The ‘league as championship’ model has its flaws but it must be passed at Congress nevertheless, writes Adam Moynihan
As I was weighing up the rights and wrongs of the ongoing football championship debate, a quote by the American political columnist George Will came to mind. I have no idea who the man is if I’m being perfectly honest. The politics of Kerry football keep me busy enough without concerning myself with Capitol Hill.
But I happened upon this line of his once and for some reason it stuck with me. “The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement.”
‘Perfect’ is always the goal but sometimes ‘better’ is good enough.
Plan B is certainly not perfect. Far from it. In fact, I would describe it as a pretty poorly thought-out proposal. My biggest concern is the fact that the Division 3 and 4 winners (the 17th and 25th ranked teams in the football pyramid) will participate in the All-Ireland series, while the 6th, 7th and 8th teams will not. The 12th to 16th placed teams will also be eliminated without playing a single knockout championship game.
Sport is supposed to be a meritocracy. It’s hard to justify granting the 25th best team in the country a shot at the All-Ireland while the 6th best team are left behind. Frankly, it smacks of the GAA pandering to the weaker counties in a fairly condescending way. They are effectively saying, “here you go, you can still win Sam”. Before muttering, “good luck against Dublin” once they’re safely out of earshot.
If Proposal B does get the go ahead, this is one crease that needs to be ironed out.
As I’ve said before in this column, I also don’t believe that two tiers are enough. There will still be mismatches between the strongest and weakest teams in the All-Ireland Championship and the strongest and weakest teams in the Tailteann Cup.
But the bottom line for me as a fan and a journalist, and I truly hope it will be the bottom line for at least 60% of voters at Saturday’s Congress, is that Plan B is an improvement. It’s better than what we have currently, and it’s a lot better than the other proposal on the table.
Plan B will give teams more championship matches against opposition who are operating at a similar level as them. Kerry beating Tipperary by 15 points does nothing for the development of Kerry or Tipperary football. In order to grow, Kerry need to be playing against teams who can beat them, and Tipperary need to be playing against teams whom they can beat. (And in order to enjoy the fare, spectators and television viewers need to see matches that are not foregone conclusions.)
In the early days of the two-tier debate, some dissenting voices from the traditionally less successful teams complained that they could no longer win the Sam Maguire if they were “demoted” to a ‘B’ championship. (Which is probably why the Division 3 and Division 4 winners are getting a golden ticket to take part in the preliminary quarter-finals of the ‘A’ championship.) Leaving aside the fact that some of these teams have won exactly none of the 134 previous iterations of the tournament, this attitude is patently self-defeating.
Playing in the Tailteann Cup (or, preferably, a third-tier championship) would actually greatly increase their chances of lifting Sam in the medium-to-longer term. Lining out against teams of a similar standing would allow them to put a run together, and so build momentum, and so build confidence. This is how the weak teams develop. Not by getting tanked by an All-Ireland contender on an annual basis.
Who’s to say that a Division 4 team like Wicklow can’t steadily build by getting good results over a number of years, win the Tailteann Cup, and eventually find their footing at senior level? It might take a decade. It might take two or three of them. But isn’t ‘some day’ better than ‘never’?
Look at a club like Kenmare Shamrocks. Ten years ago they were playing junior football but by graduating on merit through the Kerry Club Championship system, they are now a major force at senior level. Last weekend they competed in their second successive senior club final. Would they be where they are now if Kerry football wasn’t structured the way it is? I would say probably not. Success breeds success. If they were getting tarred by Dr Crokes in an “All-Kerry” championship in 2011, they’d probably still be getting tarred by Dr Crokes in 2021. They earned their right to sit at the top table, and the journey has made them what they are.
Another criticism of Plan B is that it will downgrade the importance of the provincial championships. For what it’s worth, my personal response to that is fairly straightforward: good.
As for the Kerry team, Plan B works for them too. The players are in favour of it. A poll on my personal Twitter account suggests that over 87% of Kerry supporters are in favour of it.
However, the Kerry delegation heading to HQ are apparently undecided and waiting to have their arms twisted on the day. It’s a little surprising that they haven’t yet made their minds up – it’s not like there hasn’t already been enough public debate on the issue – but we must reserve judgment until they make their final call. As long as they arrive at the right decision, that’s all that matters.
