In this exclusive interview, our sports editor Adam Moynihan chats to joint Kerry ladies manager Darragh Long
Darragh, you’ve had some time to to reflect on the All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin. How do you feel about it now?
Hugely disappointed. Sport is cruel and we all know that when we get into it. That’s just the way it is.
How are the players coping? Are they holding up alright?
Ah yeah, they are. A lot goes into it, you know. A lot of sacrifice and a lot of dedication. This was our fourth year. The first two years we were building and in the last two years we’ve really taken off. So they’ve put their lives on hold for the past 24 months, each and every one of them. We weren’t cocky or anything going into the All-Ireland but we were very confident in what we had been doing. But we never got going on the day. It was just one of those days.
It certainly wasn’t the kind of performance we’ve come to expect from this team. What do you put that down to?
We haven’t really had the chance to go back and watch it. I won’t be watching it for a couple of months I’d say! We just never got out of the blocks. In the last three or four games we started really well. But Dublin rattled off two scores within 60 seconds. We had the goal chance with Louise [Ní Mhuircheartaigh] that went over the bar…
But the prep and everything was brilliant. Physically the girls are in the best shape they’ve ever been in. The likes of Louise would testify to that. I think she’s probably played the football of her life over the last two seasons. Hopefully that might culminate in an individual honour with a Player of the Year award in a couple of months’ time. I think that would be richly deserved.
We’re not sure what happened (on the day). I’m guessing if I was (Dublin manager) Mick Bohan I would have targeted the first quarter to go after us because we had been getting such good starts. I don’t want this to sound like sour grapes but the foul count was 26 to 14. That accumulated over the course of the 60 minutes and look, we’d be feeling a little bit aggrieved that there wasn’t further punishment at times.
But that’s sport for you. The better team won on the day. I thought we had a good second half, we just left ourselves with too much to do.
Dublin’s tactical fouling was definitely noticeable. They committed 91 fouls in their last three games – over 30 fouls per game – while their opponents committed 40. I don’t want to put words in your mouth but is there something wrong with the rules if a team can foul that much and go unpunished?
I don’t know. I suppose the stats are there for everyone to see. There’s definitely a bit of coaching gone into it. It’s gamesmanship. If we had done it, we’d be saying that we pushed the rules to the limit of what the ref is going to allow.
There are plenty of clips from the last day of players soloing, dropping the ball with the right hand, and the left hand is being pulled back. Whether that’s men’s football or ladies’ football, that’s a foul. I know have been calling for changes in what’s allowable in terms of physicality, but even so we’d still be calling for that to be a foul. We can’t go down the road of changing everything but that’s just a blatant foul.
And if those accumulate in the ladies’ game, that’s a yellow card. But the count shows that fouls were given for other things but there’s no punishment.
I did some research and a yellow card was issued in the men’s All-Ireland series once every 4.7 fouls. In the women’s All-Ireland series, a yellow was issued once every 72.8 fouls.
[laughter] Are you serious?! I mean… That’s mad. That makes no sense because it’s three ticks and it’s a yellow (in ladies’ football). Going back to that game in Parnell Park, I’m not going to name anyone, but there are certain players who made six, seven, eight fouls, and there was no yellow. And we had two players sent to the sin bin. Am I saying there’s favouritism? I’m not. But there is definitely a lot of wiggle room within the laws of the game. We paid the price for it.
Are there fewer yellows in ladies’ football because the consequences are different? A yellow in ladies’ football sends a player to the sin bin for ten minutes. Are refs reluctant to do that for pushing and holding fouls?
Yeah, maybe so. Everyone has a different interpretation of the tackle rule in ladies’ football so it’s very hard, unless you define it in black and white. And I really don’t know how to do that. Like, that charging rule in ladies’ Gaelic football is one of the most frustrating rules there has ever been.
But, again, the main point is that the better team on the day won. We can talk about tackles and coaching of tackles all day long but, unfortunately, it’s not going to change the result.
Some Kerry players are expected to retire between now and next season. Do you know how many at this point?
We have no idea at the moment, Adam. I suppose, invariably, myself and Declan Quill’s future is connected to some of the more experienced players’ futures as well. We’ll have to see what happens over the next couple of weeks. We’ve been on the road with this group for four years. If you add another year on to that, it will be five. That’s a long time. We’ve sacrificed a lot, same as the girls.
The girls can walk down the streets of Tralee and Killarney with their heads held high after what they’ve done for ladies’ football in this county.
I have no doubt there will be retirements. Who and how many, we don’t know. Whatever happens, there’s enough respect and honesty within our group that there will be phone calls made to talk things through before any decisions are made. In a couple of weeks’ time, we’ll see where we end up. It will be made public then at that point because I don’t think we can drag things out for too long.
Kerry ladies’ football was there before myself and Dec and it will be there long after us. We have to make our decision with Kerry’s best interests in mind.
Is there any possibility of one of you staying on? Or are you a tag team forever?
