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Sem star McMahon expecting tough semi-final challenge

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by Eamonn Fitzgerald

Yellow belly, yellow belly, yup yup yup. Who’s going to win the Munster cup?

Former students of the Sem will recall that war cry of years ago spurring on their classmates to win the Corn Uí Mhuirí. I’m sure the cohort of present students perched high on the terrace behind the town goal at the Fitzgerald Stadium for the recent Munster final have a modern rap version of this war cry. They were so encouraging and entertaining as St Brendan’s proved too good for age-old rivals Tralee CBS.

That support and humorous banter will be needed again tomorrow at… Well, I’m not sure of the venue or the throw-in time for the All-Ireland colleges semi-final. That has not been finalised as this column goes to bed.

St Brendans will meet St Mary’s of Magherafelt and the prize at stake is a place in the final and the coveted prize of the Hogan Cup for the outright winners. St Jarlath’s will meet Naas CBS in the other semi.

St Mary’s has a student enrolment of just over 1,000, but that huge pick will not frighten the Sem supporters. St Mary’s is a co-ed school with roughly 500 male students, whereas the Sem has a bigger base to choose from with up to 800 students.

Two weeks ago, St Brendan’s accounted for the Green on a 0-17 to 0-12 scoreline, but I felt that the local college were more superior than the five-point margin suggests. Will Shine was in sparkling form, scoring nine points.

MCMAHON

Earlier this week I spoke with Cian McMahon, the captain of the St Brendan’s team. First I put it to him that while they were well on top in the Munster final, they were well tested on the way to the final.

“We were, and we really only scraped home against Coláiste na Sceilge,” McMahon said. “That was a blessing in disguise because you need tough, close games to test you out if you want to win anything. That match in particular stood to us.”

McMahon is only still only 18 but he has for some time been one of the most promising underage players in the county. A former Kerry minor, he was awarded the U17 Young Munster Player of the Year, before COVID restrictions closed down games. He has already played senior with his club, Dr Crokes and he is also a member of Declan O’Sullivan’s Kerry U20 team. This modest, talented forward underplayed his achievements to date.

“This team is all about supporting each other. In the game against the Green, Will (Shine) was brilliant, but so many others played very well in support. You need everyone to play their part.”

McMahon realises that he, in particular, is going to be a marked man in tomorrow’s semi-final.

“Yerrah, we will have to deal with that. The rest of the lads will play their part. It all depends how we set up because we know how the northern teams get so many players behind the ball in a packed defence. Gavin White has been a brilliant help in that respect; he has to deal with that when Kerry play the northern teams.”

You need look no further than last Sunday’s Kerry versus Donegal league game at the Park. In the first quarter Donegal were quite happy to step back from any Kerry attack up to midfield, pack the defence, pass the ball laterally and hold possession, tippy-tappy, across the field. Early on I noted that in one passage of play they kept that ball for almost four minutes without a Kerry hand getting near it.

“We will have to deal with that style of play,” McMahon continued, “but we have a very solid team and if we push on for scores we can make it to the final. We need to focus for the full 60 minutes and keep the scoreboard ticking over. There is no one way to win; every game is different.”

GOOD PLAYERS

Apart from McMahon, St Mary’s will face many good players such as Will Shine, Harry Byrne, David Fleming, Dara O’Callaghan, Leo Randles, Kevin O’Sullivan, Cian Foley and Alex Hennigan, their youngest player and the only one of the probable starting 15 who is underage for this years’ Kerry minors.

The bench is very important in the modern game so Kevin Cronin will be hoping to have some of the injured players who were unavailable for the Munster final fit for action tomorrow.

Best of luck to the Sem and their management team of Kevin Cronin, Brian O’Mahony, Gavin White, John C O’Shea, Dr Gary Stack and also helping out Beaufort’s Garry McGrath, who has managed so many Sem teams over the years. And not forgetting Vince Cooper, the man who knows every young player in Kerry from his day job.

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Kerry will need more intensity, more physicality and more collaboration to bounce back from Dub drubbing

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by Adam Moynihan

In the 22nd minute of last Saturday night’s league match in Croke Park, Lee Gannon collected a pass on his own 65 and carried the ball unchallenged right into the heart of Kerry’s defence. Brian Fenton took over and a tackle by Diarmuid O’Connor slowed the attack.

Then Fenton looked up and saw that Niall Scully was standing at the top of the D, completely unmarked. It was a simple five-metre handpass to the centre, and Scully had all the time in the world to steady himself and shoot. His point made it Dublin 2-8 Kerry 0-5. Ten shots for Dublin. Ten scores. One-way traffic.

The Dubs deserve credit for their accuracy in front of the posts – Con O’Callaghan was particularly excellent – but the ease with which they were creating their openings was startling from a Kerry perspective. For Scully’s score, the resistance was non-existent. If the same thing happened in a training match, the manager would be well within his rights to call off the session and send everyone home.

