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Thursday 28 August 2014

Nothing ignites debate like championship talk

Published 05/06/2013 | 05:36

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Dingle supporters during the game. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Tralee is a town with a rich Gaelic football tradition, and supporters of the code in the Kingdom's capital are never slow to promote its achievements in terms of Championships won, and of the players it has provided to Kerry's success at All-Ireland level.

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Rivalry on the pitch is intense between the respective clubs but generally friendly in a social sense, and discussions on the chances of the various teams in the Championship and the merits of a particular player for inter-county selection are usually high on the agenda, whether in the workplace or, in particular, pubs with a strong connection to sport.

Indeed, one's status in the sporting and social world in Tralee is often given a rating based on whether or not one has won a county championship medal. In essence it's a prized possession in sporting circles in a town that has spread its playing resources across three county championship winning clubs as well as Na Gaeil and St Pats Blenerville.

Going back to the issue of the medal, a reply often given in jest about a Championship winning player whose abilities as a player are being discussed and questioned, is that he may have a Championship medal but, in fact, he never won one! Substitutes, it seems, are never given their due recognition in Tralee, at any rate.

On that note, one would have to say that some of Tralee's finest players have never tasted success at this level, and we are not just talking about inter-county players like Seanie Walsh, Denis O'Sullivan, John Higgins, Timmy Dowd, William Kirby and Kieran Donaghy. I am thinking of such as Mikey Keane, Bobby Miller, John Magnier, Aidan Moynihan, Pa Fitzgerald and Martin Dennehy, players who would have made an impact in any era, but who missed out when the Blues were top of the tree in the 1950s, the Mitchels were history makers in the swinging Sixties, and the Rockies ruled the roost in the 70s and part of the 80s, a golden era in the history of Kerry at All-Ireland level.

Still, the absence of a county championship medal doesn't in any way diminish these players' qualities or the contributions they made to the County Championship, even if they may never be given the full credit for their abilities due to the absence on their sporting CV of that small piece of gold, which has been in short supply in Tralee for some time now.

Kerins O'Rahillys success in 2002 was the last time the Bishop Moynihan Cup was paraded through the streets of the capital town and looking at this year's Championship line-up the wait looks like being extended for at least another year. O'Rahillys and Austin Stacks will have realistic ambitions but such is Dr Crokes dominance at the moment that it's difficult, if not impossible, to look beyond them as potential champions. Then again didn't many say the same thing about South Kerry in 2007 when they were on the brink of a four-in-a-row?

The 11 clubs participating will be in the strongest position in the opening round, given the benefit they have had - even without their inter-county players - of playing three county league games on the spin during May. That not a luxury the nine divisional teams have had.

Division one league leaders Kerins O'Rahilly's look to be strong individually in some sectors, especially in attack, and with David Moran due to return they will be difficult to beat.

Equally Austin Stacks will be tough first round opponents if they can retain a level of discipline and consistency, elements that have curtailed their progress and chances in recent years. Their recent league encounters might suggest that some lessons have been learnt.

Last year's finalists, Dingle, are severely depleted this time around and will need Billy O'Connor to reproduce his goal scoring exploits of 2012. However, without the injured Paul Geaney, who scored 2-22 in last year's campaign, their chances are greatly reduced.

Kilcummin should now be building on their winning minor team of 2010, but, their League form this season has been poor, and, they will be ranked as outsiders, even if their preparation and application will as always, be first class.

Laune Rangers reached the semi-final last year, eventually losing to Croke's by eight points, but such has been their form to date this season that it's difficult to see them making the same type of impact this year.

Legion's young guns, are showing clear signs of their undoubted potential and certainly the prospects for the future looks bright for them but this year, may be a bridge too far, given that they will face, the defending Champions in the first round.

Milltown/Castlemaine have proven themselves a match for everybody in Division One of the League, but whether they have the capabilities to make an impact in the Championship is debatable having been beaten by Laune Rangers in 2012. But they will be competitive, no doubt about that.

Rathmore emerged as a real force in Kerry club football a few short years ago, but they haven't as yet taken that vital final step. Beaten in 2011 by Mid Kerry by nine points, they were outgunned by Laune Rangers last year by 12 points. For the moment, their progress has stalled and this particular Championship could be a defining one for them.

The loss of Ronan O'Connor through injury could be crucial in relation to the prospects of St. Michaels/Foilmore. Their League form has taken a dip in recent weeks, and they will need a win in their first game to restore some confidence in the camp.

Debutants Fingue are top of division two of the county league and are still in contention in the Senior Club Championship. So far so good for the North Kerry side, but this is the real test,and it will be interesting to see how they cope and perform.

For the nine Divisional combinations it's always difficult, in terms of preparation and organisation, to get up and running initially, but come the latter stages they will be much stronger, with real aspirations and ambitions. None more so than St. Kierans, whose concession of four goals in last year's semi-final cost them a final spot. They will have learned no doubt from that experience and are considered to be the biggest threat to Dr Crokes crown.

East Kerry, in disarray in 2009 and 2010, have turned their fortunes around completely and their performances in the two years since then will give them a lot of confidence.

Feale Rangers, without Fingue, do not look as imposing but if they stay in the race until the autumn they will be competitive.

Kenmare District have performed quite well in recent years with a mixture of young talent and seasoned veterans, and have been building for a few years so expectations will be greater this year.

Having lost the 2011 final to Dr Crokes, Mid Kerry lost out to Rathmore and Legion last year, and such was the level of their performances in both of those games that they will need a significant level of improvement if they are going to make any impression in this year's competition.

The Christy Ring Cup Final could have an impact on Shannon Rangers chances of making a winning start at home to Austin Stacks. They have some talented players, and with the proper preparation and commitment they have potential. But despite a few very good performances in recent years they have generally underperformed over a long period.

The team of the Noughties, South Kerry, with four titles in a six-year spell during that period, will again be one of the short odds bets and on paper they look formidable. They're not exactly really the force of old, but still it would be hard to back against them.

St. Brendan's are certainly not lacking in individual talent, and a lot of their players have worn the jersey at inter-county level, but it's a question of harnessing this talent, and in recent years they've been incapable of blending individual talent into a compact and effective combination.

West Kerry, who lost to Dr Crokes by a single point in the 2011 semi-final, lost by one point to St. Kieran's after extra-time last year, so if St. Kierans are seeded second then the men from back West shouldn't be that far behind them.

But then everybody is in the queue behind the Black and Amber brigade from Lewis Road. Barring injuries to any of their key players, it's nearly impossible to see them being dethroned. However, we are all mindful of Kerry's Seamus Darby moment, and the ill-fated drives-for-five by the hurlers of Kilkenny and Kilmoyley. There are going to be many twists on the road and ambushes in waiting.

Locally, the county senikor football championship is the competition that defines the football season. Urban versus rural; club against division; the rivalries are spread the length and breadth of the county. Early starts by supporters finish with slightly longer journeys home. Pit-stops for discussion and a chance to renew old acquaintances, it's a time for the real football people, the diehards who follow their team and the game through thick and thin.

The word 'special' has always summed up the local county championship and 'treasured' is the word that describes that coveted, and often elusive, medal. It's a memento that has never lost its value in a county that has banked more football gold than any other. So, in essence, the county championship is a jewel in the Kingdom's sporting crown. For the winning team and its players it can ultimately prove to be the pinnacle of their sporting careers.

Kerryman

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