The ill-conceived Plan A (four provincial groups of eight plus knockout) appears to be a complete non-runner for Kerry and for most counties, which is a relief because this motion comes directly before Plan B on the agenda. If Plan A were to get the necessary 60% majority, the arguments for and against Plan B wouldn’t even be heard.
Cork, Tipperary, Clare, Carlow, Louth, Wexford, Meath, Offaly, Kildare, Westmeath, Longford, Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo and Down have confirmed that they will be backing Plan B.
The rest of Ulster are expected to vote against the motion, along with Galway and Mayo.
On Wednesday, GAA President Larry McCarthy and Director General Tom Ryan threw their considerable weight behind the ‘league as championship’ model. McCarthy urged delegates to be “bold” and go for the more radical proposal. I don’t even think it takes boldness to opt for Plan B. All it takes is a little bit of common sense.
After years of debate, the tide appears to have turned the right way for those who seek progress. That being said, this is the GAA. There is bound to be resistance in certain quarters - a desire to keep to the status quo. These traditionalists, and those with genuine reservations, will point to how imperfect Plan B is, and they’re not wrong. Plan B isn’t perfect. It’s just better.
Isn’t that enough?
Almost impossible to look beyond East Kerry but Dingle are best placed to challenge
Adam Moynihan breaks down the groups and likely contenders in the 2023 Kerry Senior Football Championship
Group 1: East Kerry, South Kerry, West Kerry, Templenoe
Defending champions East Kerry are on the hunt for their fourth county title in five years and with a talented squad that’s looking as stacked as ever, only the brave would back against them.
Rathmore’s promotion back to senior level means that Kerry players Shane Ryan and Paul Murphy are missing from last year’s nine-point final victory over Mid Kerry but East Kerry’s strength in depth in all sectors means that no individual player is irreplaceable – excepting the obvious.
David Clifford’s performance for the ages in Fossa’s landmark intermediate semi-final win over Stacks provided a stark reminder of his awe-inspiring talents. Paudie Clifford was excellent too and this year the Two Mile brothers are joined on the panel by four clubmates – another glaring indicator of how far Fossa have come.
James O’Donoghue must be considered an injury doubt after only managing a cameo in Legion’s last outing but his clubmates Brian Kelly, Jonathan Lyne, Darragh Lyne and Cian Gammell are all likely to feature. Current Kerry senior panelists Chris O’Donoghue and Darragh Roche (Glenflesk), Ronan Buckley and Ruairí Murphy (Listry), and Donal O’Sullivan (Kilgarvan) would also be expected to play their part, with plenty of young talent from all seven clubs hoping to break into the starting line-up.
Realistically, the holders should navigate Group 1 with little fuss with South Kerry, West Kerry and Templenoe battling it out for second.
South Kerry and Templenoe played out a draw in the group stage of last year’s championship so there might not be much between them this year either.
West Kerry will be aiming to pick up at least one result after losing all three of their fixtures in 2022.
VERDICT: East Kerry and Templenoe
GROUP 2: Kenmare Shamrocks, Rathmore, St Kieran’s, Feale Rangers
Kenmare came mightily close in the Senior Club final and they should be able to carry that momentum through to the County Championship. Seánie O’Shea is obviously their one bona fide match winner but they’re also strong around the middle third where James McCarthy, David Hallissey and Kevin O’Sullivan put in the hard yards.
The fact that Feale Rangers reached last year’s semi-final indicates that they’re on an upward trajectory. The question now is can they repeat the trick? In 2022 the team was backboned by Listowel Emmets players (seven started that defeat to Mid Kerry) and those lads are coming into this competition in confident form having secured a spot in the still-to-be-played Junior Premier final.
Rathmore are always a tough championship team and the Ryans (Cathal and Mark at midfield and Shane at full forward) are sure to be a handful for any opposition.
St Kieran’s have troubled decent teams in the not-too-distant past – although they lost all three group games (including one against Kenmare) a year ago.
