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O’Donoghue Cup Final: Make or break for Crokes and Legion

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East Kerry Championship: Final
Killarney Legion v Dr Crokes
Sunday at 2.15pm
Fitzgerald Stadium

 

Losing to your fiercest rivals is never a pleasant experience but the outcome of Sunday’s Killarney derby, an O’Donoghue Cup final no less, will be particularly excruciating for either Legion or the Crokes.

The fact of the matter is that neither of these sides have achieved what they set out achieve in 2019. Though they have sampled contrasting levels of success in recent years, both Legion and Crokes started out in January expecting to win. Competitions have come and gone, however, and so too have opportunities to pick up silverware. For Stephen Stack and Edmund O’Sullivan, this weekend’s East Kerry Championship final could be a season-defining moment.

SILVERWARE

Unfortunately for this undeniably talented Legion team, that coveted piece of silverware remains as elusive as ever. My clubmates won’t thank me for bringing it up but it’s now 25 years since that Club Championship victory over Waterville, the club’s last triumph of note at senior level. This will be Legion’s fifth O’Donoghue Cup final since 2013 (sixth including the 2014 replay) but, remarkably, you have to go all the way back to 1976 for the club’s last win at district level.

It would mean an awful lot to this current crop of players to get over the line this time out. And for manager Stephen Stack, the next 60 minutes of football will make all the difference when it comes to grading his first year in charge. It might seem harsh but that’s the nature of the beast, and no one will be more acutely aware of that than Stack himself.

If Legion can upset the odds and beat the Crokes, the rather limp County Championship exit at the hands of St Brendan’s will be a distant memory.

TROPHYLESS

For a generation of Crokes players and supporters, winning is all they’ve known.

The club’s senior team have won at least one major trophy (i.e. County Championship, Club Championship, O’Donoghue Cup, Division 1 of the County League, Munster Club or All-Ireland Club) in each of the past 16 seasons, an incredible run that has seen them capture no fewer than 40 titles.

Now, unexpectedly, Crokes stand on the brink of their first trophyless season since 2003.

The All-Ireland, Club Championship and County Championship finalists will be favourites to beat the Legion – they have done so twice already this season – but it’s certainly an uncomfortable position to find themselves in.

MATCH-UPS

Legion’s preparations have been hindered by injuries to some key players, perhaps most notably two of their Kerry panelists, James O’Donoghue and Danny Sheahan. O’Donoghue picked up the sponsor’s Man of the Match award in last weekend’s semi-final against Gneeveguilla despite being forced off midway through the second half with a lower leg injury. The former Footballer of the Year appeared to be in some distress and you don’t need me to tell you that he would be a huge loss if he’s unavailable for the final.

Sheahan, meanwhile, has had surgery on a shoulder problem so he will not be available. The tough-tackling full back, who was called up to Peter Keane’s extended panel during the 2019 season, is another big loss for Legion as he would be the natural choice to pick up Crokes’ top scorer, Tony Brosnan.

Team captain Pádraig Lucey missed the semi-final but he is expected to make his return on Sunday.

Jonathan Lyne and Podge O’Connor have been in really good form of late and bainisteoir Stack will need to get serious performances from them, and from everyone else, if his side are to bridge that 25-year gap.

STRONG

For their part, Dr Crokes had to make do without experienced defenders Fionn Fitzgerald and David O’Leary for their semi-final while David Shaw and Jordan Kiely remain longer-term casualties. They still had quite a strong line-up for that victory over Spa, however, with the front eight of Johnny Buckley, Daithí Casey, Micheál Burns, Gavin O’Shea, Brian Looney, Tony Brosnan, Mark O’Shea and Kieran O’Leary looking particularly imposing.

Burns kicked five points in a Man-of-the-Match display while the younger O’Shea cousin, Mark, chipped in with 1-1 from full forward. Tony Brosnan added 1-4, a relatively low return by his extremely high standards.

Normally the O’Donoghue Cup is an added bonus for the Crokes but considering the way the year has gone so far, Sunday’s final takes on far greater significance.

Motivation will be at an all-time high because, in truth, the only way 2019 could get any worse for them is if they lose to Legion in the O’Donoghue Cup final.

That’s the difference here: victory for Legion would make their year, defeat for Crokes would break theirs.

VERDICT

The Crokes, who are gunning for their 13th East Kerry Championship since the turn of the century, are favourites. There’s no denying that. Legion will be hoping that three final defeats in seven months has had an adverse affect on the old enemy’s confidence but they’ll need everyone at it on the day regardless. If one or two key players are unavailable, it obviously makes things more difficult.

One thing’s for sure: it won’t be one for the faint of heart.

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Relegation battle has town divided

By Sean Moriarty This is bigger than the county final itself – with the main prize on offer being bragging rights in the town. After an unprecedented run of events during this year’s Kerry Senior Football championship Killarney’s two biggest clubs, Dr Crokes and Killarney Legion are set to face off in a relegation battle […]

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By Sean Moriarty

This is bigger than the county final itself – with the main prize on offer being bragging rights in the town.

