by Adam Moynihan
After a frustrating year-and-a-half of inactivity due to COVID-19, Killarney’s two Men’s National League teams will finally take to the floor this weekend as the race for the 2021/22 Division 1 title gets underway across the country.
While other sports have gone ahead intermittently in 2020 and 2021, and most have been back in full swing for a number of months now, basketballers in Ireland have been forced to sit on the sidelines throughout the pandemic. This has been due to stricter guidelines when it comes to indoor activities but with those restrictions now (hopefully) a thing of the past, it’s time to play some ball.
It promises to be a very interesting season indeed for Killarney basketball fans, who now have two teams to follow at National League level. It is a remarkable turn of events considering the fact that in the not too distant past we had no teams at all competing at this grade.
More learned observers than this journalist have questioned whether or not a town of Killarney’s size can maintain two National League teams. Well, readers, we’re about to find out.
Let’s start with the new kids on the block.
We say “new” but in reality many of the Killarney Cougars players will be very familiar to local basketball supporters, and even more familiar to their crosstown rivals. Mark Greene, Justin Tuason, Andy Fitzgerald and other squad members have previously represented the Lakers in the National League, a fact that is sure to add some extra spice to the December 30 fixture between the two town clubs.
The 2020/21 campaign was meant to be the Cougars’ first at national level but COVID put paid to those plans. Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser this week, Greene said he and his teammates can’t wait to get out on the court.
“We’re very excited to finally get going,” the Killarney native said. “We had a long time off the court – I think we had around four weeks of proper training last year – so it’s great that the new season is starting now on Saturday.”
Basketball seemed to take a back seat in the public discourse around the resumption of sporting activities but Greene is not surprised. Like other Irish basketball players, he has grown accustomed to his chosen sport playing second fiddle to the big-hitters.
“We all know that soccer and the GAA are going to take precedent. They’re more professional and more popular in this country, and they’re outdoor as well which helps with the COVID restrictions. With the nature of basketball being indoors and close contact, it’s always going to be bottom of the pile. Especially, as I said, with the popularity of it as well. It hasn’t been too frustrating from that point of view because it was to be expected.”
Under the guidance of experienced head coach Ignas Sijanas, the Cougars, who will play their home games in the Pres Gym, have assembled a decent-looking squad. It’s one that Greene feels is capable of being competitive at the second highest level of Irish basketball, although he is still hopeful that they can bring in a couple more players to bolster their roster.
“We’d probably want one or two more bodies,” he admitted. “We have four or five guys on the fringes, we don’t know if they’re coming with us or not, and we could do with one or two of them to get a nice rotation going. But we’re not too bad. We’ll be competitive anyway.
“Mark O’Shea is after joining from Ballincollig, he’s looking very good. Conor Flynn has joined from Killorglin. Con O’Mahony is coming in from Farranfore, we’re expecting good minutes from him. Billy Wiseman is there to give Andy a break. And Jack Lynch is looking like a promising young player as well.
“We want to see if this project can work: building a solid foundation with local players, not being heavily reliant on imports.
"Let’s see if we can get some good results, be competitive and maybe that fourth spot (the final qualification spot from the southern conference) won’t be a million miles away. I think UL, Mathews and Demons look like shoo-ins on paper anyway, so I think that fourth spot could be between ourselves, Paul’s (Lakers), Portlaoise… That could be in the sights.”
The Cougars get their season up and running by welcoming one of those top teams, the UCC Demons, to the Pres Gym on Saturday. Tip-off: 7.30pm.
Although they are now facing into their fourth season back in the big leagues, the Scotts Lakers are also heading into uncharted waters. They have a new coach in Jarlath Lee and a young roster that is virtually unrecognisable from the last time they took to the court for an official game.
That being said, they certainly have plenty of talent at their disposal. Local lads Mark O’Shea and Dylan O’Sullivan will be joined by former St Paul’s Super League player Dainius Varanauskas, 6’5” Bulgarian Emilian Grudov, and Canadian point guard Ben Miller, who has returned to the club having initially signed up for the abandoned 2020/21 season.
