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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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Rebel lights delight for Killarney star

By Con Dennehy The continued growth, development and participation of women’s handball in East Kerry was rewarded at the weekend when Cork hosted ‘She’s Ace’, the prestigious All Ladies Handball […]

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By Con Dennehy

The continued growth, development and participation of women’s handball in East Kerry was rewarded at the weekend when Cork hosted ‘She’s Ace’, the prestigious All Ladies Handball championships.

Attracting all the leading players in Ireland, it was Sarah Dineen, the Spa/Killarney player who shot out the Rebel lights in Conna with a phenomenal display of handball.

Competing in the highly competitive Ladies Challenger championship, the Killarney player, who took up the sport just 18 months ago, had the perfect start in the competition defeating the home town favourite Agnes Hurley from Conna on a 21-20 scoreline following an energy sapping and close encounter that hung in the balance to the final ace.

In her second game she took on the challenge of Nolwenn Even from St Brigids where her skill, superior fitness and movement on the court resulted in the 21-12 victory and a place in the prestigious final.

“The final was always going to be a difficult game not least playing local girl Kate O’Riordan from Conna. I concentrated on my serve and kill shots which ensured we shared the aces early in the game. It was a difficult game with the home supporters out in force to cheer on their local hero. However, I played well and secured a 21-11 victory. This was the second time this title came to Spa Killarney following the 2022 win by Aoife Walsh in Northern Ireland,” said Sarah, who is currently chairperson of the Killarney Camogie Club.

A native of Westmeath, Sarah (46) runs a jewellery business in Killarney and lives in Rathmore. No stranger to competitive sport she played camogie for Westmeath and Leinster and also won an Intermediate championship Gaelic football medal in Westmeath.

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Survey reveals Kerry fans’ expectations for 2023

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A start-of-season survey carried out by the Killarney Advertiser has revealed Kerry supporters’ expectations ahead of the 2023 campaign, which gets underway on Sunday with a league match against Donegal.

Kerry enjoyed a perfect year in 2022 as Jack O’Connor led his team to glory in the National League, Munster Championship and All-Ireland Championship. It would be an incredible achievement to replicate that success again this time around, but some supporters seem to think that it can be done.

Around 73% of those polled believe that Kerry will reach another All-Ireland final, with the majority (42%) predicting that Sam Maguire will be staying in the Kingdom for another year at least. Just under a quarter of respondents (23%) think that Kerry will fall at the semi-final stage, however, with the remainder (4%) anticipating a quarter-final or round robin exit.

1. How far will Kerry go in the championship?

All-Ireland round robin – 1%

All-Ireland quarter-final – 3%

All-Ireland semi-final – 23%

All-Ireland final (runners-up) – 31%

All-Ireland final (winners) – 42%

That’s what supporters expect to happen, but what would they be happy with? When asked what would constitute a “good year” for Kerry in 2023, 54% stated that only an All-Ireland will do. A further 32% said they would be content with another All-Ireland final appearance. So, effectively, the vast majority of Kerry supporters (86%) won’t be happy unless their team at least makes it to the All-Ireland final on July 30.

2. Kerry need to ___________ for 2023 to be classed as a “good” year.

Reach the All-Ireland round robin stage – 1%

Reach the All-Ireland quarter-final – 3%

Reach the All-Ireland semi-final – 10%

Reach the All-Ireland final – 32%

Win the All-Ireland final – 54%

Neighbours Cork gave Kerry a real hiding in the McGrath Cup at the beginning of this month but it appears as though fans from this side of the county bounds are placing little stock in that particular result. Over 96% of supporters expect Kerry to win their provincial championship. A very small minority (3%) are fearing the worst, i.e. Cork winning Munster.

3. Who will win the Munster Championship?

Kerry – 96%

Cork – 3%

Someone else – 1%

Expectations are lower for the immediate future, however. With several players out injured and others – including star player David Clifford – being rested, most fans reckon Kerry will finish mid-table in Division 1 of the National League. Over half of the readers who responded to our survey (52%) think Kerry will finish 3rd or 4th in the eight-team pool, with roughly one-in-five expecting a 5th or 6th place finish.

Despite the lengthy list of absentees, 21% of supporters are still optimistic that Kerry can retain their Division 1 title. At the other end of the scale, around 1% think Kerry will be relegated.

4. Where will Kerry finish in Division 1 of the National League?

1st or 2nd (winners) – 21%

1st or 2nd (runners-up) – 8%

3rd or 4th – 52%

5th or 6th – 18%

7th or 8th (relegated) – 1%

When asked which opponent they are most wary of heading into the new season, the vast majority of Kerry fans singled out the same Division 2 team.

5. Which opposition team should Kerry be most worried about in 2023?

Dublin – 78%

Tyrone – 7%

Armagh – 6%

Cork – 3%

Derry – 3%

Mayo – 2%

Galway – 1%

Jack O’Connor’s side travel to Ballybofey on Sunday for their first competitive outing of the season. Throw-in is at 2pm with the match being televised live on TG4.

Follow @AdamMoynihan for all the latest Kerry GAA news

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