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McGrath Cup form indicates that Kerry have plenty of work to do

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Adam Moynihan analyses Kerry’s performances in the McGrath Cup and looks ahead to their prospects for the National League

Kerry fans knew that this year was going to be tougher than last year and the opening couple of weeks of 2023 have really hammered that point home.

2022 was as close to perfection as you could hope for. 16 games. Three goals conceded. One defeat. Four trophies (including the only one that really matters). It would be a huge ask to replicate all those achievements in consecutive seasons, especially considering the busy “off-season” the players had in between.

The McGrath Cup is a pre-season tournament so the results themselves are of little importance. That being said, the manner of the Cork defeat in the opening round was a little unsettling - and not just because losing to Cork has a naturally unsettling effect.

The far fitter and hungrier hosts carved Kerry up and ran in five goals in a 12-point massacre. They could have scored seven or eight goals so rampant was their attack, and so sluggish was Kerry’s new-look defence. By January 4, Kerry had already coughed up more goals than they did in the entirety of 2022.

The way they started the Clare match in Tralee on Sunday last was also pretty disappointing. Clare raced into a 4-0 lead in the opening 10 minutes as Jack O’Connor’s side faltered in attack. They had at least six turnovers - most of them sloppy unforced errors - while failing to muster a single shot at the posts.

It appears as though the team's conditioning is miles off their own high standards at this early stage of the season. Whenever the likes of Seán Powter ran at them at pace in Páirc Uí Rinn, or when speedy Clare corner backs Manus Doherty and Ronan Lanigan did likewise in Austin Stack Park, the Kerry players just didn’t have that sharpness or that power in the legs to stay with them.

The reality is that between all the jigs and the reels, they simply haven’t had the opportunity to put in the necessary work just yet. And given how early it is in the year, that shouldn't be giving Kerry fans palpitations.

UNDERSTRENGTH

Obviously the fact that the reigning All-Ireland champions are massively understrength should not be overlooked. Kerry were missing the club-tied sextet of David Clifford, Paudie Clifford, David Moran, Jack Savage, Paul Murphy and Shane Ryan for both matches. Gavin White, Seán O’Shea, Stephen O’Brien and Paul Geaney were absent too.

Graham O’Sullivan and Brian Ó Beaglaoich participated in the warm-up at Stack Park but Arthur Fitzgerald had them doing additional runs while their teammates were making their final preparations in the dressing room. This indicates that they are slightly further behind the rest in their attempts to get match fit.

Midfield appears to be an issue as we head towards the start of the league, especially now that Diarmuid O’Connor could be set for a period in the treatment room. The 23-year-old Tralee man injured his ankle in the first half against Clare and he later returned to the dugout on crutches. A scan will reveal the full extent of that one.

Joe O’Connor is a loss as well. Last year’s joint captain is expected to miss the intercounty season after picking up an ACL injury on club duty.

To be frank, Kerry were cleaned out at midfield against Cork. They found it very hard to win primary possession and Colm O’Callaghan had the run of the place, scoring 2-4 from play.

They tried out a few options against Clare but, worryingly, Kerry’s best midfielder on Sunday wasn’t playing for Kerry at all. David Moran gave an exhibition of high fielding in the blue of Kerins O’Rahillys as they unfortunately came up short against Kilmacud Crokes in Croke Park.

I say “worryingly” because the 34-year-old could well retire from intercounty football in the coming days or weeks. It’s not set in stone by any means – he might do another year - but the veteran will make a decision on the matter now that Rahillys’ involvement in the Club Championship has ended.

Despite his age, his injury history and his relative lack of mobility in relation to other candidates for centre field, Moran is clearly still Kerry’s best ball-winning midfielder. No other player gives Kerry a truly dependable "out" when their opponents push up on their kickout.

With that in mind, Jack O’Connor may yet convince him to stay on for one more cut.

Even if he does stay on, though, it's unlikely that he'll see much action in the early stages of the league. He will need a period of rest after a long season with Strand Road.

So, whatever happens with Moran, Kerry will need new blood in this department. Can Barry Dan O’Sullivan, Stefan Okunbor or Ronan Buckley step up and stake a claim for the championship?

O'Sullivan has shown glimpses of the physicality that earned him a call-up and Buckley broke forward and kicked an important score against Clare. We haven't seen too much from Okunbor so far; he may need more minutes before he finds his feet.

POSITIVES

Although Kerry failed to advance to the final, the McGrath Cup wasn’t all doom and gloom.

The nature of the comeback victory over Clare was positive considering the brutal start and difficult conditions.

Of the newcomers to the panel, Barry Mahony of St Senan's and Feale Rangers has been a joy to watch. Operating between the opposition 45 and 65, he sprays passes around like a prime Xabi Alonso.

A lot of ball has been going through the hands of Tony Brosnan too, which suits him. He’s playing well as a result. Darragh Roche, the match-winner against Clare, has also emerged from the McGrath Cup with a lot of credit to his name.

