As Luke Connolly’s ‘Hail Mary’ of a kick hung high in the dark Cork City sky, time, for just a second, stood still. Thirty tired footballers, drenched to the bone by incessant rain, arched their necks and gazed towards the heavens. Cork needed a miracle to come down with that ball. For whatever reason, perhaps just for the hell of it, the gods obliged.
It was a privilege, if not a pleasure, to bear witness to what happened next. Mark Keane’s goal rocked Gaelic football to its core; it will surely be remembered as one of the greatest plot twists in the history of the sport. In an instant, it turned saints to sinners, and losers to winners.
For years and years, we sat at the top table and looked down at Cork. We patronised them. Pitied them, even. In one swift catch and kick, Keane made fools of us all.
The most sadistic mind couldn’t think of a sadder end to this annus horribilis as far as Kerry folk are concerned. The question, though it may pain us to ask it, is ‘what went wrong?’
1. The conditions. Páirc Uí Chaoimh may have been more or less empty on Sunday but at stages the noise was ferocious – not from in the stand but from on the stand. As the torrential rain poured down, it smashed against the roof of the new stadium and made a tremendous din. The conditions really were monsoon-like.
Now, the weather was the same for both sets of players, so you might well wonder what significance, if any, the rain could have had. The fact of the matter is that extreme weather often leads to lower-scoring games, and the lower-scoring a game is, the more it suits the underdog. If points are at a premium, it follows that the gap between the sides tends to remain small. This helps the less-fancied team to hang on in there and the longer they hang on in there, the more their confidence grows, as the favourites get nervier all the while.
This is exactly what happened last weekend. It wasn’t that Cork managed the conditions better – the conditions were unmanageable – it was that the type of game the conditions produced suited the team seeking an upset.
2. Cautious team selection. Not for the first time under Peter Keane, Kerry lined out with more backs in their starting 15 than forwards. Half back Brian Ó Beaglaoich played at No. 10, following in the footsteps of fellow defenders Jonathan Lyne and Gavin White who have also lined out in this position during the Keane era.
Kerry also had a midfielder, Ronan Buckley, at 12 (midfielders Jack Barry and Adrian Spillane have been listed in the forwards previously) and a half forward, Dara Moynihan, at 15. That left them with a forward division that featured just three recognised scorers: Seán O’Shea, Tony Brosnan and David Clifford. This was not a new approach by the current Kerry management team and in recent weeks that skilful trio were able to score enough to secure victories over Monaghan and Donegal.
The problem against Cork was that O’Shea (0-2, 1f), Brosnan (0-1), and Clifford (0-4, 1f) were either not allowed or were unable to get points on the board at their usual rate. Kerry got just 0-2 from their remaining three forwards, who in fairness to them were not really there to put the ball over the bar.
A lot of supporters would say that Clifford, Brosnan and Killian Spillane are not the only dangerous corner forwards in the county.
3. Defensive formation. Again, this is nothing new. Keane likes to bring 13-15 players behind the ball and make it difficult for the opposition to break through. But was it the right formation to adopt against Cork?
This set-up has been employed to help protect a defensive unit that had been porous in the years preceding Keane’s arrival. It has worked to good effect in recent matches, but it is also likely that Kerry used this game plan in those fixtures, and perhaps in part in the Cork game, with one eye on an All-Ireland final against Dublin. That is to say that they would have lined out the same way, with everyone back and no one engaging until an opponent tries to break the line, irrespective of who they were playing the last day.
As an exasperated Tomás Ó Sé said on The Sunday Game, “Kerry set up today for a game that’s never going to come”.
There is an argument to be made that this negative formation doesn’t play to Kerry’s strengths.
4. Lack of defensive intensity. Kerry’s defensive formation worked against Monaghan and Donegal for a reason. Players worked tirelessly and put a huge amount of pressure on the ball-carrier (without fouling) whenever one approached their half of the pitch, or the 65. This was not the case against Cork.
Whenever Cork punched holes they were either met with too little resistance or a tackle that resulted in a foul.
On a day when scores were hard to come by, Kerry gave up some cheap frees at crucial intervals. Eight of Cork’s 12 points came from placed balls.
