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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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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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