by Adam Moynihan
When I say that my eyebrows were raised as I scrolled through the statement on the Kerins O’Rahillys website on Thursday morning, I mean they were raised from start to finish.
The Tralee club, who last weekend lost their senior status for the first time ever, spoke of their “anger” at the county board and their “ire” at getting demoted to intermediate while divisional teams enjoy a “special status” that spares them such a grisly fate.
The post (penned by club PRO Pat Flavin) went on to remind us of Rahillys’ exploits in last year’s Club Championship. With county calibre talent like David Moran, Tommy Walsh, Jack Savage and Barry John Keane to the fore, they reached the All-Ireland semi-final before coming up short against eventual champions Kilmacud Crokes. It was a long campaign that required sacrifices.
“This is why we feel for this group of lads, who have soldiered on despite the loss of so many key players and coping with injuries etc,” the statement continued.
Clearly, Rahillys feel that they still deserve to be a senior club. And they offer us a “solution that can suit everyone” – one that they describe as a “small change”.
Take the divisional teams out of senior, move them to the Intermediate Club Championship, and replace them with the top eight clubs at intermediate level.
This would mean that the 2024 County Championship would be comprised exclusively of club sides - with Rahillys being one of those club sides, naturally enough.
Whatever you think of their idea, you have to admit they have balls.
It's one thing for a manager or a chairman to respond to a question from a journalist and say something like, "yeah, we're a bit disappointed, we feel there should be more senior clubs". But to publish a lengthy manifesto on the club website outlining why they shouldn't be relegated just days after being relegated? And to suggest that divisional teams like East Kerry and Mid Kerry should be booted out of the championship next year, just three days before those two teams contest a county final?
Of course any club is entitled to fight their own corner, but I was genuinely taken aback by what I was reading. As official club statements go, this one was pretty wild.
The fact that Rahillys are making this proposal now, immediately after they have fallen through the trap door, has unsurprisingly been ridiculed by some observers. It comes across as self-serving given the circumstances. It should be pointed out, however, that they have tabled a motion to increase the number of senior clubs twice in the past five years, so it is an issue that has been on their mind for a while.
The thing is, they’re not alone in thinking that change is necessary.
The debate surrounding the number of senior clubs in Kerry has been lumbering on for years. The general consensus is that eight simply isn't enough.
As the rapid and unexpected demise of Legion, Austin Stacks, and now Kerins O'Rahillys shows, it's very easy for clubs to have an off year, or an off month, and lose their coveted place in the County Championship. It can also prove very hard to get it back.
Meanwhile, divisional teams are always invited back to the feast, irrespective of the contribution they made to last year’s shindig.
For what it’s worth, my own instinct is that 16 senior clubs is too many. It would dilute what is a very competitive and very entertaining Senior Club Championship and it would make it basically impossible to include the eight divisional teams in the County Championship. Rahillys are clearly fine with that, but I have a feeling there would be strong resistance in other corners of the county.
One of the redeeming qualities of the current format is that it gives the best players from smaller clubs the opportunity to compete in the senior championship. Significantly, these smaller clubs far outnumber the would-be senior clubs who might be in favour of a radical overhaul.
That’s one part of Rahillys’ proposal that has to be dismissed as fanciful. They say that their suggestion constitutes a small change and it can suit everyone. Removing the divisional teams from the County Championship, dropping them down to intermediate and taking their intermediate clubs away from them is not a minor alteration. For example, East Kerry would be left with three clubs: Listry, Firies and Kilgarvan. Mid Kerry would be left with just two: Keel and Cromane. How does that suit them?
Raising the number of senior clubs to 10 or 12 seems more realistic. Keep the eight divisional outfits and have a playoff round to see who qualifies for the 16-team championship. The best district sides will still make it and still contribute to our showpiece competition in a meaningful way.
(This would also go some way towards levelling the playing field in the Munster and All-Ireland Intermediate and Junior Club Championships. That might not be good for Kerry clubs hoping to make it to Croke Park, but it would be objectively fairer to everyone else.)
Most importantly, in the interest of fairness and transparency, any decision on restructuring the championship needs to be made before all relevant championships start, not after they end. The county board can't decide there will be 10 or 12 senior clubs next season and allow the already relegated Rahillys to be one of those clubs.
Of course I understand Rahillys' frustration. They're a great club with a great history. They want to play in the County Championship and they feel they offer more than certain divisional teams. But the rules were the same for everyone at the start of the season. The senior clubs knew what they needed to do to avoid relegation.
In the statement they're not shy about highlighting the failings of South Kerry, West Kerry, Feale Rangers, St Brendan’s and Shannon Rangers in 2023. With respect, Rahillys weren’t great themselves. Fair enough they were missing some important players but that could happen to any team. They were well beaten in their three group games in the Club Championship and then they lost to Na Gaeil in the relegation playoff.
The goalposts can’t be shifted now to make allowances for them because they’re a big club.
That wouldn’t be right, and I said the same thing last year when it was Stacks, and the same thing the year before when it was Legion (and nearly Dr Crokes).
If there are to be changes, they need to come into effect in 2025 so that the 2024 competitions are run off with those changes in mind. So, for example, if the number is to be increased to 12 then tell clubs that there will be no senior teams relegated in 2024, and that the four semi-finalists in the intermediate will be promoted.
A club like Rahillys would fancy their chances of being one of those four teams. In fact, if they really feel that they’re a senior club, they should be going out to win the Intermediate Championship. That, in my opinion, would be the right way to do it.
Fossa on cusp of history as club from ‘nine square miles’ eyes senior status
Kerry IFC Final
Fossa v Milltown/Castlemaine
Austin Stack Park
Never before in the history of Kerry football has an Intermediate final attracted so much attention.
