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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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‘There’s definitely more in me’ – Leahy feeling positive after close-run thing at nationals

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Kerry woman Sarah Leahy chats to Adam Moynihan about her recent outing at the National Outdoor Championships in Dublin. The Killarney Valley AC sprinter competed with the best of the best, including new Irish record holder Rhasidat Adeleke.

Adam Moynihan: You recently took part in the 100m final at the National Championships. How was that experience for you?

Sarah Leahy: Atmosphere-wise it was absolutely amazing. Just very good energy all around. And coming out for the final, obviously, Rhasidat brought a massive crowd. So that was really cool to be a part of because I don’t think there’s ever been a crowd that big at nationals before. To be in the final where so many people were there to watch her was obviously amazing.

What about the race itself?

I came fifth and ran a time of 11.74. On the day, with the whole excitement of it all, I was actually really happy with that. I was a bit disappointed but I was like, it’s a great day overall. I ran well, didn’t get a medal but I was really close. I didn’t get the perfect start like I did in the heat. So I was a little bit behind, but I just managed to come fifth in the end.

A week on, the excitement has kind of worn off, and I think there’s definitely a lot more in me. I could’ve pipped the third place But yeah, it is what it is. It was still good. I’m happy with it.

It was very tight for third place, wasn’t it?

Yeah, it was two-or-three-hundredths of a second and it was a blanket finish for four of us. So it was close but no cigar. Not this time. I came fifth last year as well, so I was hoping for at least fourth this year, but it ended up being the same. At least it wasn’t sixth! And there’s definitely more in me as well. Time-wise I’m just waiting for it to kind of happen a little bit. I believe it will. It was amazing to be in a race where a national record was broken.

And the standard was obviously very high across the board. All the big names were there.

It was a very high standard, yeah. Going in we kind of knew that first and second were gone (to Adeleke and Sarah Lavin). Everyone else was battling for that third medal and only one person could get it in the end. (Mollie O’Reilly got the bronze.) We were all close.

But overall I was super grateful to be in the mix, especially in a race that was that big. It’s one that will go down in history. It was a massive weekend and it was very enjoyable.

Rhasidat is a massive superstar now. What’s it like to run alongside her?

Rhasidat is a great athlete and a very nice girl. As you can see in interviews, she’s very humble. So to compete next to her, to literally be running in the lane right beside her, was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for more from the day in that respect. I thought she might have ran sub-11 because she did it before but she still got a national record. To be part of that race was a big deal for me.

Athletics in Ireland seems to be in a good place, particularly after the success the Irish team had in the recent European Championships in Rome. Does it feel like the sport is getting more attention and more recognition these days?

Oh 100%. Support for athletics has grown hugely in the last few years and I think it’ll continue to grow, especially with the success that Ireland had at the European Championships. I think the Olympics this year is going to drive that on even more because we have such great athletes going. The support is growing and rightfully so. The athletes are really getting the recognition they deserve. I think the future is very exciting for athletics in Ireland.

What about your own career? What’s next for you?

I have one last race of the season left, which is at the AAI Games on Sunday in Dublin. I’m hoping to just get a good run out, a good time, and execute the race well. Training will continue until the end of July, I’ll get a month off, and then we’re back training for indoors next year. I love indoors. I think I excel at that. There’s European Indoors and World Indoors next year, so to qualify for them would be a huge, huge goal.

As for outdoors, I’d like to get on the Irish relay team, but I’ll be focussing on indoors first. It should be a good year.

Are you enjoying it?

Yeah, I’m really enjoying it. I think sometimes you might put too much pressure on yourself and try to get a PB in every race but this year I’ve really learned that I’ve done the training, so it will happen when it happens. Just go out and run and let your body do its thing. And I’m actually really enjoying competing this year. I know I’m going to continue enjoying it for the next few years.

With the surrounding support of the club and coaches and my training group, it’s all going really well for me at the moment. I have no complaints at all. I’m very lucky.

Thanks for your time, Sarah, and all the best for the rest of the season.

Thank you very much, Adam. It was lovely talking to you.

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Kingdom ladies hoping for repeat performance against Royals

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LGFA All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final

Kerry v Meath

Saturday 5.15pm

Austin Stack Park

Live on TG4

Just like they did in 2023, the Kerry ladies will take on Meath in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Tralee this weekend and a repeat of the result they earned that wintry day 12 months ago will do just fine.

Last year’s encounter at Stack Park was a classic game of two halves as the home team ran up a 10-point lead with the unseasonable elements at their collective back.

Meath, who at the time were on the hunt for their third All-Ireland in a row, fought back admirably in the second period but the Kerry women held firm and won by four (2-8 to 0-10) after an emotionally charged final quarter.

Síofra O’Shea was Kerry’s top scorer on the day with 1-1 and her return from injury in recent weeks is a major boost to Darragh Long and Declan Quill’s squad.

The Kingdom made light work of Meath when the sides met in the league in March as Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh kicked 0-8 in a 1-15 to 0-5 victory. Shane McCormack’s charges subsequently lost to Dublin in the Leinster final by 18 points before finishing second to Armagh in the All-Ireland group stage.

Marion Farrelly, Emma Duggan and Meadhbh Byrne caught the eye in their recent win over Tipperary, combining for 2-11 of the team’s total of 2-15.

Former Player of the Year Vikki Wall could be in line for a dramatic comeback after a spell with the Ireland Rugby Sevens team.

As for Kerry, they should arrive at the last eight in decent spirits having put in their best display of the season so far against Waterford three weeks ago. The Munster champions were excellent and eventually ran out 4-13 to 0-9 winners with skilful forward Hannah O’Donoghue (1-3) and all-action half back Aishling O’Connell (0-2) particularly impressive.

Meath are a capable opponent on their day, though, so another professional performance will be required if Kerry want to keep their All-Ireland dream alive.

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