Miller says the initial set-back of missing out on his first season in Irish basketball due to COVID was a “little frustrating”, but he is now ready to lead the Lakers to a run at the playoffs.
“I think our goal is to be at the top of the league, or at least in the top couple of spots. I know we’re a bit younger (as a squad), but I think that will be a realistic goal for us.
“We’re filling in some pieces now and adding a bit more depth. The squad is shaping up pretty well. Our young players have a lot of talent and a lot of potential. They’re really willing to learn and work at the game; it’s been fun meeting them and trying to teach them a thing or two.”
Miller will be the team’s primary ball carrier and he hopes he can use all his experience to propel the Lakers to a successful season.
“I hope to be a steady, consistent player who shares the ball with everyone and does what it takes to get wins.”
This year the Lakers will return to the Killarney Sports and Leisure Centre with their first home game coming on November 13 against UCC Demons. The side’s opening fixture sees them take on the Limerick Celtics away on Saturday.
Almost impossible to look beyond East Kerry but Dingle are best placed to challenge
Adam Moynihan breaks down the groups and likely contenders in the 2023 Kerry Senior Football Championship
Group 1: East Kerry, South Kerry, West Kerry, Templenoe
Defending champions East Kerry are on the hunt for their fourth county title in five years and with a talented squad that’s looking as stacked as ever, only the brave would back against them.
Rathmore’s promotion back to senior level means that Kerry players Shane Ryan and Paul Murphy are missing from last year’s nine-point final victory over Mid Kerry but East Kerry’s strength in depth in all sectors means that no individual player is irreplaceable – excepting the obvious.
David Clifford’s performance for the ages in Fossa’s landmark intermediate semi-final win over Stacks provided a stark reminder of his awe-inspiring talents. Paudie Clifford was excellent too and this year the Two Mile brothers are joined on the panel by four clubmates – another glaring indicator of how far Fossa have come.
James O’Donoghue must be considered an injury doubt after only managing a cameo in Legion’s last outing but his clubmates Brian Kelly, Jonathan Lyne, Darragh Lyne and Cian Gammell are all likely to feature. Current Kerry senior panelists Chris O’Donoghue and Darragh Roche (Glenflesk), Ronan Buckley and Ruairí Murphy (Listry), and Donal O’Sullivan (Kilgarvan) would also be expected to play their part, with plenty of young talent from all seven clubs hoping to break into the starting line-up.
Realistically, the holders should navigate Group 1 with little fuss with South Kerry, West Kerry and Templenoe battling it out for second.
South Kerry and Templenoe played out a draw in the group stage of last year’s championship so there might not be much between them this year either.
West Kerry will be aiming to pick up at least one result after losing all three of their fixtures in 2022.
VERDICT: East Kerry and Templenoe
GROUP 2: Kenmare Shamrocks, Rathmore, St Kieran’s, Feale Rangers
Kenmare came mightily close in the Senior Club final and they should be able to carry that momentum through to the County Championship. Seánie O’Shea is obviously their one bona fide match winner but they’re also strong around the middle third where James McCarthy, David Hallissey and Kevin O’Sullivan put in the hard yards.
The fact that Feale Rangers reached last year’s semi-final indicates that they’re on an upward trajectory. The question now is can they repeat the trick? In 2022 the team was backboned by Listowel Emmets players (seven started that defeat to Mid Kerry) and those lads are coming into this competition in confident form having secured a spot in the still-to-be-played Junior Premier final.
Rathmore are always a tough championship team and the Ryans (Cathal and Mark at midfield and Shane at full forward) are sure to be a handful for any opposition.
St Kieran’s have troubled decent teams in the not-too-distant past – although they lost all three group games (including one against Kenmare) a year ago.
VERDICT: Kenmare and Feale Rangers
GROUP 3: Mid Kerry, Spa, Kerins O’Rahillys, Shannon Rangers
In 2022, Spa found the going tough in a Group of Death that included East Kerry and Dingle. The draw has been kinder to them this time around and they would probably expect to beat Rahillys and Shannon Rangers.
