Explainer: The great labyrinth that is the Kerry senior championship
The following explainer should really be pieced together using Venn diagrams and shaded maps, such are the labyrinth of interwoven layers and overlaps that constitute the unique Kerry senior football championship.
To understand it, you really have to live it. Thus, those of us from outside can struggle to understand the intricacies of clubs, divisions and clubs within those divisions that align with different amalgamations.
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From time to time other counties will study Kerry’s tangled web and come to the conclusion that it can serve them well too, improve their standards just as it has driven Kerry standards over many years.
Until they try to spin it in their own ecosystem. District teams don’t seem to cut it anywhere else, with the exception of Cork. Like stonework, some are just held together by time and it endures.
Kerry’s primary competition is the senior football championship which concludes tomorrow when reigning champions Dr Crokes play East Kerry in Tralee.
But they also have an eight-team senior club championship – complemented by intermediate, junior and novice championships – which, as the title suggests, is for clubs only and is concluded prior to the inter-county championships.
Austin Stacks won that and, if Crokes fail to defend their title, will represent Kerry in the Munster club championship.
With just eight teams in its senior club championship, it makes the standard of Kerry intermediate football stronger than any other counties, many of whom have double the number of senior clubs. And, consequently, Kerry clubs have the strongest hand in the All-Ireland intermediate and junior club championships. All eight senior clubs also participate in the senior football championship in the autumn.
There they are joined by nine district teams or amalgamations made up of the remaining teams outside the senior clubs that compete in their own right.
Kerry football is divided into eight district boards – East, West, Mid, South, North, Tralee, St Brendan’s and Kenmare District.
It’s here that it gets really complicated for the outsider. The South Kerry division has nine teams – St Michael’s Foilmore, St Mary’s Cahirsiveen, Dromid Pearses, Renard, Skellig Rangers, Valentia, Waterville, Sneem and Derrynane. As none currently have senior status, the South Kerry team can draw from all nine.
The West Kerry division caters for five clubs – An Ghaeltacht, Lispole, Dingle, Castlegregory and Annascaul, but as Dingle have senior status, representing West Kerry this year fell to the other four.
North Kerry has 15 clubs in its jurisdiction but they spread out to play with three different teams in the Kerry SFC, Feale Rangers, Shannon Rangers and St Kieran’s. Feale Rangers draw from Listowel, Finuge, Duagh, St Senan’s, Moyvane and Clounmacon, while Shannon Rangers are served by Tarbert, Ballydonoghue, Asdee, Beale, Ballylongford and Ballyduff.
Three more ‘north’ clubs – Castleisland, Knocknagoshel and Brosna – play with St Kieran’s, an amalgamation that crosses three divisions for the purpose of fielding another senior championship team in the north-east of the county. Ballymacelligott are Tralee District and Scartaglen, Currow and Cordal are ‘east’ but play senior football under the St Kieran’s banner.
The Tralee District also contains clubs like Ballymacelligott, Kerins O’Rahillys, Austin Stacks and John Mitchels, but as Stacks and O’Rahillys are senior clubs, and Ballymac’ play with St Kieran’s, John Mitchels link up with St Brendan’s, another divisional team which also draws from Na Gaeil, St Pat’s Blennerville, Ardfert and Churchill, all from the Tralee area.
East Kerry has 13 clubs but with three already ‘seconded’ to St Kieran’s and Killarney Legion, Dr Crokes, Kilcummin and Rathmore being senior clubs in 2019, the East Kerry team has been left to Firies, Fossa, Spa, Glenflesk, Gneeveguilla and Listry.
With Rathmore relegated, the likes of Paul Murphy and Shane Ryan will really strengthen East Kerry’s hand in 2020. The Mid Kerry division draws from Beaufort, Cromane, Glenbeigh-Glencar, Keel, Laune Rangers, Milltown/Castlemaine.
Further south, Kenmare District comprises Kenmare Shamrocks, Templenoe, Kilgarvan and Tuosist but with Shamrocks and Templenoe both senior in 2020, it will weaken their hand. There are plans for all four clubs to disperse to other districts for competitive purposes in 2020.
For those who live it, it makes perfect sense and provides a games programme that no other county can match and a pathway for every player in every club to win a Kerry county senior medal.