by Eamonn Fitzgerald
Tom O'Riordan RIP
Tommo (as he was affectionately known) died last week at the grand age of 84. He had been suffering from Parkinson's for a number of years but the Ardfert native was as resilient in the face of his illness as he was when he was running.
He succeeded on many occasions in track and cross country races in Ireland and far afield, and he dealt with that health hurdle with typical stoicism, accepting the irony of his doctor's prognosis: Parkinson’s won’t kill you but you will die from it.
I first met him in Belfield in the early seventies. While we were training hard with UCD football team he was on a training spin on the same campus.
His competitive career was over having represented Ireland in the 1964 Olympics. He didn’t make the final and he always said in later life that he was disappointed he didn't make it because he knew he was good enough.
After those Olympics he was appointed as athletics reporter for the Independent. He also covered a lot of football matches and that's where I got to know him. He was highly respected by players and managers. They trusted him, knowing that he wouldn't betray confidentiality and publish half-truths or training session secrets. In particular, Mick O'Dwyer gave him carte blanche to the Kerry training sessions. He became a great friend of Páid Ó Sė, who was a regular visitor to his home in Dublin. I have no doubt that he convinced Páidí to use some of those merciless runs up hills to build stamina. Ask the Westmeath men! Tom used these quite a lot in his training for cross-country races.
Heffo didn’t give him the same open-door policy as O’Dwyer did. At Parnell Park, the Dub's boss operated a closed-doors system for the Dublin training sessions.
Tommo first hit the headlines as a student in his native Kerry and then secured an athletic scholarship to Idaho University. He impressed, winning races in the majority of the US states.
He was a winner in Ireland on track and cross country, breaking at least 14 Irish records.
He was very influential as manager of the Irish cross country team in Limerick preparing John Treacy for victory. They became great personal friends and Treacy often stayed with O'Riordan.
He was a fine journalist and stories abound of him running and double jobbing by covering the particular race for the Indo. More often than not he was writing about a race where he was the winner but he was anything but a self publicist.
He had deadlines to meet so he would create the report and then seek out the nearest telephone to file his report while still wearing his running gear. His son Ian O’Riordan is also a very fine reporter of athletics for the Irish Times.
May Tommo rest in peace.
After six frustrating years in green and gold, latest setback was the last straw for Burns
by Adam Moynihan
The news that Micheál Burns has left the Kerry panel raised a few eyebrows this week as Jack O’Connor indicated that the Dr Crokes man was unhappy with the amount of time he had been getting on the pitch.
On the surface it might seem a little rash. After all, Kerry have only played two competitive matches this year and the 27-year-old started one of them. But a closer look at his career in green and gold reveals that getting dropped for the Monaghan game a fortnight ago is the latest in a long line of setbacks that would take their toll on any footballer.
They say you make your own luck in sport and I’m sure Micheál himself would accept that he could have made more of some of the opportunities that he got, but all things considered he was unfortunate enough at times.
Burns first came to the attention of Kerry football supporters when he won the Man of the Match award in the 2014 All-Ireland minor final.
He eventually made his senior debut against Donegal in 2018, the same day Eamonn Fitzmaurice handed David Clifford and Seánie O’Shea their first starts at senior level. The diminutive but well-built wing forward kicked a point and he kept his place throughout the entire league campaign, scoring in six out of seven games (0-9 in total). It was an impressive return for a rookie.
However, he was still subbed off in six of those games, and this pattern would continue for much of his Kerry career. He started three times in the 2018 championship and scored 0-2 against both Cork and Kildare, yet he was taken off in all three matches.
2019 began with Crokes’ run to the All-Ireland Club final so he didn’t feature for Kerry in the league. His one start all year – against Meath in the Super 8s – ended on bad terms as Peter Keane subbed him off four minutes before half-time. Burns was visibly upset as he sat on the bench. It did seem like a harsh decision at the time. He didn’t play again that season.
The following year, 2020, turned out to be an annus horribilis for all of us but it actually started well for Burns. For my money he played his best football for his county in the pre-pandemic league matches. He wasn’t really known for his kicking at the time but he had clearly been working on this element of his game because he came out with all guns blazing.
After coming off the bench against Dublin in Croke Park, he started and scored in the next four matches, registering 0-2 against Galway, 0-1 against Tyrone, 0-3 against Meath and 0-1 against Mayo. Some of these points were real beauties. But he was still taken off in three of four games.
Covid was a disaster full stop but it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the industrious half forward from Killarney. He started both of the outstanding league fixtures when the season resumed in October but he couldn’t recapture that early season form. He didn’t see action in that disastrous defeat to Cork in the Munster semi-final as Keane started the match with a midfielder and a back in the half forward line.
He started two games in the shortened 2021 season (against Dublin in the league and Tipperary in the championship) and once again his year ended in frustration when Keane left him lingering on the bench during Kerry’s extra time defeat to Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Burns might have been expecting his name to be called when David Clifford went down with an injury at the end of normal time – he was the last remaining forward on the bench – but instead Kerry turned to Paul Geaney, who had already been subbed off earlier in the game. Burns was eventually brought on as Kerry’s tenth sub with just four minutes of extra time to go. Whatever way you spin it, that must have been tough to take.