VERDICT: Kenmare and Feale Rangers
GROUP 3: Mid Kerry, Spa, Kerins O’Rahillys, Shannon Rangers
In 2022, Spa found the going tough in a Group of Death that included East Kerry and Dingle. The draw has been kinder to them this time around and they would probably expect to beat Rahillys and Shannon Rangers.
The wheels came off against Dingle in this year’s Senior Club Championship but they impressed the week before against Kenmare. Dara Moynihan, Evan Cronin and Cian Tobin will be important players in attack, with Dan O’Donoghue manning the midfield and Shane Cronin protecting their defensive third from number 6.
Mid Kerry, runners-up last season, will provide their sternest test in this pool. A lot of eyes (including those of Jack O’Connor) will be on Cillian Burke after his heroics for Milltown/Castlemaine in the semi-final of the Intermediate Club Championship. His clubmate Éanna O’Connor (son of the Kerry bainisteoir) will also play a crucial role at centre forward.
Rahillys are facing a relegation playoff if they fail to reach the final of the Kerry SFC and their form in recent weeks would suggest that making it that far is a long shot.
VERDICT: Mid Kerry and Spa
GROUP 4: Dingle, Dr Crokes, St Brendan’s, Na Gaeil
Breaking free of East Kerry’s stranglehold will not be easy but crafty Senior Club champions Dingle are surely best placed to wriggle loose. With four in-form Geaneys in the forwards – Paul, Mikey, Conor and Dylan – they have the tools to trouble any defence, and the return of their established AFL player Mark O’Connor adds solidity going the other way. They also have the incomparable Tom O’Sullivan pulling the strings. As things stand, they are easily the standout club team in the county.
Their Group 4 opponents Dr Crokes will be aiming to improve upon their showing in 2022 when they bowed out at the quarter-final stage. Naturally much will depend on the availability or otherwise of star players Gavin White and Tony Brosnan. White missed the recent Senior Club semi-final defeat to Kenmare with a hamstring injury. Encouragingly, Brosnan (who has been sidelined with a recurrence of a lung problem) was togged for that match, though he did not play.
The Killarney club will be fancied to qualify from their group alongside Dingle, although St Brendan’s – strengthened by the addition of an unknown number of Austin Stacks players to their ranks – could be dangerous.
The other team in the pool, Na Gaeil, are facing a relegation playoff against Rahillys once both sides are finished with the Kerry SFC. Reaching the final of this competition would spare them but Na Gaeil can count themselves unlucky to have been handed a difficult draw for the second year in a row.
VERDICT: Dingle and Dr Crokes
All things considered East Kerry and Dingle appear to be the frontrunners to capture the Bishop Moynihan trophy but there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way, starting this weekend with a full round of fixtures.
All eight matches will be either televised or streamed online. Dingle v Dr Crokes is on TG4. The remaining seven matches are on Clubber.
Friday 8pm Na Gaeil v St Brendan’s (Austin Stack Park)
Saturday 3pm Templenoe v West Kerry (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Saturday 5.30pm Rahillys v Shannon Rangers (Austin Stack Park)
Saturday 7.30pm East Kerry v South Kerry (Austin Stack Park)
Sunday 1.30pm Rathmore v St Kieran’s (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Sunday 2.15pm Dingle v Dr Crokes (Austin Stack Park)
Sunday 3.30pm Feale Rangers v Kenmare Shamrocks (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Sunday 4.15pm Mid Kerry v Spa (Austin Stack Park)
Kerry’s old dogs ready for Tyrone challenge in All-Ireland final
Adam Moynihan chats to Kerry Masters goalkeeper Tony Lyons ahead of the over 40 All-Ireland football final
Hi Tony. Thanks for speaking to me.
No problem, Adam.
Can you tell me about the Kerry Masters’ season to date?
We played six round robin games in the league phase to see which competition we would be in at the end. There are five championships in all with the senior championship being for teams that finish 1st to 4th in the league, the plate for 5th to 8th and so on. There were 23 counties involved in total this year with new entrants like Armagh, Derry and Limerick.
We won five of our six league games against Limerick, Cork, Waterford, London and Clare. Unfortunately we were well beaten by Dublin during the league phase but that served us well because we knuckled down after that and upped the training to twice a week.