The cameras may have been trained on Kerry’s full back line and, yes, Jason Foley and Dylan Casey were struggling against O’Callaghan and Paddy Small, but Kerry were found wanting all over the pitch. You could have sailed the Titanic down the centre of their defence and O’Callaghan exploited that space to great effect for his third goal. Foley got hoodwinked by a lovely piece of movement by the Dublin full forward, but where was the help?

Centre back Tadhg Morley was pushing up on Dublin dangerman Seán Bugler but that’s the thing with Dublin: all their forwards are dangerous in one way or another. Maybe Tadhg was following instructions but you wonder if he could have cheated off Bugler when the all-action centre forward was outside the 45.

Whether it’s Morley or someone else, that gap in front of the goal needs to be filled – especially against teams of Dublin’s calibre.

What we saw in Croke Park last Saturday was a far cry from the solid defensive structure that won Kerry an All-Ireland in 2022, that’s for sure. You can be certain that Jack O’Connor will be demanding a far more intense, more physical and more collaborative performance against Tyrone on Sunday (1.15pm).

KICKOUTS

Speaking after the Dublin game, O’Connor said that his side “malfunctioned” on the kickouts. While Dublin keeper David O’Hanlon was firing out his kicks like a machine gun, Shane Ryan was far more measured with his. Dublin’s press was brilliant in fairness to them but you’d have to question Kerry’s appetite for making honest, hard runs and receiving the ball in potentially tight areas.

Graham O’Sullivan and Brian Ó Beaglaoich (who is currently injured) are outstanding when it comes to breaking free and accepting that responsibility. You’d like to see one or two more backs getting in on the act.

As for Ryan himself, could he be a bit quicker and a bit more adventurous with his distribution? Look, if there’s nothing on, there’s nothing on, but I think at times he could back himself more resolutely. He has the range and the accuracy.

Of course, if he takes a risk and it gets intercepted he’ll be in line for even sharper criticism, so you can understand him being cautious when the kick isn’t 100% on.

Whatever the solution, on the evidence of the Dublin and Derry games, Kerry do need to try something a bit different to beat the press. Tyrone are unlikely to be as aggressive as Dublin were but when they do push up, it will be fascinating to see how Kerry deal with it.

Kerry’s midfielders also need to compete aerially against whoever they’re up against when it goes long – even if that’s Brian Fenton or Conor Glass or Brendan Rogers. It’s not easy to get the better of these guys in the air (or to break even, which would do) but that’s the level required.

Joe O’Connor showed that his ball skills have improved markedly by taking his goal and his point so cleanly, and he is doing well in general, but he and his namesake Diarmuid will have to be more impactful both from kickouts and without the ball if Kerry want to be a real force this season.

Personally, I would like to see Seán O’Brien getting some more game time. He has only played six minutes since being taken off early on his debut against Derry five weeks ago. Kerry will need back-up at midfield as the season goes on and O’Brien has a lot of potential.

FORWARDS

Up front, the main positive is that Cillian Burke continues to make his presence felt. Even when his more experienced teammates were faltering the last night, Burke stood tall and played his usual game. And he swung over a great score for good measure.

David Clifford will be disappointed that he didn’t convert one of his goal chances – the first one was definitely there for the taking – but you know that over the course of the season he’ll finish more of those than he misses. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if he comes out and strokes one in on Sunday.

It’s nice to see Tony Brosnan back on the pitch as well. He deserves some kind fortune following a tough spell with illness and injury.

Tyrone coming to Killarney gives the players the perfect opportunity to bounce back quickly and show supporters – and themselves – that the Dublin game was a glitch and nothing more. Improvements are needed all over the pitch but the sight of the Red Hand should bring focus and resolve.

A good performance, a win and two points would put a lot of minds at ease.

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Killarney girls will answer Ireland’s call

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A trio of talented young Killarney rugby players have been called up to the Ireland U18 squad for the upcoming Six Nations festival in Wales.

Ava O’Malley, Fia Whelan and Emma Dunican have all been included in Matt Gill’s panel for the tournament, which will take place between March 29 and April 6. They will link up with their new teammates for three weekend training camps at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin during the month of March.

Gill, the current Women’s Provincial Talent Coach for Leinster, will be assisted by Sana Govender, who has previously coached Munster Women’s teams.

“I’m really looking forward to continuing our Irish U18 Women’s Six Nations preparations and getting our camps underway,” the head coach said. “I’m excited to work with Sana and our management team, and to work with this incredibly talented group of players.”

O’Malley, Whelan and Dunican are products of Killarney RFC’s blossoming youth set-up and all three were on the U18.5 team that recently won the Munster League.

Including the Killarney girls, there are seven Munster-based players on the 35-woman squad with 15 hailing from Leinster, eight from Connacht and five from Ulster.

“It’s a very proud day for the girls, their families, teammates and coaches, and for Killarney RFC,” the club commented. “Best of luck, girls!”

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