Jack O’Connor returned in 2022 and Burns hasn’t started a championship match since, although he did come on when Kerry beat Galway in the All-Ireland final. He also saw game time in each of Kerry’s last five championship outings of 2023. He didn’t score in those appearances last year and the lack of scoring threat from Kerry’s half forwards was a talking point at season’s end, but it could have been quite different for Burns had things gone his way.
He might have had a tap-in goal against Tyrone if Seánie O’Shea was feeling generous, and against Derry he was all alone and in a far better position when David Clifford decided to stop up and take a point to give Kerry a two-point lead late on. They were small moments but if they fell his way they could have shifted the narrative in Burns’ favour.
He played against Derry in the 2024 season opener but he didn’t have his best game and was substituted at half-time. Then he didn’t play against Monaghan the following weekend. After experiencing an uncommon amount of setbacks in his six-year career, this was evidently the straw that broke the camel’s back.
No doubt some will say that it’s an honour to even be on the Kerry panel and there’s no shame in playing second fiddle to the calibre of forwards that Burns was up against. They’re right, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the man has to be content with not starting. The commitments that come with intercounty football are enormous. It’s hard enough when you’re getting the rewards you feel you deserve; it’s much harder when you’re not.
Burns will go back to his club and I’m sure he will be an important player for them for years to come.
As for Kerry, having a squad member depart mid-season is ideally something that you wouldn’t want to happen but if a guy isn’t happy, maybe it’s for the best. I’m sure Micheál’s friends on the panel will be sad to see him go but it shouldn’t be a big distraction. They are a professional group and it will be business as usual against Mayo on Saturday night.
For Kerry and for Burns, life goes on.
Hard-working Killarney girls are champions of Munster
On Saturday the Killarney RFC U18.5 girls travelled to Old Crescent RFC in Limerick and defeated last year’s winners Ennis by eight point to six to be crowned Munster League champions.
The U18.5 match was the grand finale after the U14 and U16 league finals and so it was played in front of a big crowd on a terrific day for girls’ rugby in the province.
The clash of Ennis and Killarney was always going to be battle and that’s exactly how it transpired. Ennis started the game and kicked deep and Killarney didn’t deal with it, which led to a scrum in a very favourable position on the 22. After a series of good carries by the Ennis forwards, they scored a try in the corner which wasn’t converted.
The Clare side led 5-0 in inside the first minute; the perfect start for the reigning champions.
What was very notable that Killarney took this early setback in their stride and straight away they were on the attack, but credit to Ennis their defence held firm after some good carries by the Killarney forwards Lily Morris, Ava O’Malley and Clodagh Foley.
On 18 minutes Killarney had a scrum just inside their own half and their number eight made a super run and linked up with scrum half Bronagh Dorrian, who passed to Cara Reilly. The referee then blew for an Ennis offside infringement and a penalty to Killarney.
Knowing it was going to be a tight game and conscious of getting the Kerry girls points on the scoreboard, co-captain Fia Whelan consulted with her fellow co-captain Morris and together they elected to take the penalty kick. Whelan slotted over the penalty to make it Ennis 5-3 Killarney.
Killarney’s back three of Marina Eagar, Holly O’Sullivan and Mary-Ellen Mc Donald dealt very well with Ennis’ kicks and they counterattacked on most occasions. Then, with 24 minutes on the clock, O’Malley picked from the base of a scrum on the right and out stripped their defence to make a brilliant run. She found the onrushing second row Joanne O’Keefe who made further ground. Her teammates finished a fine move off in style, going through the hands of Dorrian, Whelan, Eagar, Ali O’Donoghue and eventually Mary Ellen McDonald to finish off a super team try in the corner. It proved to be the match-winning score.
The Kerry girls continued to work hard in the second half and they finished the game in the ascendancy. In the end, they failed to extend their lead but it mattered little as they held on for a historic win.
“This win means an awful lot to us,” Killarney coach Diarmuid O’Malley said. “We can now bring this trophy back home and hopefully inspire the next generation of young Kerry players.”
KILLARNEY: 1. Annie O’Reilly, 2. Emma Dunican, 3. Emer O’Keefe, 4. Joanne O’Keefe, 5. Ella Guerin-Crowley, 6. Clodagh Foley, 7. Lily Morris (joint captain), 8. Ava O’Malley, 9. Bronagh Dorian, 10. Fia Whelan (joint captain), 11. Holly O’Sullivan, 12. Cara Reilly, 13. Ali O’Donoghue, 14. Mary Ellen McDonald, 15. Marina Eagar, 16. Molly Gabbett, 17. Melissa McCarthy, 18. Sarah O’Connor, 19. Isabella O’Leary, 20. Nell Crowley, 21. Jess O’Sullivan, 22. Jasmine Dwyer. Coaches: Josh Whelan, Diarmuid O’Malley. Manager: Elaine Clifford.
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