After an unprecedented run of events during this year’s Kerry Senior Football championship Killarney’s two biggest clubs, Dr Crokes and Killarney Legion are set to face off in a relegation battle that is sure to divide the town.

In sporting terms, the outcome of the big game, set for December 5, is simple enough. The winner stays in the Senior Championship next season and the losers will have to play in the Intermediate Championship.

Fans of the black and amber or the green and white face an anxious week. Winning the county title is one thing – consigning your cross town rivals to second division football in football is altogether a bigger prize.

Senior officials from both clubs are being very guarded on a potential outcome as both sides know the significance of this play off.

“It is a pity that two Killarney clubs, with a long tradition of playing football in the top tier, find themselves in the position of having to play off to avoid relegation,” Matt O’Neill, Cathaoirleach of Dr Crokes, told the Killarney Advertiser.

“Both teams will fight tooth and nail to stay in the senior ranks. I am confident that on Sunday week our lads will do themselves and the club proud, as always, and give their all in the quest to keep the black and amber to the fore.”

Crokes are based off the Lewis Road with Legion a short distance away on the other side of the bypass.

“Everyone has an opinion on this,” Legion PRO, Elaine O’Donoghue, told the Killarney Advertiser. “Both sides will be nervous – may the best team win. There are a lot of questions, are the Crokes suffering after defeat to Kerins O’Rahillys [in the semi-final]? Are our lads suffering after losing to St Brendan’s for the third year in a row?”

Every football fan will be keeping a close eye on next weekend’s Intermediate County Final too which takes place on December 4.

The winners of the match between Beaufort and Tralee side Na Gael will be automatically promoted to replace the losers of the Killarney play-off in the Senior Championship next season.

Should Beaufort prevail, a (relatively) local team could replace a town team in the top flight.

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68% of fans say penalty shootouts ‘not right’ for Gaelic football

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by Adam Moynihan

Local Gaelic football supporters are largely against the practice of deciding matches with penalty shootouts, a poll carried out by the Killarney Advertiser can reveal.

Over two-thirds (68%) of those surveyed said they don’t think that penalties are “right” for the GAA with the remaining 32% standing on the other side of the fence.

Traditionally exclusive to the game of soccer, penalty shootouts were first introduced to Kerry GAA competitions in 2020 as a method of settling fixtures “on the day”. This was deemed necessary as there was less time for replays due to the profound effect the coronavirus pandemic had on last year’s sporting calendar.

A number of high-profile Kerry club matches have gone to penalties since they were introduced, including last season’s County League final between Austin Stacks and Rathmore, last month’s Kerry SFC Round 1 match between Legion and Spa, and Saturday’s county semi-final between Stacks and St Brendan’s.

Stacks emerged victorious in that televised last four clash as former Kerry player Kieran Donaghy scored the winning kick to send the Tralee club through to the final.

Before penalty shootouts became the norm, drawn GAA matches either went to a replay or to extra-time and then a replay if necessary.

Sorting a match out on the day is now commonplace, although some observers have voiced concerns about introducing what is effectively a soccer exercise to Gaelic games. When asked for their thoughts on penalties, a number of respondents to our survey made the same or similar observations.

“Penalties do not encapsulate the basic skills of Gaelic football,” one reader said. “Kicking from the hand is the key fundamental skill of the sport so that seems a more fair and apt way to decide a game.”

Another fan commented: “Penalties are for soccer. Marks are for Aussie Rules. Can we come up with anything ourselves?”

On the other hand, some respondents said that penalties were “fine” and a few suggested that they be used for any game bar a final.

Kerry GAA have confirmed that the upcoming county final and relegation playoff will go to replays if the sides are level after 60 minutes. However, next Saturday’s intermediate final between Na Gaeil and Beaufort will go all the way to penalties if required.

OTHER OPTIONS

When asked to select the “best” alternative method of deciding a Gaelic football match from a list provided by the Killarney Advertiser, over 40% of the people surveyed opted for a free-taking shootout from 35 metres.

‘More extra-time’ was the second most popular option with 23.61% of the vote.

An additional period of ‘next score wins’ was next up on just under 20%, with a 1 v 1 ice-hockey-style shootout, which would see the kicker carry the ball in hand before shooting for goal, was selected by 16% of supporters.

Whether or not the GAA are open to changing things up is uncertain. For the time-being at least, it appears as though football matches will continue to be decided using this controversial method.

Killarney Advertiser Penalty Shootout Poll (carried out online on November 23/24)

Are penalty shootouts right for Gaelic football?

Yes 31.94%

No 68.06%

If a replay is not possible, which of these alternative methods of settling a match is best:

Free-taking shootout from 35 metres 40.28%​

More extra time 23.61%

Next score wins 19.44%

1 v 1 ice-hockey-style shootout (ball in hand) 16.67%

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