2021 Club Championships
Kerry's defeat in the All Ireland semi-final could yet prove to be a dark cloud with a very silver lining, considering the enormous amount of domestic games yet to be played. The County Board deserve a lot of credit, given the circumstances, for managing a very difficult schedule – the extra fortnight will be more than welcome in that regard.
Games are going to be coming thick and fast, and unfortunately that hectic schedule after so long without competitive games means that I expect injuries to be a factor as the knock-out stages kick in. The return of county players is always a factor, of course, but possibly less so than people might think; they've had a fairly gruelling schedule themselves and it's asking a lot for them to maintain their peak more or less continuously.
Group 1: Austin Stacks, Killarney Legion, Dingle, Kerins O'Rahillys
Group One will be a nightmare to compete in. Dingle look like the team to beat, especially after crushing Rahillys to win Division One. Both sides were missing big guns, though, David Moran and Tommy Walsh for Rahillys and Paul Geaney and Tom O'Sullivan for Dingle. Legion, of course, have a full contingent with James O'Donoghue joining Brian Kelly and Jonathan Lyne in training full time with the club. More significantly for me, the likes of Cian Gammell (I expect county management to be keeping a weather eye on him), Darragh Lyne (outstanding for the Kerry U20s), Kieran O'Donoghue, Eoghan O'Sullivan, Ryan O'Grady, William Shine....there's stream of young talent to come on board. Austin Stacks? No senior county players but a lot of experience. They don't look quite the strength they were (they were unlucky to peak at a time when Crokes had a club side arguably as good as the famous Mitchels' team of the early sixties, in my opinion), but they won the competition out for the past two years and that speaks of a solid combination. I never saw any Stacks' team that would yield an inch of ground and they won't be giving up on this trophy without a fight.
Dingle will obviously be favourites to beat Rahillys this weekend, although I wouldn't expect anything like the same margin of victory as in the League Final. Austin Stacks versus Legion should be very tight; there's very rarely much between those two teams.
Group 2: Templenoe, Kenmare Shamrocks, Dr. Crokes, 2020 Intermediate champions
Group Two would look like an easier one but I wouldn't be so sure. People are saying that Crokes aren't quite the force they were, having seen them in this year's county league – throw Gavin White, Micheál Burns, and David Shaw back into that mix and it's a different combination. Tony Brosnan's injury is a huge blow, given his phenomenal scoring rate for the club and his ability to rise to championship games. I can see them winning it. I think Templenoe will struggle to repeat their giant-killing feats of last year, ferocious talent and heart, but a low population to draw from. Kenmare Shamrocks? There's a lot of good players with players with last year's finalists, but Seán O'Shea is already in the pantheon of all-time Kerry greats. Paul O'Connor has gone nowhere and marking Stephen O'Brien (much more effective for Kerry than I think people realise, his tracking and workrate was huge and he won three scorable frees) is like trying to catch lightning with a butterfly net. As the old sports saying has it, “you can't coach pace”. The two McCarthys, Dan and James, are real prospects as well. Kenmare will just about be favourites to emerge here. The 2020 Intermediate Champions are unknown at the moment, but there's no soft team remaining in that either.
Group 1: John Mitchels, Kilcummin, Piarsaigh na Dromoda, Ballydonoghue or Gneeveguilla
Seán O'Leary is a massive loss for Kilcummin. Mitchels lost a lot of county league games by a point and were relegated after losing a play-off against Rathmore. Dromid Pearses are struggling since their South Kerry Championship win, although Graham O'Sullivan makes a huge difference in the centre, serious energy. Funny enough, I'll be watching out most for whoever gets promoted, two fine sides.
Piarsaigh na Dromoda play Kilcummin this weekend, and I can see the losers of that one struggling from there on.
Group 2: Glenflesk, Ardfert, Spa or Castleisland Desmonds, St. Marys or Waterville
Lots of 'ifs' and 'buts'. The picture will be a lot clearer after this weekend. Ardfert are struggling, while Glenflesk won promotion and have young guns beginning to shine. You're still looking to Darragh and Jeff on the scoreboard, though Patrick Darcy is pretty much ready – he transformed the U20 game against Cork on his introduction. And I do mean transformed it, he was awesome. But again, a team I'll be looking out for is St. Marys, who are riding a rising wave again, and I expect them to beat Waterville this weekend. Bryan Sheehan....in fairness, there are statues in Ireland of lesser men.
Group 3: Rathmore, Currow, Glenbeigh/Glencar, Intermediate finalist
Currow just about survived last year and I don't really see them as much stronger this year. Obviously whoever loses last year's final will be the likely favourites, a quick chance to make up for losing the final would see them out of the blocks hungry – unless their fuel reserves are depleted by a rushed ending to last year's campaign. Rathmore are still a great team, but have they quite the firepower of old? I'm not certain. That said, the likes of Dan Murphy, David Dineen, the Rahilly and Darmody brothers strengthen their hand. Glenbeigh/Glencar are always and ever dark horses, and especially hard to beat at home. This one will go down to the proverbial wire, but I imagine that whoever loses the 2020 Intermediate Final will be favourites.
