County and Munster champions are a target for every other club in the race for the Neilus Flynn Cup
For one glorious afternoon, Dublin, Croke Park and its environs at least, belonged to Kilmoyley. The lamp-posts all the way along the Clonliffe and Jones’ roads declaring ‘Best of Luck’ to Kilmoyley.
Despite the end result, it was the type of day any club would dream to have. To call it special doesn’t even do it justice. It was next to near magical as hurling people from the little enclave in North Kerry made the Hogan Stand a home-from-home.
There was more than just Kilmoyley people present too. Although, clearly, they were in the preponderance. It felt like an occasion for all of North Kerry, for the entire county really. Kilmoyley represented the dreams of Kerry hurling folk, they flew the Kingdom’s flag.
For that sixty minutes – and the provincial and All Ireland campaigns leading up to it – John Meyler and Maurice Murnane’s men had the entire county behind them. Sure there might have been the odd pang of jealousy. More so though there was support, and pride. Pride most of all.
There would also have been the germ of something too for any hurling person worth their salt in the other clubs. A feeling that if Kilmoyley can do it, why can't they? Why not, indeed. The main stumbling block, we would imagine, is Kilmoyley themselves. The Naomh Páirc Erc outfit aren’t going to surrender their crown easily.
That said to put three titles back-to-back-to-back has proven an exceptionally difficult feat, for even the most dominant of clubs. Not since the great Ballyduff last of the last decade has it been achieved and before that it was Kilmoyley themselves who did it.
Only the very, very best sides do it, which leads to the question: are Kilmoyley amongst the very, very best? Having followed them all the way to Croke Park, and even on pilgrimage to Knock (well Bekan just a couple of kilometres up the road), we’d have to give the answer in the affirmative.
Somehow game by game they improved. Without wanting to be disrespectful to their domestic rivals, there was a sense of Kilmoyley consistently rising to the occasion, rising to the challenge of what faced them. Meyler’s men thrived at the higher level and improved as a result.
If Kilmoyley can bring that sort of intensity, fitness and sharpness back to the Kingdom, then they’ll be hard matched. Application and fitness we think won’t be an issue, that’s their stock-in-trade.
It’s more a question of whether or not they can reach those heights again and if the more claustrophobic nature of domestic competition might see them shrink back a little in that regard.
They might not really have a choice in that either as teams will be out to hit the county and Munster champions with everything they’ve got.
It’s probably not harm for Kilmoyley that they've been handed a fairly easy draw in Group 2 along with Abbeydorney and Dr Crokes. They can ease their way back into the competition a touch before the big stuff with a knock-out spot something of a formality.
That might seem overly harsh on the Crokes, but it’s hard to see them challenging the reigning champions. Sure they seem to be improving under John Lenihan’s continued tutelage – and have bolstered their ranks with one-time Galway underage star Vinny Doyle – but at this level, the club are still in a consolidation phase.
O’Dorney, meanwhile, might be an interesting challenger to the established order. They seem to be building over the last three of four seasons. They did appear to take a step backwards last year, but that was without the O’Leary brothers, Michael and Brendan. Both are now back in the fold. Expect O’Dorney to push on.
This weekend's clash with Kilmoyley will give us a good indication of where both teams stand in a way the County League isn’t equipped to do, even if O’Dorney not having to worry about integrating inter-county stars back into the mix is probably a boon to them.
Elsewhere it’s the usual contenders with Ballyduff being installed by many people as unofficial dark-horses for this year’s championship, even though they occupy one of the three slots in the group of death along with Causeway and last year’s finalists St Brendans.
Injuries and absentees, however, look likely to do damage to both those proud club’s chances, which brings us to one of the biggest talking point this year: the scheduling of the championship in mid-summer as part of the GAA’s great split-season experiment.
To us it feels a bit rushed, although we can understand the County Board’s need to have it boxed off before the club football championships get underway, nobody needs the mess of over-lapping competitions.
Still it's very early for a championship to be played, especially with players of the calibre of Fionán Mackessy (the player of the championship last year let’s be honest) unavailable due to a totally understandable desire to travel in the summer months.
You'd really wonder if the GAA is cutting off its nose to spite its face with the split season. It seems to us a decision based off of how well it worked during the Covid years, without proper consideration that those years were very much sui generis.
You’d wonder too if the Kingdom’s inter-county players will have had a sufficient break ahead of the start of domestic hostilities this weekend. We’ve been told that Daniel Collins (bruised ribs) and Shane Conway (hamstring) are unlikely to feature in the group stages following injuries picked up in Croke and Stack Parks respectively.
It’s a bit of a shame some of the very best hurlers this county has to offer won't be available from the off (acknowledging as we do that injuries can happen at any stage), but it still should be a cracking competition.
Conway's Lixnaw, for instance, went as close as anyone, closer really, to Kilmoyley last year and won't be hanging around, while Crotta O’Neills league form suggests they won’t be too far away either (Barry Mahony, by the way, is another man travelling this summer).
Overall Kilmoyley remain the favourites for the competition. Something tells us though that they'll not have it all their own way, more than that it could well be the case that fatigue catches up with them (the loss of Flor McCarthy to injury for the season a real blow) after their heroics last season.
As ever in the race for the Neilus Flynn Cup, it’s all to play for. Let the games begin.