5. Cork aggression. There may not have been a partisan home crowd to cheer on The Rebels but a lot of the shouting heard in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday evening seemed to have a noticeable Cork lilt to it. Both from the sideline and on the pitch, Cork scores, tackles and turnovers were greeted with guttural roars as the hosts looked to intimidate Kerry at every turn.
At one point, a Cork free was overturned when three of their players converged on Peter Crowley to goad him after he was called for overcarrying. They may have stepped over the line on that particular occasion but in general their in-your-face attitude helped them far more than it hindered them.
Kerry, on the other hand, seemed to be playing with a heavy weight on their shoulders. It was like they were fearful of what might transpire. Cork’s aggressive tone was a contributing factor.
[caption id="attachment_34707" align="alignnone" width="666"] TACKLE: Seán Meehan of Cork is tackled by Kerry's Gavin White during last weekend's Munster semi-final. Pic. Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile.[/caption]
6. Midfield issues. Just as they did in last year’s Munster final, Cork came out on top in the middle third. Ian Maguire and Killian O’Hanlon bested their opposite numbers as David Moran – bar a couple of clean catches – and Diarmuid O’Connor struggled to get to grips with them.
Despite Kerry’s best efforts to crowd this department with auxiliary midfielders, it continues to be a problem area.
7. Missed opportunities. For a team blessed with such amazing attacking talent, Kerry had a nightmare in front of the posts. Seán O’Shea dropped a close-in free short, Tony Brosnan missed chances that he would normally convert, and David Clifford pulled two simple frees wide. You’re talking about three of the most accurate shooters in the country here. Such errant shooting on their part is a complete anomaly.
Diarmuid O’Connor also hooked a straightforward shot and Brian Ó Beaglaoich was unable to convert his side’s clearest sighting of goal.
If Kerry converted even half of these glaring opportunities, they would have won quite comfortably. The final tally of 13 scores from 30 attempts tells its own, brow-furrowing tale.
8. Poor decision-making. Of all the factors that killed Kerry, this might be one of the most significant. Peter Keane lamented the decision-making of his players in his post-match press conference and I thought he hit the nail on the head. Mistakes can and must be forgiven, especially considering the conditions; the ball was like a bar of soap and the surface was like an ice rink. Individual errors were inevitable and excusable.
But what will have frustrated the Kerry manager more than anything was the fact that so many of his players made bad choices right throughout the contest.
They ran into cul de sacs, took the ball into contact, passed when they should have shot, shot when they should have passed... Even David Clifford wasn’t immune to it. At one point he caught a mark close to the Cork posts but instead of taking his score, he played on, got crowded out and fired wide. He was furious with himself. Clifford is not the type of player to make the wrong call, but it was one of those days for Kerry.
The team’s elder statesman and leader, David Moran, was also guilty of some poor decision-making at the end of extra time. When Kerry needed to hold possession and wind down the clock, he took on two shots from distance and ballooned both up into the air. The latter effort handed Cork possession in the final minute, which ultimately resulted in the match-winning goal.
I know it’s easy to say it after the fact and if he kicks the point, he’s the hero, but it has to be said that it just wasn’t the percentage play given the circumstances.
9. Black cards. The fact that Kerry played 20 of the 90-plus minutes with 14 men certainly didn’t help their chances. Championship debutant Ronan Buckley would probably avoid his collision with Ian Maguire if he could do it all over again. It was nothing dirty or malicious but Maguire sold it and referee Derek O’Mahoney deemed it to be a body check.
David Moran was sent to the bin for a foot trip and, like most people, I thought that was a really bad call. Being a man light for the final passage of play in normal time was a blow.
(On a separate and slightly bitter note, how Maguire avoided a yellow card is beyond me. He had six fouls and at least three more that went unpunished. There was persistent fouling on both sides but the Cork midfielder was nothing short of prolific.)
10. Substitutions. Kerry got an enormous lift from Killian Spillane (he was their Man of the Match for me) but apart from that, you’d have to say that Ronan McCarthy won the sideline duel. Subs Mark Keane and Luke Connolly combined for 1-3 and both had a hand in the decisive score.
For Kerry, Micheál Burns can feel very hard done by after being completely overlooked while Paudie Clifford couldn’t exactly do much with the minute or two he was handed at the end of extra time.