The wheels came off against Dingle in this year’s Senior Club Championship but they impressed the week before against Kenmare. Dara Moynihan, Evan Cronin and Cian Tobin will be important players in attack, with Dan O’Donoghue manning the midfield and Shane Cronin protecting their defensive third from number 6.
Mid Kerry, runners-up last season, will provide their sternest test in this pool. A lot of eyes (including those of Jack O’Connor) will be on Cillian Burke after his heroics for Milltown/Castlemaine in the semi-final of the Intermediate Club Championship. His clubmate Éanna O’Connor (son of the Kerry bainisteoir) will also play a crucial role at centre forward.
Rahillys are facing a relegation playoff if they fail to reach the final of the Kerry SFC and their form in recent weeks would suggest that making it that far is a long shot.
VERDICT: Mid Kerry and Spa
GROUP 4: Dingle, Dr Crokes, St Brendan’s, Na Gaeil
Breaking free of East Kerry’s stranglehold will not be easy but crafty Senior Club champions Dingle are surely best placed to wriggle loose. With four in-form Geaneys in the forwards – Paul, Mikey, Conor and Dylan – they have the tools to trouble any defence, and the return of their established AFL player Mark O’Connor adds solidity going the other way. They also have the incomparable Tom O’Sullivan pulling the strings. As things stand, they are easily the standout club team in the county.
Their Group 4 opponents Dr Crokes will be aiming to improve upon their showing in 2022 when they bowed out at the quarter-final stage. Naturally much will depend on the availability or otherwise of star players Gavin White and Tony Brosnan. White missed the recent Senior Club semi-final defeat to Kenmare with a hamstring injury. Encouragingly, Brosnan (who has been sidelined with a recurrence of a lung problem) was togged for that match, though he did not play.
The Killarney club will be fancied to qualify from their group alongside Dingle, although St Brendan’s – strengthened by the addition of an unknown number of Austin Stacks players to their ranks – could be dangerous.
The other team in the pool, Na Gaeil, are facing a relegation playoff against Rahillys once both sides are finished with the Kerry SFC. Reaching the final of this competition would spare them but Na Gaeil can count themselves unlucky to have been handed a difficult draw for the second year in a row.
VERDICT: Dingle and Dr Crokes
All things considered East Kerry and Dingle appear to be the frontrunners to capture the Bishop Moynihan trophy but there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way, starting this weekend with a full round of fixtures.
All eight matches will be either televised or streamed online. Dingle v Dr Crokes is on TG4. The remaining seven matches are on Clubber.
Friday 8pm Na Gaeil v St Brendan’s (Austin Stack Park)
Saturday 3pm Templenoe v West Kerry (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Saturday 5.30pm Rahillys v Shannon Rangers (Austin Stack Park)
Saturday 7.30pm East Kerry v South Kerry (Austin Stack Park)
Sunday 1.30pm Rathmore v St Kieran’s (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Sunday 2.15pm Dingle v Dr Crokes (Austin Stack Park)
Sunday 3.30pm Feale Rangers v Kenmare Shamrocks (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Sunday 4.15pm Mid Kerry v Spa (Austin Stack Park)
Kerry’s old dogs ready for Tyrone challenge in All-Ireland final
Adam Moynihan chats to Kerry Masters goalkeeper Tony Lyons ahead of the over 40 All-Ireland football final
Hi Tony. Thanks for speaking to me.
No problem, Adam.
Can you tell me about the Kerry Masters’ season to date?
We played six round robin games in the league phase to see which competition we would be in at the end. There are five championships in all with the senior championship being for teams that finish 1st to 4th in the league, the plate for 5th to 8th and so on. There were 23 counties involved in total this year with new entrants like Armagh, Derry and Limerick.
We won five of our six league games against Limerick, Cork, Waterford, London and Clare. Unfortunately we were well beaten by Dublin during the league phase but that served us well because we knuckled down after that and upped the training to twice a week.
We also got a physical trainer on board from Keel, David Clifford, and he has had a huge influence on our development the last couple of months, allied to Adam and Gary O’Reilly from Glenflesk, and Jason Foley from Keel.
