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Okunbor, Murphy, O’Donoghue and Roche among nine additions to Jack’s Army

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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.

MURPHY

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.

STACKS CONTINGENT

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.

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Kerry Camogie vow to back players in shorts/skorts controversy

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by Adam Moynihan

The Kerry County Board will back their players if they decide to defy the rulebook and wear shorts after officials at the Camogie Association’s National Congress voted to keep the controversial skort.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry Camogie chairperson Ann Marie Russell confirmed that she is fully behind the players, the vast majority of whom want the skort to be binned.

“I know there have been calls for a protest, that they would all go out the first weekend of the championship and wear shorts,” Russell said. “If the players felt that was something they wanted to do, Kerry Camogie would absolutely support them.

“It should be up to the people who it affects. It doesn’t matter to me what the players wear or what they look like. They should be comfortable.”

The punishment for not wearing the correct playing gear is a yellow card which can be followed by a red card for dissent if not rectified.

Players say the skirt-like garment is not comfortable and they were hopeful that it would finally become a thing of the past when the issue was raised at Congress in Kildare last weekend.

However, a motion by Tipperary and Kerry to replace it with shorts was defeated by 64% to 36%. A similar proposal by Great Britain and Meath which would have given players the option to choose between skorts and shorts also fell well short of the two-thirds majority required (55% against, 45% in favour).

Voting was carried out by delegates from the various county boards as well as members of central and provincial councils. The majority of voters were female.

As one of Kerry’s two delegates, Russell confirmed that she voted in line with the players’ wishes, but she fears that delegates from some counties didn’t do likewise.

“Our job as delegates is to speak on behalf of the players and I definitely felt as though that wasn’t reflected by some of the other counties. I don’t know any girl in any age group at any level that goes to training in a skort. That, in itself, should speak volumes to the powers that be. Even the counties that wanted to keep the skorts, there’s no way their girls go training in skorts. I know they don’t.

“When camogie first started, women weren’t allowed to wear pants, so they had no choice but to wear skirts. They were longer at the time and things have evolved since then. The design is better. But there is a misconception that there are shorts underneath the skirts so ‘what’s the big deal?’ They’re not shorts, they’re compression shorts. That’s not the same thing.

“And look, I’m not wearing the skorts so it doesn’t matter to me. You have to listen to the players. That’s what I feel.

“We’re making decisions that really have little relevance to us, so we really have to take our players’ opinions into it. I’m not sure how many delegates go back and ask their players about these motions before they vote on them.”

Also speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry senior player Niamh Leen outlined the specific issues players have with the skort.

“If you went around the country, I guarantee you that you’d only find a handful of girls actually training in a skort,” the Clanmaurice woman said. “I’ve never been to a training session where someone was wearing a skort. We’re all in shorts.

“The practical side of it is that they’re really uncomfortable. They’re constantly rising up and I spend the majority of the match pulling the skort down instead of concentrating on the game. It shouldn’t be that way.”

According to Leen, the discomfort felt by players is not just physical. There is also a psychological discomfort involved.

“I am very paranoid about the skort, especially the length. You spend a lot of time bending over to pick up the ball and I am conscious of it. Even if you size up, it’s still too short. The only way to counteract it is to wear Skins (base layer) underneath which I don’t really like doing because that’s not overly comfortable either.

“It should be a players’ vote at the end of the day. We’re the ones who actually have to wear them and we should be the ones having the say. But, unfortunately, it’s not up to us.

“It’s very, very annoying. I could use harsher words but it is just frustrating, you know? We’ve wanted this motion to be passed for so many years.

“Nobody I know likes playing in a skort and it’s frustrating that our own organisation aren’t taking the players into account.”

This is not the first time a proposal to replace the skort has been rejected and players will have to wait another three years for the next Congress to try to alter the rules on an official basis.

Leen believes that she and her colleagues should not have to wait that long and questions the reasoning of those delegates who voted to keep the status quo.