It’s pure speculation at this stage but maybe these dynamic forwards could have made a difference.
11. The form of key players. The form of some important Kerry players was a concern coming into this match and unfortunately they weren’t really able to reignite the flame on the banks of the Lee.
Of course, it’s not all down to the stars. Far from it. The entire team must take responsibility and truth be told it’s hard to single out any player who was consistently outstanding for Kerry over the course of the entire season.
Maybe the lockdown didn’t help in this regard.
12. The goal. None of the previous 11 points would be of any major concern this week were it not for No. 12 on the list. Mark Keane’s last-second goal changed everything for Kerry and for Peter Keane.
It doesn’t change the performance, granted. They would have faced some criticism even if Luke Connolly’s wayward shot drifted harmlessly wide, but the whole affair would have been passed off as a lesson. A stepping stone to bigger and better things. The defeat and being knocked out of the championship at the first hurdle place every little thing in a much harsher light.
Was it avoidable? Of course. Tommy Walsh just misjudged the situation. Maybe he thought he and Keane were closer to the endline. Maybe he was wary of flicking the ball away at the expense of a 45. Time would have been up but it’s very difficult to know that for certain when you’re down on the pitch.
At first viewing I wondered if Shane Ryan could have come for it but you would fancy Walsh, with his size, to deal with it, and Ryan probably felt that way too.
But look, it was a day for mistakes. Everyone made them. The ball consistently wound up in strange places.
It was just unfortunate – or maybe divine intervention – that the final ball of the day wound up in the hands of a grateful Corkman.
Almost impossible to look beyond East Kerry but Dingle are best placed to challenge
Adam Moynihan breaks down the groups and likely contenders in the 2023 Kerry Senior Football Championship
Group 1: East Kerry, South Kerry, West Kerry, Templenoe
Defending champions East Kerry are on the hunt for their fourth county title in five years and with a talented squad that’s looking as stacked as ever, only the brave would back against them.
Rathmore’s promotion back to senior level means that Kerry players Shane Ryan and Paul Murphy are missing from last year’s nine-point final victory over Mid Kerry but East Kerry’s strength in depth in all sectors means that no individual player is irreplaceable – excepting the obvious.
David Clifford’s performance for the ages in Fossa’s landmark intermediate semi-final win over Stacks provided a stark reminder of his awe-inspiring talents. Paudie Clifford was excellent too and this year the Two Mile brothers are joined on the panel by four clubmates – another glaring indicator of how far Fossa have come.
James O’Donoghue must be considered an injury doubt after only managing a cameo in Legion’s last outing but his clubmates Brian Kelly, Jonathan Lyne, Darragh Lyne and Cian Gammell are all likely to feature. Current Kerry senior panelists Chris O’Donoghue and Darragh Roche (Glenflesk), Ronan Buckley and Ruairí Murphy (Listry), and Donal O’Sullivan (Kilgarvan) would also be expected to play their part, with plenty of young talent from all seven clubs hoping to break into the starting line-up.
Realistically, the holders should navigate Group 1 with little fuss with South Kerry, West Kerry and Templenoe battling it out for second.
South Kerry and Templenoe played out a draw in the group stage of last year’s championship so there might not be much between them this year either.
West Kerry will be aiming to pick up at least one result after losing all three of their fixtures in 2022.
VERDICT: East Kerry and Templenoe
GROUP 2: Kenmare Shamrocks, Rathmore, St Kieran’s, Feale Rangers
Kenmare came mightily close in the Senior Club final and they should be able to carry that momentum through to the County Championship. Seánie O’Shea is obviously their one bona fide match winner but they’re also strong around the middle third where James McCarthy, David Hallissey and Kevin O’Sullivan put in the hard yards.
The fact that Feale Rangers reached last year’s semi-final indicates that they’re on an upward trajectory. The question now is can they repeat the trick? In 2022 the team was backboned by Listowel Emmets players (seven started that defeat to Mid Kerry) and those lads are coming into this competition in confident form having secured a spot in the still-to-be-played Junior Premier final.
Rathmore are always a tough championship team and the Ryans (Cathal and Mark at midfield and Shane at full forward) are sure to be a handful for any opposition.
St Kieran’s have troubled decent teams in the not-too-distant past – although they lost all three group games (including one against Kenmare) a year ago.
