by Adam Moynihan
The worst thing I can say about Kerry’s performance against Mayo is that it reminded me of the game against Tyrone in 2021.
You’ll recall that Peter Keane’s team came up unexpectedly short in that All-Ireland semi-final as they were ambushed by a hungry, tuned in, physically imposing opponent. They simply coughed up too many goal chances and Tyrone ran out 3-14 to 0-22 winners after extra time. The result marked the end of Keane’s tenure. There was an acceptance that something had to change.
I remember writing at the time that I felt that Kerry needed to cultivate a ruthless defensive culture if they wanted their undoubted talent to translate into success. They had to revel in the dirty work – breaks, tackles, tracking back – and get total buy-in from 1 to 36 in that endeavour.
In fairness to the returning Jack O’Connor and his management team, and in fairness to the players themselves, that’s exactly what happened last season. They built a solid structure around central pillars Jason Foley and Tadhg Morley, and to a man they defended as though their lives depended on it. They showed a ravenous appetite for graft that was rarely seen prior to O’Connor’s comeback.
For all their flair in attack, with the brilliance of the Cliffords and Seánie Shea often grabbing the headlines, it was the mean defensive record (just three goals conceded in 13 games) that set the tone for a season that ended with a long-awaited All-Ireland title in July.
For a number of reasons, doing it all again the following year was always going to be difficult. We knew that every rival would up their game. We knew the revamped championship structure would add an extra layer of uncertainty. And we knew that back-to-back All-Irelands are rare.
Another sizeable question mark hung over the group’s psychological state. Would they have the same desire to do it all again? The same all-or-nothing mindset that fuelled the defensive culture that brought Sam back to The Kingdom? Not many teams come back for more with the same intensity. It’s a notoriously hard thing to do.
When the team faltered at the beginning of this season, there were numerous mitigating factors for their below-par performances. Their pre-season was short. They hadn’t the training done. They were missing key players. Conditions were poor. Some opponents were playing ultra defensive football. The league was down their list of priorities.
That’s what was jarring about last Saturday. All those excuses no longer apply, yet their performance was well below what they’re capable of.
Were it not for superb displays by goalkeeper Shane Ryan and the awe-inspiring David Clifford, the margin of defeat could easily have been three times as wide.
Disappointingly, the loss signalled the end of the team’s proud undefeated home record that had stretched back to 1995.
If you’re trying to explain what happened on the day, you might point to the fact that Mayo were very good. That much is true. Kevin McStay’s outfit were brilliant and they look like a completely different animal with Aidan O’Shea thriving at full forward. But I don’t believe for a second that they are, all of a sudden, streets ahead of Kerry, and that Kerry should be getting outplayed by them to the extent that we saw on Saturday.
You might also point to Kerry’s tactical set-up. Jack O’Connor admitted in the aftermath that his full back line was left exposed – especially from Mayo’s long kickouts - so maybe there are structural issues that need to be addressed at this week’s video session.
But, for me, that question mark that hangs over Kerry’s psychological state is still a big one.
What Mayo did the last day wasn’t rocket science. They made hard runs and laid the ball off to the man in the better position, and they took their shooting chances when they came. But from the outset it was clear that Kerry were flat and in danger of losing.
On a number of occasions when a Mayo player made a burst forward and a Kerry man was forced to turn and track, he was left behind almost instantly. Head down. Reacting rather than anticipating. Struggling. If that's not a conditioning issue (and it shouldn't be by this point) then what is it?
Mayo’s full forward line of O’Shea, Ryan O’Donoghue and James Carr scored 11 points between them and too many of those shots were given up easily. With runners punching holes at will, Kerry’s full back line got little-to-no assistance from their teammates out the field (although, having said that, they won’t be happy with the standard of their 1 v 1 defending either).
There were other problems too - Kerry’s midfielders didn’t seem to impact the game at all and their forwards were sloppy in possession – but it was the lack of meanness and competitiveness without the ball that really furrowed brows on the terrace.
On the evidence of this display, is it fair to ask if that appetite is still there this year, to the same extent it was 12 months ago? That drive? That ruthlessness? Or was last year’s success enough for them, for the time being at least?
It’s not the end of the world, or even the end of the season. The champs are down but not out. There is a way back.
The harrowing loss to Tyrone in 2021 had the potential to completely break them but it was actually the making of the Kerry team that scaled such great heights in 2022. They went away and learned their lessons, and ultimately they found their edge.
They have less time to turn things around now, mid-season, but this latest setback against Mayo has a similar feel to it. It could break them or it could make them. We’ll just have to wait and see how they react.
If Big Sam hates the present so much, why should we entrust him with Ireland’s future?
by Adam Moynihan
Yesterday, by complete coincidence, I consumed two pieces of media that focussed on brash, larger than life Englishmen.
For those unfamiliar with Brown’s work, “rude” is a very kind way of describing his frankly awful brand of outrageously offensive comedy. Many of his jokes cannot be repeated here but the narrator of the documentary sums him up well when he notes that, “on stage [Brown] uses themes that most other comedians discarded several decades ago”. He developed a significant following regardless, making millions of pounds off his live gigs, VHS tapes and DVDs.
I was struck by the many similarities between Allardyce and Brown, two controversial celebrities whose success has never been greeted with the acclaim they feel it deserves.
Allardyce is considered one of the leading candidates for the vacant Ireland managerial post and, when prompted by host Eoin McDevitt, he willingly threw his hat into the ring at a Second Captains live show in Dublin. The former Bolton, West Ham and England boss was initially given a warm welcome by the audience but McDevitt and co-hosts Ciarán Murphy and Ken Early subsequently pointed out that the atmosphere soured as the interview wore on.
