to compete against one representative from all the other clubs.

“The field events were the shot putt, the long jump, and the pole vault. You can see there you’ve got to have a pretty diverse club that is trying to focus on as many disciplines as possible on the development sides of things.”

POINTS

Individual athletes earn points based on where they finish in their event (12 points for first etc.), with points tallied together to make up the team’s overall total. There are 12 clubs vying for the women’s title and 13 fighting for the men’s. After Round 2, which takes place on January 23 in Athlone, the top six clubs will advance to the finals.

The demands that such a competition place on a club mean that it is a major achievement to be able to take part at all. Apart from Killarney Valley, Leevale AC from Cork were the only other club in Munster who fielded a team.

“For us to have enough athletes of that age or above, that are competent enough in their disciplines to be able to represent us and compete – and score – is a significant breakthrough. We scored quite well across some of the events. There were some events that we struggled to cover because we’re still trying to develop the full range, but as a club we know that we need to develop those disciplines.

“And we have some younger athletes who are 13 or 14 and they’re now learning pole vault, for instance. If we can maintain the momentum then we will have pole vaulters in a couple of years’ time.”

ENJOYMENT

Griffin says the Killarney Valley competitors really enjoyed the experience, while also putting in some impressive performances.

“They loved it. The bigger powerhouse clubs have very high-profile athletes at their disposal; there were four Olympians whom our athletes got to compete against and interact with.

“Our own Sarah Leahy did exceptionally well in the 60m sprint. She ran the joint fastest time in the league, a personal best of 7.61 seconds, which is the fastest she has ever run 60m indoors.

“In the men’s 60m sprint, Conor Gammell made the top five and ran a personal best. We also had Sam Griffin, who is normally a long jumper, who ran a personal best of 7.58 seconds. He finished third in his race. Dara Looney, another long jumper who was doubling up on sprints, finished fifth and also had a personal best.

“Melissa Ahern, an up-and coming sprinter, ran 8.43 seconds, and Ellen Moloney, who was a first-timer at this level, ran a personal best as well. We have a good batch of sprinters competing and it’s good to expose them to this level.

“Alison Butler scored some valuable points for us in the 800m, and in the men’s 800 Oisín Lynch ran a massive personal best. Our shot putt thrower Kevin O’Callaghan is new to athletics; he had to throw an adult shot (7.2kg) for the first time and he did well, scoring five points for us. In fact, he threw the heavier weight nearly as far as he had been throwing the lighter weight.”

Griffin was keen to stress the importance of each individual team member to the overall group effort and whatever happens in Round 2, he is convinced that entering the competition will have huge benefits in the long run.

“We set ourselves of goal of having a team at National League level by 2023 so we’re a year ahead in that regard. It shows that we’re on the right trajectory.”

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