Sunday 15 September 2019

Colm Keys: 'Templenoe representation for Kerry remarkable given the lack of playing resources they have access to'

Kerry v Meath focus

Club ties: Tadhg Morley with club-mate Adrian Spillane in Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Club ties: Tadhg Morley with club-mate Adrian Spillane in Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Tomás Ó Sé - not the original version - may well have established a record when Kerry drew with Donegal in Croke Park and his championship debut lasted just around a minute before referee Paddy Neilan showed him a red card.

The quickest ever dismissal for a debutant? Perhaps. But a successful challenge during the week means that the young An Ghaeltacht dynamo hasn't had to carry the distinction for long and will be available for this evening's phase three All-Ireland quarter-final with Meath in Navan.

Gavin Crowley. Photo: Sportsfile
Gavin Crowley. Photo: Sportsfile

What can be said with more certainty is that ó Sé was the 16th championship debutant that Kerry have had in just two seasons as the pace of personnel change in the Kingdom continues to increase.

By any comparison, that's quite a number of new faces to introduce to this level of competition, given that they've only played nine games in that period. And it says something about where Kerry really find themselves.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice accelerated the process last year when he gave debuts to Shane Murphy, Ronan Shanahan, Seán O'Shea, David Clifford, Micheál Burns, Gavin White and Jason Foley. With baton in hand now, Peter Keane has kept that pace high, introducing nine more over the last four games - Dara Moynihan, Shane Murphy, Gavin Crowley, Diarmuid O'Connor, Robert Wharton, ó Sé, Graham O'Sullivan and Adrian and Killian Spillane.

Over the same period of time, Kerry's chief rivals Dublin have had half that number - only Darren Gavin and Seán Bugler in the early Leinster Championship rounds this year - with Mayo on 11, though eight of those have come in this, James Horan's second coming.

SURPRISE

Ó Sé wasn't the only debutant against Donegal the last day. In from the start, Killian Spillane was a surprise inclusion given that he hadn't really been mapped even during this year's league, starting just once against Cavan and coming on in two other games.

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A promising career was put back on track with three points from play and the assurance of re-selection this weekend in what is, potentially, Kerry's most competitive line.

The 23-year-old Spillane, son of former Kerry centre-back Tom, might have been expected to make the breakthrough earlier at championship level with the billing as a minor that he enjoyed, coming off the first of the five successive All-Ireland-winning teams.

Prior to the 2014 championship, his uncle Pat declared him to be the best minor footballer in the country and envisaged a quick progression.

"If I was U-21 manager I would have him playing U-21 this year," said Pat more than five years ago of his nephew.

"If I was Fitzmaurice I would be using him with the seniors next year. We're slow in Kerry. We don't bring through... the Cormac Costellos and the (Ciarán) Kilkennys, they bring them through in Dublin, they even bring them through in Cork. We're slow to bring them, a good 18-year-old."

Killian Spillane's progression to championship starter has given his club Templenoe the distinction of being the most represented club, in terms of starters, over the second weekend of All-Ireland quarter-finals, joining his brother Adrian and Crowley, both debutants this season, and Tadhg Morley who has been around for a few seasons now.

Ballymun Kickhams had that experienced quartet, James McCarthy, Philly McMahon, John Small and Dean Rock, on duty for Dublin; the trio of Daly brothers and David Murray gave Pádraig Pearses four with Roscommon; Caolan Ward's late call-up brought to four the number of St Eunan's starters for Donegal; while Clonakilty also had four - Mark and Seán White, Liam O'Donovan and Thomas Clancy - with Cork.

Templenoe's representation is all the more remarkable in light of the playing resources, or lack of them, they have access to. Pat Spillane wonders now how many other GAA clubs don't even have a primary school in their parish to tap into.

"We're one of the smallest rural clubs in Kerry, two churches and a pub. A half-parish with Kenmare. We don't even have a juvenile section," he said, explaining how they merge with Sneem and Derrynane, some 25 miles down the peninsula, for their minor teams.

Pat Spillane has been a strong advocate for rural affairs over the last decade, sensing how the struggles of rural clubs is a "microcosm" of Irish society in general.

It further ventilates the small south Kerry club's distinction of currently having the strongest representation on the county team, ahead of any of their future senior rivals.

Next year they will be the only rural club among the eight senior clubs in the Kerry championship after their intermediate championship win - joining Dr Crokes, Legion, Rathmore, Austin Stacks, Kerins O'Rahillys, Dingle and Kenmare.

DEPENDENCY

Yet their dependency on their county players was underlined when they had to concede a league game to An Ghaeltacht on the weekend of the Donegal match because of four injuries and the involvement of two more players, Stephen O'Sullivan and John Spillane, with the Kerry juniors.

"We'd have four or five around. The rest would be in Cork, Limerick or Dublin. You're relying on these fellas to come home for the weekend to continue fielding a team," points out Kerry legend Pat Spillane, a former club chairman.

The number of championship debuts this season also reflects new thinking from a new management still finding their feet but with just one change for this weekend's game - David Moran back in for Diarmuid O'Connor - they are clearly getting closer to finding out what their best available team is.

Unless there are significant changes before the Páirc Tailteann throw-in, the temptation to twist again has been resisted.

James O'Donoghue's continued absence through injury is disappointing, denying him badly-needed momentum after a stop-start career - he has started and finished just two of his 18 championship games since picking up Footballer of the Year in the last five years.

But for now Kerry have asserted themselves and put themselves on the right track for the next decade with one of their smallest units at their core.

Irish Independent

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