Allardyce certainly has a tendency to rub people up the wrong way. He and Roy Chubby Brown have that in common. But that’s not where the parallels end.
Perhaps the most tangible link is both men’s aversion to foreigners. Brown frequently takes jabs at immigrants as part of his routine, while Big Sam is vociferously opposed to non-English managers and owners coming to the Premier League and, in his words, “pinching our jobs”. While Allardyce is obviously nowhere near as overtly xenophobic as Brown, that particular remark is exactly like one of Brown’s gags, albeit without the punchline.
Like Brown, Allardyce rails against modernity and refuses to accept that times change. He claims we have all been brainwashed into thinking that possession football is good in much the same way that Brown believes we’ve all been brainwashed into thinking that taking the piss out of minorities is bad.
In taking that stance, they both reveal how out of touch they are with the majority of the population. (The classic Principal Skinner line “no, it’s the children who are wrong” springs to mind.) Instead of adapting their approach and moving with the times, they remain devoutly true to their methods, however outdated the rest of the world deems them to be. Emboldened by a small cult following of Little Englanders, they lack the self-awareness to realise why they are out of favour with everyone else. And they’re not for changing.
Allardyce, who lost his England job after just 67 days due to alleged professional malpractice, favours a direct style of football. There may be a time and place for such an approach but most people prefer to watch possession-based football, and most players prefer to play it. It’s not a global conspiracy to do old-style managers like Allardyce out of a job. “Tippy tappy football”, as Big Sam calls it, is popular for a reason.
In the documentary, Brown (then 61) laments the fact that he hasn’t been on TV in 18 years. The audiences at his live shows are dwindling and the money coming in isn’t covering his expenditure. But, of course, he and his material are not to blame. Society is the problem.
(The Middlesbrough native is still performing, incidentally, although earlier this year a number of his shows were cancelled. His manager accused venues of “bowing to the woke/snowflake pressure”.)
Allardyce’s best days are more than likely behind him too. His career peaked in the mid-2000s when he brought Bolton all the way to Europe. That was a fantastic achievement but in football terms it’s a lifetime ago.
As I reflected on the interview and the documentary, it occurred to me that giving the Ireland job to Sam Allardyce would, in a way, be like giving The Late Late Show job to Roy Chubby Brown. What message would that put out? What values would it promote?
More importantly, why should we entrust the future of Irish football to someone who clearly despises the modern game?
If that’s how he feels about the present, imagine how he’ll feel about whatever comes next.
Fossa on cusp of history as club from ‘nine square miles’ eyes senior status
Kerry IFC Final
Fossa v Milltown/Castlemaine
Austin Stack Park
Never before in the history of Kerry football has an Intermediate final attracted so much attention.
On Sunday, two clubs go head-to-head with a trophy and promotion on the line – but this high-profile encounter has far more riding on it than that.
In fact, the consequences of the outcome of this second-tier decider are going to be massive. If Fossa win, they will graduate to senior for the first time in their 53-year existence. It would represent a monumental achievement for the club from the small parish to the northwest of Killarney; few, if any, believed it would ever be possible given their lowly standing as recently as a few years ago.
With two generational talents at their disposal in the form of the Clifford brothers from Two Mile, they have rapidly risen through the ranks. Now they are seeking their second successive promotion following on from last year’s extra time win over Listry in the Junior Premier final.
And if the idea of Fossa going out on their own in the Kery Senior Football Championship wasn’t intriguing enough on its own, there’s more. A Fossa win would mean that East Kerry, winners of four of the last five titles, would lose their Fossa contingent for 2024. Most notable amongst that cohort are Paudie and David Clifford, unquestionably the district’s two most influential players.
There is plenty of intrigue from Milltown/Castlemaine’s perspective too. The Mid Kerry side are aiming to get back to senior level for the first time since being relegated in 2016 following defeat to Kilcummin in a playoff. They were not considered to be amongst the frontrunners for this competition before a ball was kicked, and possibly not after the group stage either, so victory this weekend would be sweet.
Of course, a Milltown/Castlemaine win would also have a huge bearing on the 2024 County Championship. Mid Kerry (runners-up in 2020, 2022 and 2023) stand to lose five starters if Milltown are promoted: Pa Wrenn, David Roche, Gavin Horan, Cillian Burke and Éanna O’Connor. Such a loss would greatly weaken their hand and widen the gap that already exists between them and the reigning champions. Add to that the fact that East Kerry will keep the Cliffords if Milltown/Castlemaine win, and the significance of this game is magnified further still.
There is so much at stake for all the invested parties in East and Mid Kerry, and there is plenty to consider for the neutral fan as well. Many would welcome the weakening of East Kerry’s squad as it would potentially lead to a more competitive County Championship. However, there is serious concern amongst Kerry supporters that the Cliffords are in need of a rest after a long couple of years with club and county. If Fossa prevail they will advance to the Munster Championship and possibly beyond if they manage to keep on winning. This would likely interfere with their star players’ off-season.
There’s no doubt that the nature of Fossa’s matches to date have whetted the appetite for this final. They were involved in exhilarating extra time victories over Castleisland and Austin Stacks in the previous rounds and more excitement of that nature would be more than welcome after a largely disappointing County Championship.
Milltown/Castlemaine also bring plenty to the table and although the momentum from their own semi-final heroics against Legion may have dwindled somewhat over the many weeks between then and now, they can certainly take heart from that result against one of the pre-tournament favourites.
It’s all set up to be a fascinating match-up and a large crowd is expected in Tralee for this one.
The match will also be streamed live by Clubber.
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