Jack O’Connor has added nine new faces to his extended Kerry senior football squad ahead of the 2022 season, which is scheduled to get underway at the end of January.
The Dromid native replaced Peter Keane as Kerry manager in October and as expected he has set about moulding his own team which he hopes will be capable of challenging for next year’s All-Ireland. The Kingdom were unexpectedly beaten by Tyrone in the 2021 All-Ireland semi-final and it has now been seven years, going on eight, since Sam Maguire resided in Kerry.
O’Connor will be under pressure to deliver immediate results and after keeping a close eye on the recent Club and County Championships, he has called in a number of promising reinforcements.
Stefan Okunbor is perhaps the most high-profile of these call-ups. After spending three years in the AFL with Geelong, Okunbor returned to Ireland in September and wasted no time getting back into the swing of things with his club, Na Gaeil, and his divisional side, St Brendan’s. The former Kerry minor and U20 star can play in a variety of positions and his skillset and athleticism has led many supporters to suggest that he could be a potential starter.
Okunbor’s call-up is not just significant in purely sporting terms. The son of a Nigerian father and a Moldovan mother, the 23-year-old Tralee man could become the first person of colour to represent the Kerry senior footballers.
Dr Crokes goalkeeper Shane Murphy has been recalled to the fold, three years after falling out of favour under previous manager Peter Keane. Murphy made his debut for Kerry in 2018 after impressing for the Crokes in their 2017 All-Ireland and County Championship triumphs but was subsequently dropped by Eamonn Fitzmaurice during the Super 8s.
Keane opted to play Shane Ryan in goal for the duration of his three-year term with Brian Kelly providing back up in 2019 and 2020. Kelly subsequently retired and Kenmare’s Kieran Fitzgibbon was drafted in. When Ryan got injured at the start of the 2021 campaign, Fitzgibbon was promoted to starter with goalkeeping coach and former No. 1 Brendan Kealy briefly filling in as back-up keeper.
Murphy is an expert kicker and his reintroduction to the panel comes as little surprise. He is currently recovering from a concussion he sustained during the county semi-final against Kerins O’Rahillys but he is expected to be back in action some time in the New Year.
Fellow Killarney man Dan O’Donoghue of Spa has also been added to the squad following a string of impressive seasons with his club and also in the red and white of East Kerry. The composed centre back captained his district to County Championship glory in 2019 and 2020 before playing a key role in Spa’s intermediate final victory earlier this year.
O’Donoghue’s former East Kerry teammate Darragh Roche will join him back in Currans. The Glenflesk sharpshooter has caught they eye time and again in recent championships; most recently he kicked 0-13 and picked up the Man of the Match award in his club’s defeat to Spa in the O’Donoghue Cup semi-final.
Austin Stacks claimed their 13th Kerry SFC title two weeks ago and three of their players have been rewarded with call-ups to the Kerry team. Full back and captain Dylan Casey, energetic corner back Jack O’Shea and imperious midfielder Greg Horan have all been added to Jack O’Connor’s new-look roster.
The Kerry championship’s top scorer, Jack Savage of Kerins O’Rahillys, has been brought back in having previously lined out under Eamonn Fitzmaurice, and Andrew Barry of Na Gaeil (brother of Jack) is also back in the camp. The commanding No. 6, who last featured for Kerry in 2018, was excellent for St Brendan’s on their run to the Kerry SFC semi-final.
Meanwhile, Firies veteran Jack Sherwood has reportedly stepped away from the fold, following Tommy Walsh into intercounty retirement.
Kerry get their 2022 season up and running with an away game against O’Connor’s former team, Kildare, on Sunday, January 30.
Fleming and Doherty top Killarney crew at Boggeragh
The Boggeragh Rallysprint, organised by Cork Motor Club and based in the forest complex of the same name, took place over the Christmas break.
Based near the village of Nad, the event attracted a strong 60-plus car entry and was won by West Cork driver David Guest and his Millstreet co-driver Liam Moynihan in a Ford Fiesta Rally 2. The latter is a member of Killarney and District Motor Club.
The first all-Killarney crew to make the finish were David Fleming and Kieran Doherty in their Honda Civic. The Killarney-based crew finished 20th overall on what was only their second time competing on a gravel rally.
World Rally Championship launch
The new Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid that Craig Breen and Paul Nagle will drive in this year’s World Rally Championship is set to be unveiled on Saturday in Austria.
The World Rally Championship will undergo major environmental changes this year when new technical regulations drive the series towards a more sustainable future.
