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Rui relishing captain’s role as Lakers look to build momentum

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by Adam Moynihan

New Scotts Lakers captain Rui Saraiva says it is a “pleasure” to lead the team as they aim for a playoff spot in the 2022/23 National League.

The 25-year-old Portuguese player signed for the Lakers at the start of last season and he has quickly made Killarney home. While fellow foreigners Godwin Boahen and Emilian Grudov have moved on to pastures new, Saraiva chose to stick it out in Kerry for one more season at least.

His loyalty has been rewarded with the figurative captain’s armband and speaking to the Killarney Advertiser this week the popular playmaker revealed that he is relishing the role – and his time in this corner of the world.

“Killarney is a beautiful town,” Saraiva said. “I felt welcome here since the moment I arrived. People are nice and we get good crowds to the games. I feel at home.

“I’ve been playing for a while now and I’ve played professionally in Portugal as well, so as soon as I came to the team I feel as though I had a leader’s mentality. I think the coach (Jarlath Lee) saw that in me and that’s why he offered me the role. I took it gladly because I’m vocal and I want to share the knowledge that I have with the young players. For me, it’s a pleasure to captain this team.

"As the team captain I’m trying to push everybody to be aggressive in practice and take everything seriously. Hopefully that will help us take the next step.”

The National League can be unsettled by nature as players – particularly international players – transfer quite frequently. The Lakers have been no different. Saraiva admits that this has been challenging but he still feels as though he and his teammates can challenge for top honours this season.

“Normally the foreign players come here and look for a good place to start – they don’t think about the long-term. It’s difficult having to rebuild again this year because we felt we had a good thing going last season, especially at the end of the season. It’s tricky now with new players. The good thing is that the local Kerry players are still here and they’re getting better and better.

“At the moment we’re just adapting to each other and making the effort to get to know each other. We’re not at full strength yet but we’re evolving every week. We have a strong team. Hopefully we can get a good spot in the playoffs and from there it’s anybody’s game. I think we have a team that can fight for every match.

“I want the kids to get better as well and maybe make the national teams. We’re trying to get everybody minutes, and if they can help us win then all the better. We need all the help we can get.”

Saturday’s home game against the Limerick Celtics (7.30pm, Killarney Sports & Leisure Centre) will give Lakers fans their first opportunity to see 6’9” Swedish centre Aron Walker. Saraiva believes he and his teammates will need to be at their best to improve on their 1-1 record.

“The Celtics have won their first three games. They have a new squad this year and I think they’re much stronger than last season. From the games that I’ve watched on Basketball Ireland TV, they’re solid and they’re aggressive. That’s what we’re expecting: an aggressive team from minute one. They do a full-court press as well so we’re gonna have to be aware of that.

“We will need to match their intensity and play our best basketball because even small distractions can kill us.

“We’re playing at home so we’re hoping that we have all the support that we need in the crowd.”

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Top Kerry GAA prospect Cillian Burke still weighing up AFL switch

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by Adam Moynihan

Highly-rated Kerry youngster Cillian Burke is set to travel to Australia later this year with a transfer to the Geelong Cats still potentially on the cards.

Conflicting reports sent the rumour mill into overdrive earlier this week with Burke said to be either AFL-bound or simply moving to Australia for a number of months before returning home at some point in 2025.

Although no official statement has been made by any of the relevant parties, the Killarney Advertiser understands that the talented 21-year-old is weighing up his options and he will make a decision on his future after spending some time Down Under in the latter part of 2024.

It is hoped, from a Kerry perspective, that he will decide against the switch, but it is feared that his head may already have been turned.

While few (if any) Kerry supporters would begrudge him his move, they would undoubtedly love to see the athletic middle-third player back in green and gold next season after he caught the eye as a substitute in recent matches. Despite his tender age and lack of experience (this was his first year on the senior panel), the Milltown/Castlemaine man was a game-changer in the All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Derry.

He was also influential in the semi-final against Armagh last weekend, scoring an important point in extra time and setting up another as favourites Kerry fell to an unexpected defeat.

With his impressive size, athleticism and ball skills, Burke could potentially have the makings of a future All-Star so losing him to the AFL would be a significant blow to The Kingdom and their chances of regaining the Sam Maguire trophy.

Geelong have a history of poaching Kerry talent. Pádraig Lucey (Killarney Legion) signed for the Cats in 2014, Mark O’Connor (Dingle) in 2016 and and Stefan Okunbor (Na Gaeil) in 2018.

Lucey and Okunbor later returned to Ireland having not made the inroads they would have been hoping for. Tralee native Okunbor has featured intermittently for Kerry since coming back but his progress has been severely hampered by a series of bad injuries.

