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The Big Interview: Darragh Long explains how the Kerry ladies are shifting our perceptions of women in sport

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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.

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Kerry Camogie vow to back players in shorts/skorts controversy

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by Adam Moynihan

The Kerry County Board will back their players if they decide to defy the rulebook and wear shorts after officials at the Camogie Association’s National Congress voted to keep the controversial skort.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry Camogie chairperson Ann Marie Russell confirmed that she is fully behind the players, the vast majority of whom want the skort to be binned.

“I know there have been calls for a protest, that they would all go out the first weekend of the championship and wear shorts,” Russell said. “If the players felt that was something they wanted to do, Kerry Camogie would absolutely support them.

“It should be up to the people who it affects. It doesn’t matter to me what the players wear or what they look like. They should be comfortable.”

The punishment for not wearing the correct playing gear is a yellow card which can be followed by a red card for dissent if not rectified.

Players say the skirt-like garment is not comfortable and they were hopeful that it would finally become a thing of the past when the issue was raised at Congress in Kildare last weekend.

However, a motion by Tipperary and Kerry to replace it with shorts was defeated by 64% to 36%. A similar proposal by Great Britain and Meath which would have given players the option to choose between skorts and shorts also fell well short of the two-thirds majority required (55% against, 45% in favour).

Voting was carried out by delegates from the various county boards as well as members of central and provincial councils. The majority of voters were female.

As one of Kerry’s two delegates, Russell confirmed that she voted in line with the players’ wishes, but she fears that delegates from some counties didn’t do likewise.

“Our job as delegates is to speak on behalf of the players and I definitely felt as though that wasn’t reflected by some of the other counties. I don’t know any girl in any age group at any level that goes to training in a skort. That, in itself, should speak volumes to the powers that be. Even the counties that wanted to keep the skorts, there’s no way their girls go training in skorts. I know they don’t.

“When camogie first started, women weren’t allowed to wear pants, so they had no choice but to wear skirts. They were longer at the time and things have evolved since then. The design is better. But there is a misconception that there are shorts underneath the skirts so ‘what’s the big deal?’ They’re not shorts, they’re compression shorts. That’s not the same thing.

“And look, I’m not wearing the skorts so it doesn’t matter to me. You have to listen to the players. That’s what I feel.

“We’re making decisions that really have little relevance to us, so we really have to take our players’ opinions into it. I’m not sure how many delegates go back and ask their players about these motions before they vote on them.”

Also speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, Kerry senior player Niamh Leen outlined the specific issues players have with the skort.

“If you went around the country, I guarantee you that you’d only find a handful of girls actually training in a skort,” the Clanmaurice woman said. “I’ve never been to a training session where someone was wearing a skort. We’re all in shorts.

“The practical side of it is that they’re really uncomfortable. They’re constantly rising up and I spend the majority of the match pulling the skort down instead of concentrating on the game. It shouldn’t be that way.”

According to Leen, the discomfort felt by players is not just physical. There is also a psychological discomfort involved.

“I am very paranoid about the skort, especially the length. You spend a lot of time bending over to pick up the ball and I am conscious of it. Even if you size up, it’s still too short. The only way to counteract it is to wear Skins (base layer) underneath which I don’t really like doing because that’s not overly comfortable either.

“It should be a players’ vote at the end of the day. We’re the ones who actually have to wear them and we should be the ones having the say. But, unfortunately, it’s not up to us.

“It’s very, very annoying. I could use harsher words but it is just frustrating, you know? We’ve wanted this motion to be passed for so many years.

“Nobody I know likes playing in a skort and it’s frustrating that our own organisation aren’t taking the players into account.”

This is not the first time a proposal to replace the skort has been rejected and players will have to wait another three years for the next Congress to try to alter the rules on an official basis.

Leen believes that she and her colleagues should not have to wait that long and questions the reasoning of those delegates who voted to keep the status quo.

“Honestly, I think it’s to keep the tradition and to keep us unique, and maybe they see the skorts as being more feminine, which is just mind-boggling for me. I just don’t understand how that could be a reason to keep something that’s making girls uncomfortable.

