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Will this setback break Kerry or will it make them?

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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.

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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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