“Honestly, I think it’s to keep the tradition and to keep us unique, and maybe they see the skorts as being more feminine, which is just mind-boggling for me. I just don’t understand how that could be a reason to keep something that’s making girls uncomfortable.

“I understand that it’s the tradition, but sometimes traditions have to move on.”

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MATCH PREVIEW: Kerry name strong team for league final showdown with Armagh

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by Adam Moynihan

Lidl National League Division 1 Final

Kerry v Armagh

Sunday 3pm

Croke Park

Live on TG4

The Kerry ladies return to Croke Park on Sunday hoping to retain their Division 1 crown and managers Declan Quill and Darragh Long have named a strong-looking line-up for their battle against Armagh.

Kerry mostly used the league for experimenting but they still managed to win five of their seven matches, enough to secure a top two finish.

Now almost all of The Kingdom’s big hitters are back in play, as evidenced by the team they have selected for this weekend’s Division 1 decider at HQ.

Eleven members of the side that lost to Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland final have been selected to start against Armagh. The four “new” starters are goalkeeper Mary Ellen Bolger, full back Deirdre Kearney, midfielder Mary O’Connell and full forward Emma Dineen.

Dineen has rejoined the panel following a spell abroad and has slotted seamlessly into Kerry’s full forward line. She will be flanked by Footballer of the Year Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh and the skilful Hannah O’Donoghue, who scored 1-2 against Galway a fortnight ago.

The only really notable absentee – apart from veterans like Emma Costello and Louise Galvin who haven’t yet featured for the team in 2024 – is Síofra O’Shea. The dynamic attacker, who heroically came off the bench in last year’s All-Ireland despite damaging her ACL in the lead-up to the game, is still rehabbing that serious injury.

Meanwhile, the return of All-Star defender Cáit Lynch bolsters Kerry’s back six. The Castleisland Desmonds woman has been used sparingly so far this year and she came on at half-time in that final regulation league game versus Galway.

Quill and Long are likely to call on substitutes Amy Harrington and Danielle O’Leary to make an impact if and when required.

Kerry’s sole loss in the league came at the hands of their final opponents, Armagh, who are looking to emulate what The Kingdom achieved last season by winning Division 1 at the first attempt after gaining promotion from Division 2 the previous season.

The Orchard County beat Kerry by 3-14 to 1-13 at the Athletic Grounds just over a month ago.

They flew through the regular phase of the 2024 competition, winning six games in a row before losing to Dublin in Round 7 with many key players being rested.

Star forward Aimee Mackin has been in blistering form. She has racked up 6-21 (4-15 from play) to date, including 2-6 (1-6 from play) in that meeting between the eventual finalists in March.

Armagh had not yet named their team for the final as this article was being published.

This match forms part of a double header with the Division 2 final between Kildare and Tyrone (1pm). Both games will be televised live on TG4.

Kerry team to play Armagh:

1. Mary Ellen Bolger (Southern Gaels)

2. Cáit Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds)

3. Deirdre Kearney (Na Gaeil)

4. Eilís Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds)

5. Aishling O’Connell (Scartaglin)

6. Ciara Murphy (MKL Gaels)

7. Kayleigh Cronin (Dr Crokes)

8. Mary O’Connell (Na Gaeil)

9. Anna Galvin (Southern Gaels)

10. Niamh Carmody (Captain – Finuge/St Senan’s)

11. Niamh Ní Chonchúir (Corca Dhuibhne)

12. Lorraine Scanlon (Castleisland Desmonds)

13. Hannah O’Donoghue (Beaufort)

14. Emma Dineen (Glenflesk)

15. Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh (Corca Dhuibhne)

Subs: Ciara Butler, Danielle O’Leary, Amy Harrington, Ciara McCarthy, Ciara O’Brien, Katie Brosnan, Aoife Dillane, Bríd O’Connor, Kate O’Sullivan, Eilís O’Connor, Fay O’Donoghue, Jess Gill, Róisín Smith, Siobhán Burns, Keri-Ann Hanrahan.

Follow Adam on Twitter/X for all the latest updates from the Ladies Division 1 final at Croke Park

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