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The Killarney Cricket Field and Kerry’s long-standing connection to the English game

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Eamonn Fitzgerald traces the roots of cricket in The Kingdom, going back to the days of the Cricket Field here in Killarney

There is something special about sports beginning with the letter ‘c’. Immediately I think of canoeing, curling, CrossFit, climbing, cycling, camel racing, camogie, caid, and cricket. Let’s look at ‘cricket’. More about the other sports at some later dates.

Cricket has made a few rare enough appearances in these pages but it is the focus of this week’s column arising out of several queries I’ve had about how the Cricket Field in Killarney got its name.

Just state the obvious: that is where cricket was played from the 1870s until the sport just faded away in Killarney for strong historical reasons. For the uninitiated, go to the end of Muckross Road and from the Flesk Bridge see what remains of the Cricket Field on the left bank of the Flesk River. It is still quite a sizeable green field, but much reduced with the expansion of housing in the Woodlawn area.

A couple of weeks ago, the Irish Cricket team won their first ever test match by beating Afghanistan by six wickets in Abu Dhabi. That was a breakthrough because they had lost their first seven matches since they earned test status in 2017.

Several countries claim that the game of cricket began in their land, but all the indicators are that England is the birthplace of the game. Some form of it was played in the 1600s. Gradually it grew in other countries, especially where the British Empire held control. This led to the first test cricket match in 1877. Those tests are certainly a test of endurance as some can last up to five days.

The origin of cricket in Ireland is set in the history of its time, particularly in the 1800s when the native Irish peasants lived under the regime of the landed gentry who promoted the game of cricket and confined it mainly to their own class.

In O’Caithnia’s splendid work Scéal na hIomána (The Story of Hurling), he recalls: “In 1829 Crofton Croker walked down Flesk Road on a Sunday stroll with Killarney ADM Fr Edmund  Fitzmaurice. They came upon a group of lads playing cruicéad na hÉireann (Cricket of Ireland).”

I expect that is the first recorded mention of cricket in Killarney. While cricket was quite common throughout Ireland and was an imported game for the English gentry, the County Kerry Cricket Club wasn’t formed until 1872, even though it was already played intermittently in some parts of the county.

Valentia Island was a case in point. Valentia Cricket Club played Tralee at the military barracks square in Ballymullen, Tralee. Later they played their games in the local sportsfield (the present Austin Stack Park). Their colours were green and gold. Surprise, surprise.

The Valentia team included the workers from Britain who came to the island to lay the famous Transatlantic Cable, all 3,500 miles of it, a remarkable feat of engineering at that time. After three attempts they succeeded in 1858. The company had a very active Valentia CC for the British workers. The locals were bemused at first, but in due course they also learned the basics of cricket.

KILLARNEY CC

The Killarney Cricket Club wasn’t founded until April 1887. There is a record of a match between Killarney CC and Major Henderson’s team played on the lawn opposite the Major’s posh residence in Glenflesk in the 1880s. Killarney CC also played two matches against the Middlesex Regiment stationed in Buttevant. Those games were played in 1888.

There were also cricket teams in such unlikely places as Sneem, Ballylongford, Kenmare, Waterville, Cahersiveen, Milltown, Killorglin, Listowel, Tarbert, Causeway, Ballyheigue, Ardfert, Abbeyfeale and Newcastle West. However, they did not last too long in some of these areas.

The GAA was founded in 1884 and Dr Crokes was founded in 1886. Patron of the new Killarney Cricket Club was Lord Kenmare who duly provided the Killarney Cricket Field on a nominal rent to promote the game. The Killarney CC team was very active and while cricket was the game of the gentry in Ireland, when their numbers dwindled in some locations some Irish tenants were included to make up a team. However, that was not widespread.

Anywhere the British were in the ascendancy they introduced the game of cricket. So, if there was a British garrison stationed you can be sure that cricket was played regularly. That was how soccer was also introduced to different parts of Ireland. Soccer was the sport of the garrison towns. A bonus for cricket was when the Trinity-educated well-to-do Irish graduates returning home. They played and supported cricket as a status symbol in society. The same can be said of rugby as it was played up to the 1960s. That has changed in current rugby circles.

Canon Tom Looney informed me that there is a strong cricket connection with his former parish of Kilcummin. It goes back to a ‘John Morphy’ from Ballinamanagh Kilcummin, who emigrated to Australia. Briefly, his daughter Florence Rose made the ‘Canberra News’ after Australia crushed England in 1882.

The Killarney Cricket Field also became the centre for Gaelic football where the local GAA games were played on the pitch leased from Lord Kenmare long before the Fitzgerald Stadium was built. It was also the venue for some stirring Kerry v Cork Munster finals and a venue for Killarney RFC.

Readers will recall the infamous Ban or Rule 27 of the GAA which forbade GAA members and players from playing foreign games (rugby, soccer, cricket, hockey). That was a big bone of contention right up until 1971 when it was abolished at the GAA Congress in Belfast. It became very much a cat-and-mouse game when spectators interested in those games had to avoid GAA personnel catching anyone breaking the Ban.

Ironically, Michael Cusack from Carron in Clare was a well-known rugby player, starring with Trinity RFC. When he was teaching at Blackrock College, Dublin in the early 1870s he played cricket and when he set up his own school in 1877, he founded a rugby team with himself as secretary and trainer. Sevan years later he was a founding member of the GAA. Hence the stand in Croker.

Who can remember the spectators who viewed the local rugby match from the Flesk Bridge?

Cricket is enjoying a revival and recently I viewed the beautiful new base for Kerry Cricket in Spa. No, not the famous football club in Killarney parish, but the Oyster Oval at The Spa, Tralee. Kerry CC won the Senior Munster Cup for the first time in its history in 2018 and were awarded the Munster Club of the Year for successes in the Munster Junior Cup and the Munster Junior T20s.

Currently, they are playing in the above competitions and also in the Irish National Cup. No doubt the game has got a great boost with the increasing numbers of immigrants from countries where cricket is the national game. Will Cricket make an official comeback to Killarney? If so, where will the games be played? Currently, who owns the Cricket Field? Níl fhios agam ach i ndeireadh na dála cricket in Kerry is on the up and up.

And so, back to the Killarney Cricket field off the Muckross Road, getting greener by the day. Wouldn’t the Bull McCabe have a field day claiming the famous field? The late great John B. Keane was so perceptive understanding the DNA of the Kerry psyche.

SPORT IN BRIEF

Cheltenham was centre stage this week. Did you pick the winner for the Gold Cup?

Congrats to the Utility Trust St Paul’s basketball team who delivered a top-class display in the Division 1 league final at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght on Saturday. They put the Swords Thunder side to the sword with a whopping 23 points to spare. Well done to all concerned and further proof why Killarney’s James Fleming is one of the most sought-after coaches in basketball. Next season St Paul’s will be playing in the Super League.

Meanwhile, the Irish bubble burst at Twickenham and it was well-deflated before that late drop kick. No Grand Slam but there is an early opportunity tomorrow (Saturday) to get back on track with the home game against Scotland which is scheduled to kick off at 4.45pm.

Plenty of TV coverage for GAA patrons this weekend with 9 games on TV, including Kerry away to Roscommon on Sunday (TG 4).  I expect Kerry to win that and conclude their league programme here in the Fitzgerald Stadium on Sunday 24 March. Best of luck to Mercy Mounthawk in the Hogan Cup final.

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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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