Group 4: An Ghaeltacht, Milltown/Castlemaine, Laune Rangers, Na Gaeil or Beaufort
This is the most intriguing group of all, in my opinion. A group of death, basically, you'll work for anything you get here. Four great teams, all of whom are on an upward curve. Laune Rangers and Milltown/Castlemaine both got promoted, Na Gaeil or Beaufort are going to be among the overall favourites, while An Ghaeltacht for me are a bit of a sleeping giant about to wake up – a really solid seam of underage talent. Liam Ó Rocháin and Liam Higgins' great work at the foundations will be supporting another generational layer!
Group 1: St. Pats Blennerville, Annascaul, Brosna, Keel
Keel dropped down into Division Four and I don't think they have the panel depth to stay the full course of such an intense campaign. Brosna have a match-winner in Paul Walsh, whose form looks right back to its best, but St. Pats Blennerville have several scoring threats and I can see them coming through here. Annascaul are coming in with the wind at their back after winning the Junior Championship last weekend and have some great young players like Colm Moriarty and Killian Falvey. Their game against Brosna this weekend will tell an awful lot.
Group 2: Finuge, Listry, Ballymacelligott, Ballydonoghue or Gneeveguilla
I expect Lixnaw to last into the latter stages of the hurling, which won't help Finuge. The great days of the Galvins, Fitzmaurices, and Corridans are pretty much over (but what a legacy) and I don't see them in contention. Ballymac's Aidan Breen is one of the best club footballers in Kerry, in my opinion, but they used to rely a fraction too much on him. That doesn't seem to be true anymore, they have gone into Division One for a reason. The team to beat. Listry have a small pick that they get the most out of, but three games on the trot like this is a big ask. Ballydonoghue were relegated from Division Two, but they have played more often against higher quality teams and I expect that to help them here. Gneeveguilla are a team that I think are on the rise after a couple of reasonably fallow years.
Group 3: Skellig Rangers, St. Senans, Churchill, St. Marys or Waterville
I can't help thinking that either Jack O'Shea's old stomping ground or Mick O'Dwyer's will see the winners emerging here and looking to spring right back up to Intermediate. Skellig have great players, but not enough youth – depopulation is a massive problem for all the South Kerry teams. Churchill are a solid outfit, but Ivan Parker still does most of their scoring. St. Senans have laboured a bit in the County League, narrowly escaping relegation from Divison Three, and I can't see them going all the way.
Group 4: St. Michaels/Foilmore, Fossa, Listowel Emmets, Firies or Ballyduff
The days of Bally/Foilmore blazing trails look over, at least for now – again, depopulation is the cause. Listowel Emmets are on the way back big time – I see a bit of a resurgence in North Kerry football, albeit there isn't the spread for two county championship teams there. Ballyduff – always very solid – will have already put a lot into the hurling championship and it might deplete their resources too much (might not, of course!). Firies and Fossa have been very close in recent years in terms of the county league. Fossa blew teams away last year with amazing scorelines and, of course, they have the Clifford brothers, depending on the extent of David's injury.
Group 1: Sneem/Derrynane, Moyvane, Beale, Kilgarvan
I'd be concentrating on Beale here. Valentia – God be with the days of Mick and John O'Connell, when they ruled the skies – can barely field a team. They'll pull out all the stops for the championship, but they haven't a lot of stops left to pull. Sneem/Derrynane aren't much better for numbers. Ballylongford and Moyvane are solid outfits, but can they actually put enough on the scoreboard for the likes of Beale? Kilgarvan are dark horses. With an absolutely full and fit contingent they are as dangerous as anyone, but one small injury to anyone could scupper their chances. It's that tight.
Group 2: Renard, Castlegregory, Tousist, Cromane
Rob Wharton is one of the most under-rated footballers in the county and Renard are a dangerous side to come up against. Tousist don't have the numbers for three hard games on the trot. Sean O'Sullivan and Donnchadh Walsh have been incredible footballers for Kerry – but they aren't immortal. I see Castlegregory, with their 2020 Kerry minors on board, winning this group (though Alan Fitzgerald hobbling off in the 2020 Final last weekend must be a real concern, he is unquestionably their main leader).The battle for the other spot should be fascinating.
Group 3: Asdee, Lispole, Cordal, Castlegregory
Asdee had a very good league but I can't see them in the hunt for the title. Lios Póil have still to face a relegation battle against Knocknagoshel to see if they can stay in Division Four – a win in that one would see them primed for a good start here and another tough team to beat on home ground. Cordal were very, very unlucky last year and I can see them going further this year. But again, either Ballyduff or Firies will be the team to beat.
Group 4: Duagh, Tarbert, Scartaglin, Knocknagoshel
Tarbert, especially, was always an absolute fortress for their team – Tarbert will be worth watching out for anyway. Duagh definitely look like the team to beat, but defeat to Knocknagoshel this week would badly derail them – and no-one ever predicted any North Kerry derby with ease! Knocknagoshel are well capable of beating anyone on their day – whether they could maintain it over a series of games is the question. All that said, with the likes of Eddie Horan hopefully fit enough to join his brother and a lot of good young players now established as seniors, Scartaglen have real firepower and will be in with a shout here.