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The Journey Begins: Kerry embark on fresh All-Ireland quest

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by Adam Moynihan

National League: Division 1

Kildare v Kerry

Sunday at 1.45pm

Newbridge

Deferred on TG4 (5.35pm)

It’s only January. It’s only the league. It’s "only" Kildare. But already summertime looms so close we can almost taste it.

The return of Jack O’Connor, coupled with an unshakable feeling that this maturing crop of Kerry players are on the brink of something magnificent, has set hearts and minds racing.

Summer in Dublin. The sun beating down. Croke Park rocking, packed to the rafters. And 15 Kerrymen striding purposefully behind the Artane Band. If that image doesn’t stir something in you, you must be lost. Put down the Killarney Advertiser and seek assistance.

It’s hard not to lose the run of yourself in Kerry; at times I think that losing the run of ourselves is part of our DNA. We adore our team. We adore them so much we sometimes lose sight of reality. “If you’re not first, you’re last” is funny when Will Ferrell says it, yet it’s a mantra we seem to take it pretty darn seriously around here. We’re not idiots, we know we can’t win every year. But every year we come back and expect to win.

And, despite the fact that it has now been seven going on eight years since we last won an All-Ireland, expectations remain high. According to a survey carried out by the Killarney Advertiser this week, 81% of supporters are predicting that Jack O’Connor’s team will win Division 1 of the National League (up from 34% in 2021). Almost 98% think The Kingdom will retain their Munster crown (up from 96% in 2021).

As for the biggest prize? 63% believe that Sam Maguire will be returning to Kerry in July – the exact same percentage as last year. Every respondent is predicting that Kerry will, at the very least, reach the All-Ireland semi-final.

The road ahead of us is long and winding. As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

KILDARE AWAY

Kerry demolished their opponents in the McGrath Cup and although the manager insisted that he had no choice but to field strong lineups, he also said that confidence and momentum is key. With that in mind, he will go with his strongest possible 15 (as he sees it) for the potentially tricky league opener against his old team, Kildare.

Dara Moynihan is back in contention after recovering from a quad strain and star forward David Clifford will start after being held in reserve for much of the Cork game.

Mike Breen (hamstring), Stephen O’Brien (hamstring), Gavin Crowley (unspecified), Joe O’Connor (knee) and David Moran (groin) are out. O’Connor will also be without the club-tied Na Gaeil quartet of Diarmuid O’Connor, Jack Barry, Stefan Okunbor and Andrew Barry, as well as Pa Warren of Gneeveguilla.

Shane Murphy could well be thrown straight into league action after impressing in the McGrath Cup final and fellow newcomer Dan O’Donoghue is in contention to start at corner back. He will being doing well if he manages to displace Brian Ó Beaglaoich; the An Ghaeltacht man had fine season in 2021. Jason Foley and Tom O’Sullivan are probable starters at 3 and 4.

Tadhg Morley is likely to anchor the defence from the centre back position with Paul Murphy and Gavin White either side of him. Kerry find themselves short of options at centre field – they are missing five midfielders in total - so regular centre forward Seán O’Shea will probably continue to deputise alongside Adrian Spillane.

Paudie Clifford should start at 11 with Micheál Burns, Dara Moynihan and Jack Savage the likely candidates for the half forward spots. David Clifford and the in-form Paul Geaney will line out in the full forward line, possibly with Killian Spillane, although Tony Brosnan will also be hoping to get the nod.

Kildare are newcomers to Division 1 having earned promotion in 2021 under Kerry’s new manager. That Jack O’Connor factor is bound to add some spice (after the Cork game, Tadhg Morley joked that The Lilywhites will be “gunning” for their former bainisteoir), and St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge is known to be a cauldron.

Kerry will be plenty motivated too, however, and this is a match they should be winning.

VERDICT: Kerry by four.

Sport

Kerry ladies must bounce back at home to Waterford

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All-Ireland Senior Championship Group 2

Kerry v Waterford

Saturday 3pm

Fitzgerald Stadium

The Kerry ladies will be looking to get back to winning ways against Waterford on Saturday following last weekend’s frustrating draw against Donegal in Ballybofey.