We also got a physical trainer on board from Keel, David Clifford, and he has had a huge influence on our development the last couple of months, allied to Adam and Gary O’Reilly from Glenflesk, and Jason Foley from Keel.
We then beat Derry in the All-Ireland quarter-final by a point, setting up a semi-final against Galway in Limerick which we won by 12 points to 7 a couple of weeks back. it That quarter-final win against Derry was our most pleasing result of the season because we were down a few bodies.
What’s the standard like?
The standard is actually very good. While we don’t have a lot of former Kerry players with us – aside from William Kirby and Aidan O’Mahony – we do have a very good calibre of club player with us, the likes of John O’Connor from Kerins O’Rahillys and John Paul Leahy from Ballyduff for example. We’ve come across some big names in some of the games. Limerick had Ciarán Carey, Dublin had Denis Bastick, Cork had Nicholas Murphy and John Miskella, and Derry had Paddy Bradley.
The first halves of the games are really competitive with the second halves probably becoming more of a war of attrition. The key is having depth in your squad and being able to bring players in and out at the right time as players tire, and I think Adam and his management team have mastered that at this stage.
Would a number of the players have represented Kerry at some level in the past?
We haven’t a huge amount of former Kerry seniors but some of the guys would have represented Kerry at junior and underage level at various stages. What the management team focused on when it became apparent some of the former players weren’t joining was getting good quality club players who could commit and make most of the trainings, and I think that has worked well for them.
What’s key as well is that a lot of the players have been playing very recently for their clubs either at senior or junior level. That’s a huge help.
How are the fitness levels?
Depends on what time of the season you’re talking about! The first few weeks is all about trying to knock off the pounds and get to a certain level of fitness. In fairness to Adam O’Reilly, he places a big focus on the warm-up which is important for players of all ages but especially for those of us over 40.
Very few of the starting 15 would last the 60 or 65 minutes so it’s important that the replacements coming in can add an impetus and build on what the guys before them have done. Last year our panel was probably a little light but we have added well with the likes of Kevin Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds), Mark Crowley (Kenmare) and James Nagle (Keel) – all strong and very fit guys – coming in.
Tell me more about your management team.
Adam O’Reilly is the manager. He came on board this year and brought Gary O’Reilly and Jason Foley with him. Gary looks after the statistics, gear and so on and Jason is a selector as well as taking parts of training at various times. David Clifford came on board about two months ago as physical trainer and he has added greatly to the set-up, improving our fitness levels and tackling in particular.
What’s the most enjoyable part of playing with the Kerry Masters?
A huge part of it, Adam, is playing with guys who you would have tried to knock lumps out of at club level over the years! There’s a big social part to it also with us meeting for a pint or two after games and, as well as that, guys getting back into a dressing room environment and having the craic at training.
For some guys who were never lucky enough to wear the Kerry jersey, there’s a huge sense of pride to put it on at this stage. It’s a real an honour. To be fair to the other teams we played, they have treated us with a lot of respect because they know Kerry teams will play football first and foremost.
Also it’s nice to involve our families, kids, partners, and wives and for them to come to the games. We have noticed a lot more people coming to our matches this season.
Which of your teammates are the best craic?
There are a few fellas like Tim O’Donoghue who thinks he’s hilarious but the jury’s out on that one. I suppose the goalies, myself and Niall Hobbert, would be jokers but then the rest of the panel would tell you the jury is out on us too! Kirby is good craic, as is the former Spa man Brian O’Sullivan Darcy. It’s great fun. I would thoroughly recommend it to any guy 40 or over who wants to play a bit of competitive football and also continue training in what is almost like a club environment.
How would you rate your chances in the final on Saturday? Are you expecting a difficult challenge from Tyrone?
Look, it’s going to be very tough. Tyrone have won the last two All-Ireland finals at Masters level and they have the experience, whereas this is our first go, as it were. They have a solid team built with the likes of Seán Cavanagh, Conor Gormley and Stephen O’Neill in their ranks.
It will be a tall order for sure but we’ll give it our all and the whole panel are chomping at the bit and ready for action.
Kerry v Tyrone takes place on Saturday at 4pm in Roscommon. Follow @KerryMastersGAA on Twitter for more information.
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