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O’Connor hails Kerry for adapting to stormy weather

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Adam Moynihan reports from the Fitzgerald Stadium

National League: Division 1

Kerry 1-13 Donegal 0-7

Fitzgerald Stadium

Jack O’Connor praised the manner in which his players handled the atrocious weather conditions after Kerry defeated Donegal by nine points in Killarney.

With Storm Franklin in full effect, The Kingdom opted to play with the strong wind in the first period and they built up a seven-point half-time lead.

The elements were in Donegal’s favour in the second period so a fightback seemed imminent, but the hosts held firm and ran out deserved winners.

“Our fellas showed a good attitude and they adapted well [to the conditions], as did Donegal to be fair to them,” O’Connor said. “Against the wind in the first 15 minutes, I thought they were excellent. At half-time you wouldn’t say the game was sealed by any stretch of the imagination - I don’t know what ye thought but seven points didn’t appear to us to be enough.

“So we knew we’d have to score a bit in the second half and I thought our fellas controlled the game pretty well.”

WRETCHED

It was a wretched afternoon for the brave souls on Fitzgerald Stadium’s uncovered terrace and the early pattern of play provided little by way of distraction.

Donegal’s into-the-wind tactic of holding possession at all costs was equal parts boring and frustrating; on several occasions the home crowd became audibly irritated as the visitors idly passed the ball over and back across the pitch. With goalkeeper Shaun Patton joining in to give them an extra man, there wasn’t much the Kerry forwards could do about it. One of the biggest cheers of the day came in the closing stages of the half when Adrian Spillane burst forward and shunted Patton to the ground.

In terms of actual football, i.e. kicking, Kerry settled quite nicely and racked up nine first-half points. Seán O’Shea’s spectacular sideline kick sent them on their way and further overs by Killian Spillane (two), Dan O’Donoghue, Paul Geaney and Paudie Clifford opened up a healthy half-time lead of seven (0-9 to 0-2).

At the other end, Donegal managed two fisted scores via Eoin Bán Gallagher and Shane O’Donnell. Even allowing for the gale force wind that was doing its utmost to blow them backwards for the entirety of the half, manager Declan Bonner must have been displeased with the fact that his team failed to register a single kick at the posts.

SUN

Luckily for Kerry, the sun burst through the clouds for the beginning of the second half, although conditions were still pretty dire out there.

The irrepressible O’Shea almost put the result beyond doubt within seconds of the restart but his sneaky attempt cannoned back off the foot of the post. Jack Barry nearly lobbed Patton shortly after but we had to wait until the 12th minute of the period to see a change on the scoreboard. Chris O’Donnell pointed for Donegal into the Lewis Road end to cut the deficit to six.

Jack O’Connor held his best player in reserve until the 44th minute but when he did come on, David Clifford was typically engrossing. There was more than a dash of good fortune about his 50th-minute goal – his attempt at a point dropped well short and somehow deceived the Donegal netminder – but in general he provided a much-needed spark during what could have been a very difficult half.

O’Shea almost goaled just seconds after Clifford’s effort but his shot cleared the crossbar, and then Shane O’Donnell and Paddy McBrearty brought it back to eight.

Clifford came within centimetres of snatching a second goal when his improvised soccer shot struck the underside of Patton’s bar. When Chris O’Donnell and McBrearty struck again, it was back to a six-point game with eight minutes to go.

The men from Tír Chonaill squandered a glorious chance to halve that gap when Ryan McHugh’s square hand pass forced McBrearty too far wide. McBrearty pushed the subsequent attempt at a point to the left and wide.

That was as good as it got for the Ulster side as a wonderful point by Clifford, sandwiched between two fisted efforts by O’Shea, capped a deserved nine-point win.

The result leaves Kerry joint first at the top of Division 1 with a tricky trip to Monaghan next on the calendar. That game will take place in Inniskeen next Sunday.

KERRY: S Murphy; D O'Donoghue (0-1), J Foley, T O'Sullivan; P Murphy, T Morley, B Ó Beaglaoich; D O’Connor, J Barry; A Spillane, S O'Shea (0-7, 2f, 1s), D Moynihan; P Clifford (0-1), P Geaney (0-1), K Spillane (0-2).

Subs: S O’Brien for A Spillane (13-22, 58), D Clifford (1-1) for K Spillane (44), T Brosnan for P Geaney (58), J Savage for P Clifford (65), G Horan for J Barry (66).  

DONEGAL: S Patton; C Ward, B McCole, EB Gallagher (0-1); R McHugh, P Brennan, O McFadden Ferry; J McGee, C Thompson; P Mogan, S O’Donnell (0-2), R O’Donnell; P McBrearty (0-2, 1f), H McFadden, C O’Donnell (0-2).

Subs: S McMenamin for P Brennan (41), N O’Donnell for R O’Donnell (43), O Gallen for H McFadden (50), D Ó Baoill for S O’Donnell (66), E O’Donnell for O McFadden Ferry (70).

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Kerry will need more intensity, more physicality and more collaboration to bounce back from Dub drubbing

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by Adam Moynihan

In the 22nd minute of last Saturday night’s league match in Croke Park, Lee Gannon collected a pass on his own 65 and carried the ball unchallenged right into the heart of Kerry’s defence. Brian Fenton took over and a tackle by Diarmuid O’Connor slowed the attack.