On Sunday, two clubs go head-to-head with a trophy and promotion on the line – but this high-profile encounter has far more riding on it than that.
In fact, the consequences of the outcome of this second-tier decider are going to be massive. If Fossa win, they will graduate to senior for the first time in their 53-year existence. It would represent a monumental achievement for the club from the small parish to the northwest of Killarney; few, if any, believed it would ever be possible given their lowly standing as recently as a few years ago.
With two generational talents at their disposal in the form of the Clifford brothers from Two Mile, they have rapidly risen through the ranks. Now they are seeking their second successive promotion following on from last year’s extra time win over Listry in the Junior Premier final.
And if the idea of Fossa going out on their own in the Kery Senior Football Championship wasn’t intriguing enough on its own, there’s more. A Fossa win would mean that East Kerry, winners of four of the last five titles, would lose their Fossa contingent for 2024. Most notable amongst that cohort are Paudie and David Clifford, unquestionably the district’s two most influential players.
There is plenty of intrigue from Milltown/Castlemaine’s perspective too. The Mid Kerry side are aiming to get back to senior level for the first time since being relegated in 2016 following defeat to Kilcummin in a playoff. They were not considered to be amongst the frontrunners for this competition before a ball was kicked, and possibly not after the group stage either, so victory this weekend would be sweet.
Of course, a Milltown/Castlemaine win would also have a huge bearing on the 2024 County Championship. Mid Kerry (runners-up in 2020, 2022 and 2023) stand to lose five starters if Milltown are promoted: Pa Wrenn, David Roche, Gavin Horan, Cillian Burke and Éanna O’Connor. Such a loss would greatly weaken their hand and widen the gap that already exists between them and the reigning champions. Add to that the fact that East Kerry will keep the Cliffords if Milltown/Castlemaine win, and the significance of this game is magnified further still.
There is so much at stake for all the invested parties in East and Mid Kerry, and there is plenty to consider for the neutral fan as well. Many would welcome the weakening of East Kerry’s squad as it would potentially lead to a more competitive County Championship. However, there is serious concern amongst Kerry supporters that the Cliffords are in need of a rest after a long couple of years with club and county. If Fossa prevail they will advance to the Munster Championship and possibly beyond if they manage to keep on winning. This would likely interfere with their star players’ off-season.
There’s no doubt that the nature of Fossa’s matches to date have whetted the appetite for this final. They were involved in exhilarating extra time victories over Castleisland and Austin Stacks in the previous rounds and more excitement of that nature would be more than welcome after a largely disappointing County Championship.
Milltown/Castlemaine also bring plenty to the table and although the momentum from their own semi-final heroics against Legion may have dwindled somewhat over the many weeks between then and now, they can certainly take heart from that result against one of the pre-tournament favourites.
It’s all set up to be a fascinating match-up and a large crowd is expected in Tralee for this one.
The match will also be streamed live by Clubber.
Home double header for St Paul’s and Scotts Lakers
The St Paul’s women’s and men’s teams are both in National League action this Saturday at Killarney Sports and Leisure Centre with their games tipping off at 4.30pm and 7.30pm respectively.
James Fleming’s ladies take on the Phoenix Rockets on the back of that disappointing cup exit at the hands of the Cavan Eagles a fortnight ago and they will be keen to get back to winning ways on home turf.
Paul’s have a perfect 100% record in Division 1 but they are sure to be tested by the Rockets, who gave a fine account of themselves over the course of the 2022/23 season.
They beat Paul’s in Lisburn last February, though the Killarney side exacted revenge in the playoffs in March. The Rockets have made an inconsistent start to the 2023/24 campaign picking up just two wins from the seven games played. The second of those victories came as recently last Saturday when they got the better of the Limerick Sport Eagles at home, but they fell to another defeat against the Huskies back up north the following day.
The Rockets are coached by former Ireland player Breda Dick, a woman who cites Killarney’s own Paudie O’Connor as her role model. Paudie was her first coach at international level and obviously left a huge mark on Breda.
Dick will be looking to the McGrath sisters Charly and Georgie to carry the torch for them as well as American signing Jay Ashby.
For Paul’s, Khiarica Rasheed has been building a good understanding with Sofia Paska and they will be keen to work on that partnership again on Saturday. In the absence of Lorraine Scanlon, who will be attending the LGFA All-Stars, Meabh Barry may be pushed up the ladder. Lynn Jones and Rheanne O’Shea will also be expected to play prominent roles.
Under the guidance of Coach Brian Clarke, Scotts Lakers have established a winning record of 4-2 and as a result they find themselves fifth out of 12 teams in Division 1 of the National League.
They claimed their latest win at home to the Dublin Lions last weekend (81-71) with Americans Braden Bell (26) and Terion Moss (25) accounting for the bulk of the scoring. Jamie O’Sullivan, Oisín Spring and Cian Forde also made their mark on the scoreboard.
Coach Brian Clarke was very pleased with the contribution of his subs on the night. “Our bench was ready to come on and make the difference and I can’t emphasis enough the importance of that,” he told club PRO Enda Walshe.
“Braden and Terion are great shot-makers but they also have a sharp eye for passes to their teammates. Oisín Spring, and Paul Clarke in previous games, are alive to that and make themselves available. It’s a great opportunity for our young players to make their mark and provided they continue to dedicate themselves to their craft, they will get to enjoy that.”
Next up for the Lakers is the visit of the Limerick Celtics on Saturday. The Shannonsiders are currently second in Division 1 having won five of their six matches to date.
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