“I understand that it’s the tradition, but sometimes traditions have to move on.”

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MATCH PREVIEW: Kerry name strong team for league final showdown with Armagh

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by Adam Moynihan

Lidl National League Division 1 Final

Kerry v Armagh

Sunday 3pm

Croke Park

Live on TG4

The Kerry ladies return to Croke Park on Sunday hoping to retain their Division 1 crown and managers Declan Quill and Darragh Long have named a strong-looking line-up for their battle against Armagh.

Kerry mostly used the league for experimenting but they still managed to win five of their seven matches, enough to secure a top two finish.

Now almost all of The Kingdom’s big hitters are back in play, as evidenced by the team they have selected for this weekend’s Division 1 decider at HQ.

Eleven members of the side that lost to Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland final have been selected to start against Armagh. The four “new” starters are goalkeeper Mary Ellen Bolger, full back Deirdre Kearney, midfielder Mary O’Connell and full forward Emma Dineen.

Dineen has rejoined the panel following a spell abroad and has slotted seamlessly into Kerry’s full forward line. She will be flanked by Footballer of the Year Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh and the skilful Hannah O’Donoghue, who scored 1-2 against Galway a fortnight ago.

The only really notable absentee – apart from veterans like Emma Costello and Louise Galvin who haven’t yet featured for the team in 2024 – is Síofra O’Shea. The dynamic attacker, who heroically came off the bench in last year’s All-Ireland despite damaging her ACL in the lead-up to the game, is still rehabbing that serious injury.

Meanwhile, the return of All-Star defender Cáit Lynch bolsters Kerry’s back six. The Castleisland Desmonds woman has been used sparingly so far this year and she came on at half-time in that final regulation league game versus Galway.

Quill and Long are likely to call on substitutes Amy Harrington and Danielle O’Leary to make an impact if and when required.

Kerry’s sole loss in the league came at the hands of their final opponents, Armagh, who are looking to emulate what The Kingdom achieved last season by winning Division 1 at the first attempt after gaining promotion from Division 2 the previous season.

The Orchard County beat Kerry by 3-14 to 1-13 at the Athletic Grounds just over a month ago.

They flew through the regular phase of the 2024 competition, winning six games in a row before losing to Dublin in Round 7 with many key players being rested.

Star forward Aimee Mackin has been in blistering form. She has racked up 6-21 (4-15 from play) to date, including 2-6 (1-6 from play) in that meeting between the eventual finalists in March.

Armagh had not yet named their team for the final as this article was being published.

This match forms part of a double header with the Division 2 final between Kildare and Tyrone (1pm). Both games will be televised live on TG4.

Kerry team to play Armagh:

1. Mary Ellen Bolger (Southern Gaels)

2. Cáit Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds)

3. Deirdre Kearney (Na Gaeil)

4. Eilís Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds)

5. Aishling O’Connell (Scartaglin)

6. Ciara Murphy (MKL Gaels)

7. Kayleigh Cronin (Dr Crokes)

8. Mary O’Connell (Na Gaeil)

9. Anna Galvin (Southern Gaels)

10. Niamh Carmody (Captain – Finuge/St Senan’s)

11. Niamh Ní Chonchúir (Corca Dhuibhne)

12. Lorraine Scanlon (Castleisland Desmonds)

13. Hannah O’Donoghue (Beaufort)

14. Emma Dineen (Glenflesk)

15. Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh (Corca Dhuibhne)

Subs: Ciara Butler, Danielle O’Leary, Amy Harrington, Ciara McCarthy, Ciara O’Brien, Katie Brosnan, Aoife Dillane, Bríd O’Connor, Kate O’Sullivan, Eilís O’Connor, Fay O’Donoghue, Jess Gill, Róisín Smith, Siobhán Burns, Keri-Ann Hanrahan.

Follow Adam on Twitter/X for all the latest updates from the Ladies Division 1 final at Croke Park

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