We then beat Derry in the All-Ireland quarter-final by a point, setting up a semi-final against Galway in Limerick which we won by 12 points to 7 a couple of weeks back. it That quarter-final win against Derry was our most pleasing result of the season because we were down a few bodies.
What’s the standard like?
The standard is actually very good. While we don’t have a lot of former Kerry players with us – aside from William Kirby and Aidan O’Mahony – we do have a very good calibre of club player with us, the likes of John O’Connor from Kerins O’Rahillys and John Paul Leahy from Ballyduff for example. We’ve come across some big names in some of the games. Limerick had Ciarán Carey, Dublin had Denis Bastick, Cork had Nicholas Murphy and John Miskella, and Derry had Paddy Bradley.
The first halves of the games are really competitive with the second halves probably becoming more of a war of attrition. The key is having depth in your squad and being able to bring players in and out at the right time as players tire, and I think Adam and his management team have mastered that at this stage.
Would a number of the players have represented Kerry at some level in the past?
We haven’t a huge amount of former Kerry seniors but some of the guys would have represented Kerry at junior and underage level at various stages. What the management team focused on when it became apparent some of the former players weren’t joining was getting good quality club players who could commit and make most of the trainings, and I think that has worked well for them.
What’s key as well is that a lot of the players have been playing very recently for their clubs either at senior or junior level. That’s a huge help.
How are the fitness levels?
Depends on what time of the season you’re talking about! The first few weeks is all about trying to knock off the pounds and get to a certain level of fitness. In fairness to Adam O’Reilly, he places a big focus on the warm-up which is important for players of all ages but especially for those of us over 40.
Very few of the starting 15 would last the 60 or 65 minutes so it’s important that the replacements coming in can add an impetus and build on what the guys before them have done. Last year our panel was probably a little light but we have added well with the likes of Kevin Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds), Mark Crowley (Kenmare) and James Nagle (Keel) – all strong and very fit guys – coming in.
Tell me more about your management team.
Adam O’Reilly is the manager. He came on board this year and brought Gary O’Reilly and Jason Foley with him. Gary looks after the statistics, gear and so on and Jason is a selector as well as taking parts of training at various times. David Clifford came on board about two months ago as physical trainer and he has added greatly to the set-up, improving our fitness levels and tackling in particular.
What’s the most enjoyable part of playing with the Kerry Masters?
A huge part of it, Adam, is playing with guys who you would have tried to knock lumps out of at club level over the years! There’s a big social part to it also with us meeting for a pint or two after games and, as well as that, guys getting back into a dressing room environment and having the craic at training.
For some guys who were never lucky enough to wear the Kerry jersey, there’s a huge sense of pride to put it on at this stage. It’s a real an honour. To be fair to the other teams we played, they have treated us with a lot of respect because they know Kerry teams will play football first and foremost.
Also it’s nice to involve our families, kids, partners, and wives and for them to come to the games. We have noticed a lot more people coming to our matches this season.
Which of your teammates are the best craic?
There are a few fellas like Tim O’Donoghue who thinks he’s hilarious but the jury’s out on that one. I suppose the goalies, myself and Niall Hobbert, would be jokers but then the rest of the panel would tell you the jury is out on us too! Kirby is good craic, as is the former Spa man Brian O’Sullivan Darcy. It’s great fun. I would thoroughly recommend it to any guy 40 or over who wants to play a bit of competitive football and also continue training in what is almost like a club environment.
How would you rate your chances in the final on Saturday? Are you expecting a difficult challenge from Tyrone?
Look, it’s going to be very tough. Tyrone have won the last two All-Ireland finals at Masters level and they have the experience, whereas this is our first go, as it were. They have a solid team built with the likes of Seán Cavanagh, Conor Gormley and Stephen O’Neill in their ranks.
It will be a tall order for sure but we’ll give it our all and the whole panel are chomping at the bit and ready for action.
Kerry v Tyrone takes place on Saturday at 4pm in Roscommon. Follow @KerryMastersGAA on Twitter for more information.
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