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Time for O’Connor to pick his No. 1

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Ahead of the last round of the league, Adam Moynihan says Kerry manager Jack O’Connor must choose between Shane Ryan and Shane Murphy - and stick with them

A gritty win in Ulster. Another clean sheet. League final place secured. What’s not to like?

The mood around Kerry football is justifiably upbeat right now, but let’s not lose the run of ourselves just yet. As the saying goes, all that glitters is not gold.

The most obvious cause for concern at the moment is the fact that we are approaching the fourth month of the season and we still don’t have a goalkeeper. So far, Jack O’Connor has alternated between Shane Ryan and Shane Murphy, giving both candidates a fair crack at impressing him.

Ryan, the incumbent, has started four of Kerry’s nine games (pre-season and league), including the most recent victory over Armagh. Murphy, meanwhile, has started the other five. If O’Connor knows who his No. 1 is at this point then he’s doing a fine job of hiding it.

Considering the uncertainty around the position, it's not surprising that Kerry's kickout has malfunctioned at times.

Murphy, who was dropped by Peter Keane in 2019, has acquitted himself well in the early stages of his comeback year and, for me, his range of kicking just nudges him ahead of his rival. He also seems to spot the runs that little bit quicker, a crucial attribute to have when the opposition squeeze up in high-pressure scenarios.

If Kerry want to be the best, they will need a goalkeeper who is capable of being the best (or at least one of the best) in the country. Murphy has already proven himself to be the best as far as Kerry club football is concerned. Can he make that step up to elite intercounty level? We’ll never know unless he gets an extended run in the team.

MIDFIELD CONUNDRUM

Another lingering problem is the midfield pairing. Diarmuid O’Connor is steadily growing in stature and as things stand he is undoubtedly the first choice for No. 8. The question is: who starts at 9?

O’Connor’s Na Gaeil clubmate Jack Barry has filled the role in recent weeks with varying degrees of success. Barry has been an intercounty player for five years now and he has around 50 games under his belt - so he has experience - but it’s hard to escape the feeling that Kerry could do with a more impactful starter in this position.

The problem for Jack O’Connor is that up to this point his hands have been tied. David Moran hasn’t kicked a ball all year. Stefan Okunbor sparkled all-too-briefly in the McGrath Cup before sustaining a nasty shoulder injury on club duty. Joe O’Connor suffered a similar fate while playing for Stacks in the Munster final, although thankfully he has now recovered from his knee injury. The Kerry captain made a five-minute cameo last weekend.

Adrian Spillane is another midfield option but he has slotted in really nicely at half forward, providing a badly needed physical presence in tight situations. The manager will be loath to shift the all-action Templenoe man now that he is playing the best football of his Kerry career.

The only other option on the panel is newcomer Greg Horan, who will need more game time before he challenges the others for a starting berth. (Seán O’Shea might also be considered an auxiliary midfielder but we have more than likely seen the last of him at 8 or 9. His manager has made a point of insisting that the Kenmare star’s best position is centre forward.)

So, it appears as though Joe O’Connor is currently the only viable alternative to Barry - that is until Moran and Okunbor are back in contention. With that in mind it would be surprising if Jack doesn’t give Joe a spin against Tyrone on Sunday. As I’ve written many times before, the Tralee man offers a type of explosiveness that other nominees for the role cannot match.

Perhaps the most damning criticism that can be levelled at Kerry’s midfielders in recent years is that they have been passive. At times, games seem to happen around them. If the team is to achieve their ultimate goal in 2022, sitting back and reacting won’t cut it.

In his autobiography, Jack O’Connor talks about the need for every player on the field to be a “presence”. Bringing in the likes of Adrian Spillane and Dan O’Donoghue (and then Dylan Casey), as well as shifting Tadhg Morley to centre back, has made a difference.

Now it’s time to add a permanent goalkeeper and an aggressive, dynamic midfielder to the mix.

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Pres footballers are in seventh heaven

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The St Brigid’s Presentation Second Year footballers were crowned County Junior B champions on Friday last following a superb seven-goal victory over Mercy Mounthawk Tralee in the Ballymac sunshine.

The girls hit the ground running, bagging two quick goals from the boots of Lily O’Shaughnessy and Niamh Cantillon.

The Pres defence was solid and dogged throughout and managed to keep Mounthawk from breaching their goal for the duration. Abby Cronin scored three goals and a point to torment the oppostion and Niamh Cantillon scored a second goal plus a point to keep the Killarney school well in front.

Further scores from Muireann Healy and a final goal from Lara O’Neill gave us a final score of 7-4 to 0-11.

It was an excellent performance from the entire team, including the substitutes who all played their part. Captain Eve Culhane proudly accepted the cup on behalf of the team, and St Brigid’s, at the end of the game and joyous celebrations followed.

Congratulations to all the players and to their trainers: Mr Counihan, Ms Healy and Ms Brosnan.

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Eamonn Fitzgerald: Anyone for cricket?

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Eamonn Fitzgerald charts the history of the once popular “English” game that is now experiencing a revival in The Spa

What a change for lovers of live sport. After two years of very restricted action on the playing fields and in the indoor sports arenas, 2022 has got off to a flying start with a plethora of games in all codes. The Killarney sports scene, which is of great interest to this writer, is no different.

GAA and soccer are at full throttle for both genders, as a very popular indoor game, basketball, comes to an end. For now, let’s switch to a very different sport.

How about cricket? Well, what about it, and what relevance does that game have for Killarney and for Kerry?