O’Connor, meanwhile, has built a fine career for himself in Australia, winning the AFL Grand Final with the Victoria-based club in 2022.

Previously, Tadhg Kennelly (Listowel Emmets) and Tommy Walsh (Kerins O’Rahillys) played for the Sydney Swans. More recently, Rob Monahan (Ardfert) signed for Carlton in 2023.

Burke isn’t the only Kerry starlet currently on the radar of AFL scouts. Two members of this year’s Kerry U20 team, Charlie Keating (Dr Crokes) and Tomás Kennedy (Kerins O’Rahillys), are reportedly considering offers.

It is also believed that Aussie teams have their eyes on as many as four other Kerry prospects.

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‘There’s definitely more in me’ – Leahy feeling positive after close-run thing at nationals

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Kerry woman Sarah Leahy chats to Adam Moynihan about her recent outing at the National Outdoor Championships in Dublin. The Killarney Valley AC sprinter competed with the best of the best, including new Irish record holder Rhasidat Adeleke.

Adam Moynihan: You recently took part in the 100m final at the National Championships. How was that experience for you?

Sarah Leahy: Atmosphere-wise it was absolutely amazing. Just very good energy all around. And coming out for the final, obviously, Rhasidat brought a massive crowd. So that was really cool to be a part of because I don’t think there’s ever been a crowd that big at nationals before. To be in the final where so many people were there to watch her was obviously amazing.

What about the race itself?

I came fifth and ran a time of 11.74. On the day, with the whole excitement of it all, I was actually really happy with that. I was a bit disappointed but I was like, it’s a great day overall. I ran well, didn’t get a medal but I was really close. I didn’t get the perfect start like I did in the heat. So I was a little bit behind, but I just managed to come fifth in the end.

A week on, the excitement has kind of worn off, and I think there’s definitely a lot more in me. I could’ve pipped the third place But yeah, it is what it is. It was still good. I’m happy with it.

It was very tight for third place, wasn’t it?

Yeah, it was two-or-three-hundredths of a second and it was a blanket finish for four of us. So it was close but no cigar. Not this time. I came fifth last year as well, so I was hoping for at least fourth this year, but it ended up being the same. At least it wasn’t sixth! And there’s definitely more in me as well. Time-wise I’m just waiting for it to kind of happen a little bit. I believe it will. It was amazing to be in a race where a national record was broken.

And the standard was obviously very high across the board. All the big names were there.

It was a very high standard, yeah. Going in we kind of knew that first and second were gone (to Adeleke and Sarah Lavin). Everyone else was battling for that third medal and only one person could get it in the end. (Mollie O’Reilly got the bronze.) We were all close.

But overall I was super grateful to be in the mix, especially in a race that was that big. It’s one that will go down in history. It was a massive weekend and it was very enjoyable.

Rhasidat is a massive superstar now. What’s it like to run alongside her?

Rhasidat is a great athlete and a very nice girl. As you can see in interviews, she’s very humble. So to compete next to her, to literally be running in the lane right beside her, was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for more from the day in that respect. I thought she might have ran sub-11 because she did it before but she still got a national record. To be part of that race was a big deal for me.

Athletics in Ireland seems to be in a good place, particularly after the success the Irish team had in the recent European Championships in Rome. Does it feel like the sport is getting more attention and more recognition these days?

Oh 100%. Support for athletics has grown hugely in the last few years and I think it’ll continue to grow, especially with the success that Ireland had at the European Championships. I think the Olympics this year is going to drive that on even more because we have such great athletes going. The support is growing and rightfully so. The athletes are really getting the recognition they deserve. I think the future is very exciting for athletics in Ireland.

What about your own career? What’s next for you?

I have one last race of the season left, which is at the AAI Games on Sunday in Dublin. I’m hoping to just get a good run out, a good time, and execute the race well. Training will continue until the end of July, I’ll get a month off, and then we’re back training for indoors next year. I love indoors. I think I excel at that. There’s European Indoors and World Indoors next year, so to qualify for them would be a huge, huge goal.

As for outdoors, I’d like to get on the Irish relay team, but I’ll be focussing on indoors first. It should be a good year.

Are you enjoying it?

Yeah, I’m really enjoying it. I think sometimes you might put too much pressure on yourself and try to get a PB in every race but this year I’ve really learned that I’ve done the training, so it will happen when it happens. Just go out and run and let your body do its thing. And I’m actually really enjoying competing this year. I know I’m going to continue enjoying it for the next few years.

With the surrounding support of the club and coaches and my training group, it’s all going really well for me at the moment. I have no complaints at all. I’m very lucky.

Thanks for your time, Sarah, and all the best for the rest of the season.

Thank you very much, Adam. It was lovely talking to you.

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