It’s also good to see Mike Breen back in green and gold following that nasty hamstring injury that ruled him out of the 2022 campaign. As evidenced by his impressive debut season in 2021, the strong half back from Beaufort is built for intercounty football.

Broadly speaking there is no massive cause for concern but it must be said that Kerry's National League fixtures looked difficult as soon as they were set. Away matches against Donegal, Mayo, Tyrone and Galway await. That Donegal match in Ballybofey on January 29 will be The Kingdom's first competitive outing of the year.

With the Cliffords expected to be rested for a period after Sunday’s All-Ireland Junior Club final, and with key players O’Shea and White currently out, only a foolhardy follower would back Kerry to retain their Division 1 title.

The calendar has a new look to it again in 2023 but we could well see Kerry adopting a strategy of old. Use the league as an extended pre-season and try to peak in time for the serious business of the championship.

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Ladies’ Semi-Final Preview: Armagh stand between Kerry and a third shot at glory

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LGFA All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final

Kerry v Armagh

Saturday 7.15pm

O’Connor Park, Tullamore

Live on TG4

The Kerry ladies are just 60 minutes away from their third All-Ireland final in a row but they will have to bring their ‘A’ game to overcome the challenge of Armagh at O’Connor Park in Offaly later today.

The Kingdom have been installed as competition favourites after beating Meath (and after champions Dublin lost to Galway) in the quarters and they should be in confident form following that victory over the Royals in Tralee a fortnight ago.

However, they are unlikely to have it all their own way against an Armagh side who have beaten them twice already this season, in the league in March and then in the league final in Croke Park in April.

Losing star player Aimee Mackin to an ACL injury in the Ulster final came as a tremendous blow to the Orchard County. Mackin scored 2-6 (2-5 from play) and 1-4 (1-2) from play in the two games against Kerry this year so her teammates will have to make up the difference in her absence.

Kerry, meanwhile, have been buoyed by the return from an ACL injury of Síofra O’Shea, who scored 0-3 off the bench against Meath. The skilful trio of Danielle O’Leary (1-28, 3f), Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh (2-15, 9f) and Emma Dineen (4-5) have accounted for the bulk of the team’s scores this season with Hannah O’Donoghue and team captain Niamh Carmody also capable of finding the target.

Managers Declan Quill and Darragh Long will be hoping that this attacking threat coupled with the teak tough defending of Eilís Lynch, Deirdre Kearney and Aishling O’Connell will be enough to see them over the line. With the dependable Ciara Butler between the sticks, Kerry have kept three clean sheets in their last four games which is a record they would love to improve upon today.

Armagh, who haven’t played in a senior ladies’ football All-Ireland final since 2006, arrive at the semi-final stage on the back of wins over Meath and Mayo. Eve Lavery is their top scorer to date with 0-11 (7f) to her name. Blaithin Mackin, younger sister of Aimee, has chipped in with 1-5.

Kerry v Armagh will be preceded at O’Connor Park by the other All-Ireland semi-final between Galway and Cork. The Rebels last made the final in 2020 while The Tribeswomen are aiming to reach their first decider since 2019. Both counties lost to Dublin in those respective finals.

Galway v Cork starts at 5pm. Both matches will be shown live on TG4.

Kerry team to play Armagh: C Butler; E Lynch, K Cronin, C Murphy; A O’Connell, D Kearney, A Dillane; M O’Connell, A Galvin; N Carmody (captain), D O’Leary, N Ní Chonchúir; H O’Donoghue, E Dineen, L Ní Mhuircheartaigh.

Armagh: A Carr; G Ferguson, C McCambridge (captain), R Mulligan; C Towe, L McConville, D Coleman; N Coleman, C O’Hanlon; E Druse, A McCoy, B Mackin; E Lavery, N Henderson, K Mallon.

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Jordan Lee vows to bounce back as injury ends 2024 Paralympic dream

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Killarney high jumper Jordan Lee is determined to bounce back stronger than ever after announcing his withdrawal from the Paralympic Selection Process due to injury.

The Killarney Valley AC athlete, who represented Ireland at the Tokyo Games in 2021, was hoping to wear the green singlet again in Paris in August/September but he was forced to pull out “due to an injury that had developed over the past couple of weeks”.

“[To say that I’m] absolutely gutted is an understatement considering the season that we’ve just had and being ranked number 6 in the world rankings on the lead-up,” Lee said via Instagram.

“This is sport at the highest level and unfortunately this is an injury that couldn’t turn right in time for Paris which is only a few weeks away.”

The local lad went on to thank Killarney Valley and his coaches Tomás Griffin, Alan Delaney and Shane O’Rourke for their support, as well as his sponsors PTSB, Puma, Toyota, Kellihers Garage and Output Sports.

“To my family and my friends, I’ve always repped that Irish vest with the utmost pride, not just representing myself and my beautiful country, but my amazing family and friends that I have too. I love ye all.

“Wishing my teammates within Paralympics Ireland all the very best in Paris.

“Roll on 2025 for the Europeans. I’ll be back better and ready for vengeance. Believe that.”

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