VERDICT: Kenmare and Feale Rangers
GROUP 3: Mid Kerry, Spa, Kerins O’Rahillys, Shannon Rangers
In 2022, Spa found the going tough in a Group of Death that included East Kerry and Dingle. The draw has been kinder to them this time around and they would probably expect to beat Rahillys and Shannon Rangers.
The wheels came off against Dingle in this year’s Senior Club Championship but they impressed the week before against Kenmare. Dara Moynihan, Evan Cronin and Cian Tobin will be important players in attack, with Dan O’Donoghue manning the midfield and Shane Cronin protecting their defensive third from number 6.
Mid Kerry, runners-up last season, will provide their sternest test in this pool. A lot of eyes (including those of Jack O’Connor) will be on Cillian Burke after his heroics for Milltown/Castlemaine in the semi-final of the Intermediate Club Championship. His clubmate Éanna O’Connor (son of the Kerry bainisteoir) will also play a crucial role at centre forward.
Rahillys are facing a relegation playoff if they fail to reach the final of the Kerry SFC and their form in recent weeks would suggest that making it that far is a long shot.
VERDICT: Mid Kerry and Spa
GROUP 4: Dingle, Dr Crokes, St Brendan’s, Na Gaeil
Breaking free of East Kerry’s stranglehold will not be easy but crafty Senior Club champions Dingle are surely best placed to wriggle loose. With four in-form Geaneys in the forwards – Paul, Mikey, Conor and Dylan – they have the tools to trouble any defence, and the return of their established AFL player Mark O’Connor adds solidity going the other way. They also have the incomparable Tom O’Sullivan pulling the strings. As things stand, they are easily the standout club team in the county.
Their Group 4 opponents Dr Crokes will be aiming to improve upon their showing in 2022 when they bowed out at the quarter-final stage. Naturally much will depend on the availability or otherwise of star players Gavin White and Tony Brosnan. White missed the recent Senior Club semi-final defeat to Kenmare with a hamstring injury. Encouragingly, Brosnan (who has been sidelined with a recurrence of a lung problem) was togged for that match, though he did not play.
The Killarney club will be fancied to qualify from their group alongside Dingle, although St Brendan’s – strengthened by the addition of an unknown number of Austin Stacks players to their ranks – could be dangerous.
The other team in the pool, Na Gaeil, are facing a relegation playoff against Rahillys once both sides are finished with the Kerry SFC. Reaching the final of this competition would spare them but Na Gaeil can count themselves unlucky to have been handed a difficult draw for the second year in a row.
VERDICT: Dingle and Dr Crokes
All things considered East Kerry and Dingle appear to be the frontrunners to capture the Bishop Moynihan trophy but there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way, starting this weekend with a full round of fixtures.
All eight matches will be either televised or streamed online. Dingle v Dr Crokes is on TG4. The remaining seven matches are on Clubber.
Friday 8pm Na Gaeil v St Brendan’s (Austin Stack Park)
Saturday 3pm Templenoe v West Kerry (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Saturday 5.30pm Rahillys v Shannon Rangers (Austin Stack Park)
Saturday 7.30pm East Kerry v South Kerry (Austin Stack Park)
Sunday 1.30pm Rathmore v St Kieran’s (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Sunday 2.15pm Dingle v Dr Crokes (Austin Stack Park)
Sunday 3.30pm Feale Rangers v Kenmare Shamrocks (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Sunday 4.15pm Mid Kerry v Spa (Austin Stack Park)
Kerry’s old dogs ready for Tyrone challenge in All-Ireland final
Adam Moynihan chats to Kerry Masters goalkeeper Tony Lyons ahead of the over 40 All-Ireland football final
Hi Tony. Thanks for speaking to me.
No problem, Adam.
Can you tell me about the Kerry Masters’ season to date?
We played six round robin games in the league phase to see which competition we would be in at the end. There are five championships in all with the senior championship being for teams that finish 1st to 4th in the league, the plate for 5th to 8th and so on. There were 23 counties involved in total this year with new entrants like Armagh, Derry and Limerick.
We won five of our six league games against Limerick, Cork, Waterford, London and Clare. Unfortunately we were well beaten by Dublin during the league phase but that served us well because we knuckled down after that and upped the training to twice a week.