Then Fenton looked up and saw that Niall Scully was standing at the top of the D, completely unmarked. It was a simple five-metre handpass to the centre, and Scully had all the time in the world to steady himself and shoot. His point made it Dublin 2-8 Kerry 0-5. Ten shots for Dublin. Ten scores. One-way traffic.

The Dubs deserve credit for their accuracy in front of the posts – Con O’Callaghan was particularly excellent – but the ease with which they were creating their openings was startling from a Kerry perspective. For Scully’s score, the resistance was non-existent. If the same thing happened in a training match, the manager would be well within his rights to call off the session and send everyone home.

The cameras may have been trained on Kerry’s full back line and, yes, Jason Foley and Dylan Casey were struggling against O’Callaghan and Paddy Small, but Kerry were found wanting all over the pitch. You could have sailed the Titanic down the centre of their defence and O’Callaghan exploited that space to great effect for his third goal. Foley got hoodwinked by a lovely piece of movement by the Dublin full forward, but where was the help?

Centre back Tadhg Morley was pushing up on Dublin dangerman Seán Bugler but that’s the thing with Dublin: all their forwards are dangerous in one way or another. Maybe Tadhg was following instructions but you wonder if he could have cheated off Bugler when the all-action centre forward was outside the 45.

Whether it’s Morley or someone else, that gap in front of the goal needs to be filled – especially against teams of Dublin’s calibre.

What we saw in Croke Park last Saturday was a far cry from the solid defensive structure that won Kerry an All-Ireland in 2022, that’s for sure. You can be certain that Jack O’Connor will be demanding a far more intense, more physical and more collaborative performance against Tyrone on Sunday (1.15pm).

KICKOUTS

Speaking after the Dublin game, O’Connor said that his side “malfunctioned” on the kickouts. While Dublin keeper David O’Hanlon was firing out his kicks like a machine gun, Shane Ryan was far more measured with his. Dublin’s press was brilliant in fairness to them but you’d have to question Kerry’s appetite for making honest, hard runs and receiving the ball in potentially tight areas.

Graham O’Sullivan and Brian Ó Beaglaoich (who is currently injured) are outstanding when it comes to breaking free and accepting that responsibility. You’d like to see one or two more backs getting in on the act.

As for Ryan himself, could he be a bit quicker and a bit more adventurous with his distribution? Look, if there’s nothing on, there’s nothing on, but I think at times he could back himself more resolutely. He has the range and the accuracy.

Of course, if he takes a risk and it gets intercepted he’ll be in line for even sharper criticism, so you can understand him being cautious when the kick isn’t 100% on.

Whatever the solution, on the evidence of the Dublin and Derry games, Kerry do need to try something a bit different to beat the press. Tyrone are unlikely to be as aggressive as Dublin were but when they do push up, it will be fascinating to see how Kerry deal with it.

Kerry’s midfielders also need to compete aerially against whoever they’re up against when it goes long – even if that’s Brian Fenton or Conor Glass or Brendan Rogers. It’s not easy to get the better of these guys in the air (or to break even, which would do) but that’s the level required.

Joe O’Connor showed that his ball skills have improved markedly by taking his goal and his point so cleanly, and he is doing well in general, but he and his namesake Diarmuid will have to be more impactful both from kickouts and without the ball if Kerry want to be a real force this season.

Personally, I would like to see Seán O’Brien getting some more game time. He has only played six minutes since being taken off early on his debut against Derry five weeks ago. Kerry will need back-up at midfield as the season goes on and O’Brien has a lot of potential.

FORWARDS

Up front, the main positive is that Cillian Burke continues to make his presence felt. Even when his more experienced teammates were faltering the last night, Burke stood tall and played his usual game. And he swung over a great score for good measure.

David Clifford will be disappointed that he didn’t convert one of his goal chances – the first one was definitely there for the taking – but you know that over the course of the season he’ll finish more of those than he misses. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if he comes out and strokes one in on Sunday.

It’s nice to see Tony Brosnan back on the pitch as well. He deserves some kind fortune following a tough spell with illness and injury.

Tyrone coming to Killarney gives the players the perfect opportunity to bounce back quickly and show supporters – and themselves – that the Dublin game was a glitch and nothing more. Improvements are needed all over the pitch but the sight of the Red Hand should bring focus and resolve.

A good performance, a win and two points would put a lot of minds at ease.

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Killarney girls will answer Ireland’s call

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A trio of talented young Killarney rugby players have been called up to the Ireland U18 squad for the upcoming Six Nations festival in Wales.

Ava O’Malley, Fia Whelan and Emma Dunican have all been included in Matt Gill’s panel for the tournament, which will take place between March 29 and April 6. They will link up with their new teammates for three weekend training camps at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin during the month of March.

Gill, the current Women’s Provincial Talent Coach for Leinster, will be assisted by Sana Govender, who has previously coached Munster Women’s teams.

“I’m really looking forward to continuing our Irish U18 Women’s Six Nations preparations and getting our camps underway,” the head coach said. “I’m excited to work with Sana and our management team, and to work with this incredibly talented group of players.”

O’Malley, Whelan and Dunican are products of Killarney RFC’s blossoming youth set-up and all three were on the U18.5 team that recently won the Munster League.

Including the Killarney girls, there are seven Munster-based players on the 35-woman squad with 15 hailing from Leinster, eight from Connacht and five from Ulster.

“It’s a very proud day for the girls, their families, teammates and coaches, and for Killarney RFC,” the club commented. “Best of luck, girls!”

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