by Adam Moynihan
Kerry Senior Club Relegation Playoff
Killarney Legion v Dr Crokes
December 5 at 12 noon
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.
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.
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.
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.
Killarney Valley AC named Club of the Year at national awards ceremony
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.
Jiu-jitsu champion Wilson da Silva sets sights on world title
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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