We also got a physical trainer on board from Keel, David Clifford, and he has had a huge influence on our development the last couple of months, allied to Adam and Gary O’Reilly from Glenflesk, and Jason Foley from Keel.
We then beat Derry in the All-Ireland quarter-final by a point, setting up a semi-final against Galway in Limerick which we won by 12 points to 7 a couple of weeks back. it That quarter-final win against Derry was our most pleasing result of the season because we were down a few bodies.
What’s the standard like?
The standard is actually very good. While we don’t have a lot of former Kerry players with us – aside from William Kirby and Aidan O’Mahony – we do have a very good calibre of club player with us, the likes of John O’Connor from Kerins O’Rahillys and John Paul Leahy from Ballyduff for example. We’ve come across some big names in some of the games. Limerick had Ciarán Carey, Dublin had Denis Bastick, Cork had Nicholas Murphy and John Miskella, and Derry had Paddy Bradley.
The first halves of the games are really competitive with the second halves probably becoming more of a war of attrition. The key is having depth in your squad and being able to bring players in and out at the right time as players tire, and I think Adam and his management team have mastered that at this stage.
Would a number of the players have represented Kerry at some level in the past?
We haven’t a huge amount of former Kerry seniors but some of the guys would have represented Kerry at junior and underage level at various stages. What the management team focused on when it became apparent some of the former players weren’t joining was getting good quality club players who could commit and make most of the trainings, and I think that has worked well for them.
What’s key as well is that a lot of the players have been playing very recently for their clubs either at senior or junior level. That’s a huge help.
How are the fitness levels?
Depends on what time of the season you’re talking about! The first few weeks is all about trying to knock off the pounds and get to a certain level of fitness. In fairness to Adam O’Reilly, he places a big focus on the warm-up which is important for players of all ages but especially for those of us over 40.
Very few of the starting 15 would last the 60 or 65 minutes so it’s important that the replacements coming in can add an impetus and build on what the guys before them have done. Last year our panel was probably a little light but we have added well with the likes of Kevin Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds), Mark Crowley (Kenmare) and James Nagle (Keel) – all strong and very fit guys – coming in.
Tell me more about your management team.
Adam O’Reilly is the manager. He came on board this year and brought Gary O’Reilly and Jason Foley with him. Gary looks after the statistics, gear and so on and Jason is a selector as well as taking parts of training at various times. David Clifford came on board about two months ago as physical trainer and he has added greatly to the set-up, improving our fitness levels and tackling in particular.
What’s the most enjoyable part of playing with the Kerry Masters?
A huge part of it, Adam, is playing with guys who you would have tried to knock lumps out of at club level over the years! There’s a big social part to it also with us meeting for a pint or two after games and, as well as that, guys getting back into a dressing room environment and having the craic at training.
For some guys who were never lucky enough to wear the Kerry jersey, there’s a huge sense of pride to put it on at this stage. It’s a real an honour. To be fair to the other teams we played, they have treated us with a lot of respect because they know Kerry teams will play football first and foremost.
Also it’s nice to involve our families, kids, partners, and wives and for them to come to the games. We have noticed a lot more people coming to our matches this season.
Which of your teammates are the best craic?
There are a few fellas like Tim O’Donoghue who thinks he’s hilarious but the jury’s out on that one. I suppose the goalies, myself and Niall Hobbert, would be jokers but then the rest of the panel would tell you the jury is out on us too! Kirby is good craic, as is the former Spa man Brian O’Sullivan Darcy. It’s great fun. I would thoroughly recommend it to any guy 40 or over who wants to play a bit of competitive football and also continue training in what is almost like a club environment.
How would you rate your chances in the final on Saturday? Are you expecting a difficult challenge from Tyrone?
Look, it’s going to be very tough. Tyrone have won the last two All-Ireland finals at Masters level and they have the experience, whereas this is our first go, as it were. They have a solid team built with the likes of Seán Cavanagh, Conor Gormley and Stephen O’Neill in their ranks.
It will be a tall order for sure but we’ll give it our all and the whole panel are chomping at the bit and ready for action.
Kerry v Tyrone takes place on Saturday at 4pm in Roscommon. Follow @KerryMastersGAA on Twitter for more information.
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