The season launch takes place at Red Bull’s headquarters near Salzburg ahead of the first round of the WRC, next week’s Rallye Monte Carlo, as a new era for the sport dawns.
Breen and Nagle will be in attendance and the launch will be live streamed on WRC.com
Killarney Valley athletes rubbing shoulders with the best
Killarney Valley AC continued their upward curve last Sunday when they entered men’s and women’s teams in the prestigious National Indoor Track and Field Championships, which were held in Abbotstown in Dublin.
Despite going up against the best of the best in terms of Irish athletics, the Killarney Valley contingent gave a good account of themselves at the state-of-the-art National Indoor Arena, with coaches Tomás Griffin and Con Lynch coming away with plenty of positives to reflect upon.
The women’s team was comprised of Sarah Leahy, Ciara Kennelly, Alison Butler, Grace O’Meara, Ellen Moloney and Melissa Ahern, while the men’s team included Conor Gammell, Oisín Lynch, Kevin O’Callaghan, Sam Griffin, Jason O’Reilly, Dara Looney and Darragh O’Leary.
The nature of the team event presents a number of challenges and opportunities for the forward-thinking club, as coach Tomás Griffin explained to the Killarney Advertiser this week.
“The indoor league is senior elite level so you’re competing against really strong athletes, including some Olympians,” Griffin said. “Part of the criteria is that you try to cover as many of the events as you possibly can within all of the athletic disciplines. You compete as a team, as opposed to normal athletics competitions which are very much based on the individual.
“If you are 16 or you turn 16 in the year of competition, you can participate. That allows us to give our up-and-coming athletes the opportunity to compete as part of a representative team alongside our more established, older athletes.
“There are two rounds with half the events in all disciplines covered in Round 1 and the other half in Round 2. Last week in Round 1 the track events were the 50m sprint, the 200m sprint, and the 800m, along with the 4 x 400m relay. So, for those events alone, you have to have sprinters and you have to have middle distance athletes all stepping up to compete against one representative from all the other clubs.
“The field events were the shot putt, the long jump, and the pole vault. You can see there you’ve got to have a pretty diverse club that is trying to focus on as many disciplines as possible on the development sides of things.”
Individual athletes earn points based on where they finish in their event (12 points for first etc.), with points tallied together to make up the team’s overall total. There are 12 clubs vying for the women’s title and 13 fighting for the men’s. After Round 2, which takes place on January 23 in Athlone, the top six clubs will advance to the finals.
The demands that such a competition place on a club mean that it is a major achievement to be able to take part at all. Apart from Killarney Valley, Leevale AC from Cork were the only other club in Munster who fielded a team.
“For us to have enough athletes of that age or above, that are competent enough in their disciplines to be able to represent us and compete – and score – is a significant breakthrough. We scored quite well across some of the events. There were some events that we struggled to cover because we’re still trying to develop the full range, but as a club we know that we need to develop those disciplines.
“And we have some younger athletes who are 13 or 14 and they’re now learning pole vault, for instance. If we can maintain the momentum then we will have pole vaulters in a couple of years’ time.”
Griffin says the Killarney Valley competitors really enjoyed the experience, while also putting in some impressive performances.
“They loved it. The bigger powerhouse clubs have very high-profile athletes at their disposal; there were four Olympians whom our athletes got to compete against and interact with.
“Our own Sarah Leahy did exceptionally well in the 60m sprint. She ran the joint fastest time in the league, a personal best of 7.61 seconds, which is the fastest she has ever run 60m indoors.
“In the men’s 60m sprint, Conor Gammell made the top five and ran a personal best. We also had Sam Griffin, who is normally a long jumper, who ran a personal best of 7.58 seconds. He finished third in his race. Dara Looney, another long jumper who was doubling up on sprints, finished fifth and also had a personal best.
“Melissa Ahern, an up-and coming sprinter, ran 8.43 seconds, and Ellen Moloney, who was a first-timer at this level, ran a personal best as well. We have a good batch of sprinters competing and it’s good to expose them to this level.
“Alison Butler scored some valuable points for us in the 800m, and in the men’s 800 Oisín Lynch ran a massive personal best. Our shot putt thrower Kevin O’Callaghan is new to athletics; he had to throw an adult shot (7.2kg) for the first time and he did well, scoring five points for us. In fact, he threw the heavier weight nearly as far as he had been throwing the lighter weight.”
Griffin was keen to stress the importance of each individual team member to the overall group effort and whatever happens in Round 2, he is convinced that entering the competition will have huge benefits in the long run.
“We set ourselves of goal of having a team at National League level by 2023 so we’re a year ahead in that regard. It shows that we’re on the right trajectory.”
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