Some weeks ago I was on our long, weekly group walk, which brought us to a splendid cricket club in The Spa, Tralee – as distinct from Spa, Killarney. This is no ordinary club venue, but the headquarters of Kerry Cricket.

And that set me thinking about the sport and of course the Cricket Field in Killarney. Many people believe that the GAA sports are the oldest games in Killarney. Not so. Rowing and cricket are much older. The GAA wasn’t founded until 1884, but cricket has been played in Ireland since 1792, when the Military of Ireland and the Gentlemen of Ireland took each other on in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

The game still thrives in one of the world’s oldest established cricket clubs. I have seen those cricket games there on numerous occasions and, of course, the games go on all day.

By the mid-1850s, the game had expanded to the point where it was the largest and most popular sport in the country for certain social strata. In fact, its success was such that the first team to represent Ireland beat their English counterparts in 1855, handing them a 107-run thrashing.

However, the game went into decline towards the end of the century, largely a victim of politics and class. The founding of the GAA in 1884 and the subsequent growth of Gaelic games became a rallying point for the disaffected and disenfranchised working class tenants of Ireland against their upper-class, cricket-playing, landlords, and ascendency class.

Although the game of cricket itself was not anathema to the downtrodden, its affiliation to England was.

THE BAN

The game continued in the north of the country and in the heartlands of central and northern Dublin, but the GAA introduced the infamous Ban (Rule 27) in 1902. In effect, GAA players were banned from either participating or even watching the so-called English sports of soccer, rugby and cricket. The ban lasted for more than 70 years, ensuring that cricket became unknown in much of the country.

How many readers can remember spending Sunday afternoons watching the Killarney rugby team playing in the Cricket Field from the vantage point of the Flesk Bridge? It was a win-win situation for the GAA brethren. They did not have to pay to see the game and technically they did not contravene the Ban. The local GAA had people appointed to spy on members who defied Rule 27.

Although housing has taken over much of the old field, part of it is still there. Head out to the Flesk Bridge and look down to your left and there it is.

The original Cricket Field was owned by Lord Kenmare and as they were of the ascendancy class there was a great demand for cricket among the social class. None of the ordinary people of Killarney played cricket, but times changed and, when the Dr Crokes club was founded in 1886, the Browne family was very accommodating. They provided a sports field for the fledgling club. Tom Crosstown Looney, a prominent player with Crokes and with Kerry, struck a great deal, securing a splendid field for games and all for the nominal sum of a shilling a year for as long as they wanted it.

The same man erected sleepers on the Woodlawn side of the Cricket Field while the Flesk was the boundary on the Gleneagle side. Crokes played there and so did Kerry, who met their great rivals, Cork, there. In one photograph of the 1913 All-Ireland winning team taken in the Cricket Field, the sleepers are very visible. Dr Crokes played there until Dick Fitzgerald died and the club built the Fitzgerald Stadium.

The Kenmare’s were well respected by the local Killarney people as they provided great employment and were termed ‘good landlords’.

MODERN DAY

The 2022 cricket season got underway over the Easter weekend. County Kerry CC currently competes in all four leagues in Munster and also plays a number of tournaments.

In 2018 they won the Senior Munster Cup for the first time in the club’s history. They also won the Munster Junior Cup and the Munster Junior T20s and were awarded Munster Club of the Year

Kerry are the first club in Munster to boast a ladies cricket team and would be delighted to welcome new members, girls and boys, adults and juniors to training every Wednesday (6-8pm) at the beautiful Oyster Oval in The Spa. The contact at the Tralee location is Richard Rutland 086 8891533.

And there is a Killarney connection to top-level cricket. Ray Walsh, the well known Killarney garda (now retired), has a brother Eddie who is married to Laura, a sister of Eoin Morgan.

Morgan is a Dub, born there in 1986, who holds the record for the fastest century in the Cricket World Cup. He played for Ireland but really made his name with England. Under his captaincy, England won the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the first time they won the tournament. Morgan, the ciotóg batter, plays county cricket for Middlesex.

“From the age of 13, I wanted to play cricket for England,” Morgan told the Sunday Times in 2010. “I’ve never felt any shame in saying this is what I wanted to do. And the people at home involved in cricket, they were like, ‘Fair play, it’s going to be unbelievable if you make it’. So I’ve never had any shame about this and my father has never had any shame about it.”

Shades of Jack Grealish in modern soccer parlance. Grealish has relations in Sneem and played underage soccer for Ireland alongside another man with strong Sneem connections, John Egan. He of course is the son of the great John Egan from Kerry’s Golden Years. Thankfully, John Egan Junior didn’t ‘take the soup’ and is a key man on the present Irish international team.

In modern times with so many people from foreign countries deciding to live and work in Ireland, they have brought with them their love of cricket. While there isn’t a Killarney cricket team – yet – one does see a few of the new arrivals playing casual cricket. Many of these people come countries like India and Pakistan, and isn’t it wonderful to see them playing the game that is so strong in countries that were once under British rule.

I saw another wonderful cricket ground recently in Valentia, where the sport thrived when so many English workers came to the island when the Transatlantic cable station linking Ireland with the USA was being set up.

Of course, rounders has many of the elements of cricket and it is an official game of the GAA, just like hurling, football, and handball. Sadly, the GAA has not promoted it properly and it is in danger of extinction. Maybe Larry McCarthy, the new president, may take up the challenge and be forever known as the president who revived rounders.

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