The Kingdom led with seconds remaining in treacherous conditions but a late Donegal free snatched a draw for the home side (Donegal 1-6 Kerry 0-9). It was a game that Kerry would have been expecting to win and the result puts a lot more pressure on them this weekend as they try to top the three-team group and earn a home quarter-final.

If they beat Waterford and Donegal do likewise next week, Kerry and Donegal will be level in first place on four points each. The top seed will then be decided by the head-to-head record between the teams. As Kerry v Donegal was a draw, the deciding factor will be whoever scored the most points in that draw. That would be good news for Kerry as they scored nine points to Donegal’s six.

When Kerry and Waterford last met (in this year’s Munster Championship), Kerry needed a late winner by Fiadhna Tangney to prevail by narrowest of margins (1-8 to 1-7). If Waterford beat Kerry and then lose to Donegal, Kerry would be eliminated from the championship.

The Kerry squad has been boosted by the return of Síofra O’Shea who came off the bench against Donegal following a lengthy period out with a knee injury.

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US-bound Kerry runner Lynch hopes to emulate Mageean magic

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by Adam Moynihan

Killarney middle distance runner Oisín Lynch is taking inspiration from newly crowned European 1500m champion Ciara Mageean as he gets set for the next stage of his career in the United States.

This week Lynch confirmed that he will be heading Stateside after accepting a scholarship at Adams State University in Colorado. The promising 800m and 1500m competitor caught the eye of coaches at the leading American college after representing Ireland in the Youth Olympics and also by winning two national titles in recent months.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, the 18-year-old Killarney Valley AC athlete, who is currently doing his Leaving Cert at St Brendan’s College, says he one day hopes to emulate Mageean’s heroics on the international stage.

“The Irish are on the up at underage and at senior level,” Lynch notes. “We have been improving a lot in recent years. When you see Ciara Mageean winning the 1500m it just shows that it can be done by Irish people.

“Sometimes Irish athletes don’t really believe in themselves when they’re getting knocked out of championships by English or European athletes. Mageean winning that European title is definitely something to drive me on. It shows that I can actually do it.”

DREAM

For Lynch, moving to the United States is a hugely significant step, and one that he has dreamed about making since he was a child.

“It’s unbelievable. I always hoped I could earn a scholarship. I worked hard over the last few years, so it’s nice to see that work paying off.

“I had a few schools onto me but when Adams State got in touch, I sized it up and I knew it was a really good opportunity.

“The fact that the college is at 7,500 feet… That’s a crazy altitude. It’s double the height of Carrauntoohil. Altitude training has massive benefits for distance running and nowadays nearly every pro spends most of their year training at altitude. The chance to get that training for the next couple of years is great.

“And their athletics programme is unbelievable. Coach Damon Martin has been there for 40 years and he has coached 12 Olympians. Adams State is in the top 15 for distance in the country and the standard out there in America is very high.”

STRIDES

Killarney Valley AC have made enormous strides since building their new, state-of-the-art facility in 2020 and Lynch is a grateful beneficiary of that progress.

“I can’t thank the club enough. Going back a couple of years we were training on grass in parks. When you want to be a track runner, it’s just not the same. After a lot of hard work by a lot of good people, we managed to get a 200-metre track in Killarney. That’s massive for us and it’s all we need for training.

“The coaches down there are putting in the hard work, including my dad (Con), Tomás Griffin, Jean Courtney, Jerry Griffin, Bríd Stack, Alan Delaney… I could go on. It’s a great club and there are some good athletes coming through. It’s an exciting time for Killarney Valley.”

After Lynch completes his Leaving Cert, he will start preparing for life as a college athlete. He will study kinesiology in Colorado and on the track he hopes to keep on moving in the right direction. That means getting his times down (his current PBs are 1.50.59 over 800m and 3.51 over 1500m), representing Ireland, and hopefully winning a national title in America.

“Obviously I’ll take every step as it comes,” the ambitious Kerryman says, “but the Olympics is the main long-term target, hopefully in LA in 2028.”

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