[laughter] Well, we’re definitely a tag team for the Kerry ladies. I think it would be very hard for one of us to stay on. As Dec said in some interview, what we do is very different to what Jack O’Connor does. When Jack rocks up, the bibs are washed, the balls are ready, the cones are there, the sponsorship is sorted – he doesn’t even know about it. Everything is done.
Whereas, in our case, we wash the bibs, we pump the balls, we sort the jerseys, we do the fundraising. There are huge time commitments for us and for our families too. Dec has three kids and I have two. My young fella was three when we started with Kerry and he’s nearly eight now. He has grown up amongst 36 fantastic ladies, who are fantastic babysitters too because he’d go off with any of them at any stage!
I would say, whatever our future holds, if it’s with the Kerry ladies, we’ll be together. If our decision is to step away… Look, there might be no one who wants us either! Our decision will be solely based on talking to our experienced core of players, our leadership group, and making the best decision for the group that’s there.
Do you have ambitions to manage other teams whenever your time with Kerry comes to an end?
Oh yeah. Definitely. Myself and Dec have always talked about it. Five years ago our roles would have been with our clubs and with development squads. You develop a grá for the managing side of things and it’s definitely something we want to build on. If any other teams want us, there will be discussions at that stage. The two of us would be hugely ambitious on the management side of things.
But right now we’re joint managers of a hugely successful Kerry ladies team so we have to decide our future with this group first.
How much progress has been made in the ladies’ game over the past four years, both nationally and locally?
Nationally, I think it has grown immensely. I think it’s a hugely attractive sport to watch. The way the men’s game has gone with the over and back and in and out, it’s not what it was. The speed of the ladies’ game and the conditioning… Dublin started it and Meath took it to another level. That has added to the pace and power of the game – and I think the laws have to reflect the conditioning of the players and the work they’re doing in the gym.
Locally, I think the legacy that this group of girls will leave for girls around the county is absolutely phenomenal. Four years ago the ladies were at a bit of a low ebb. Things weren’t going well for them and maybe it wasn’t the happiest group of all time. What they have done over the past four years is incredible. The crowd that travelled to see them in Croke Park was huge and he support from around the county, both male and female, was massive.
The number of players is increasing because now, instead of a young girl saying David Clifford is her hero, she can say that it’s Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh, it’s Síofra O’Shea, it’s young Amy Harrington. I think Kerry ladies’ football is in a hugely positive place at the moment.
You mentioned Síofra, we were all shocked to see her take to the field in the final after she tore her ACL just a few weeks ago. What actually happened there?
I think it was the best kept secret in the country that Síofra was going to play. There were no mind games or anything like that. The reason we kept it quiet was that the knee could have gone in training before the final so we didn’t want the whole country thinking she was back, and then to put her through the highs and lows of that again.
She’s going for her operation next week. She has a torn ACL. But we were able to get her up to Santry - Colm Fuller from Killarney was very helpful – and they took a look at her and she passed every test that they put her through. If it was any other game and not an All-Ireland final, the risk wouldn’t have been taken. We had discussions with Síofra’s parents and with Síofra, and we kept it away from the group until the week after the Mayo game because we didn’t want it to be a distraction.
She played 30 minutes of football in the Fitzgerald Stadium the day of the meet and greet with the fans. We just got her off the field and changed before ye all came in. She played another 20-25 minutes on the Tuesday night and she was absolutely lifting. The people in Santry called her a medical wonder, but that’s a testament to the effort and the work she put in after her last ACL injury. Her muscles around that area are just so strong. As the team’s captain she was willing to take the risk and she really wanted to help us try and win the game.
There is precedent there: Ciara O’Sullivan of Cork did the same thing and Henry Shefflin did too. Once the doctors and Síofra and her parents were okay with it, we talked to the group and they were okay with it too. To get to run out as captain for the final with Louise by her side was a huge thing for her. And it was great for the team because we all hold Síofra in very high regard. That girl is probably going to go on to become one of the greatest players of all time, that’s the potential she’s got.
We have no doubt that she’ll put her head down, she’ll work hard, and she’ll be back playing for Kerry next year.
Is this team shifting perceptions about women’s sport in general? In the last few months I have certainly noticed more men talking about the Kerry ladies with genuine interest.
Definitely. We were in O’Connor’s pub in Kenmare on Tuesday and the amount of old fellas drinking their pint or their hot whiskey wanting to talk to the players and wanting pictures… It’s phenomenal. Even my own father, I don’t think he missed a game this year. Down at my club, Austin Stacks, they’re talking about the team - they’re all experts now! Twelve months ago they couldn’t name five players on our panel. Now they know them all. That will tell you where ladies’ football is at.
The support that the men’s team has shown our group as well has been massive. Anything they do, the rest of the county will follow. Earlier on in the year when that picture was taken in Currans of the boys standing side by side with the girls, I thought that was brilliant. Kerry were the first county team to put that kind of picture out. They had no hesitation in standing in and putting their names to that and supporting the girls.
As I said, we’re just in a hugely positive place and it’s up to all of us to keep that going.
Darragh, well done on a great season and thanks for your time.
Not a bother. Thanks, Adam.
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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