Saturday 21 September 2019

Five Kerry young guns who can help stop Dublin in All-Ireland showdown

Several years of minor success means Kingdom players won’t be overawed by Croke Park – but the challenge of facing the Dubs and becoming the GAA’s greatest history breakers are unlike anything that they will have ever encountered before

Shane Ryan, Killian Spillane and Gavin Crowley
Shane Ryan, Killian Spillane and Gavin Crowley
Shane Ryan. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

All the talk is of Dublin's All-Ireland SFC five-in-a-row but a glorious opportunity awaits for Peter Keane's Kerry to become the GAA's greatest history breakers and thwart the Drive for Five.

While the likes of David Moran, Paul Geaney, David Clifford and Seán O'Shea are household names at this stage, who are the Kingdom's fresh faces hoping to pull off an upset of epic proportions? Here are the new Kerry kids on the block.


Described as "a reluctant goalie" by Rathmore team-mate Paul Murphy, as he plies his club trade at full-forward and is quite a handful, Ryan has been first-choice goalkeeper under Keane.

Between the posts for the first of Kerry's five-in-a-row at minor level in 2014, it was an unlikely move to the last line of defence given his limited goalkeeping experience - his skills were first honed in appearances with local soccer outfit Killarney Celtic.

Brian Kelly and Shane Murphy were the go-to options for the No 1 shirt last summer but Ryan has made it his own this season having been given the nod for seven of Kerry's league games.

Keane quipped that Ryan's biggest problem after their semi-final defeat of Tyrone was whether he could get "two or three pairs of boots because he'd have the boots worn out from kicking the ball out so much to Dublin" but his role on Sunday will be enormous.

His kick-outs have malfunctioned at different stages - he has a 76 per cent retention rate - and the Dubs are likely to go after him, so his nerve will be crucial.

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Name-checking the list of vanquished foes for O'Sullivan already this summer reads like a who's who of the best attackers in the game.

Peter Harte, Cillian O'Sullivan, Jamie Brennan, James Carr and Paul Kerrigan have come up against the 22-year-old, with each of the quintet, remarkably, kept scoreless.

All the while, O'Sullivan has accounted for 1-3 and is in line for a first All-Star following a series of textbook defensive displays having first hit the public consciousness as part of Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne's back-to-back Hogan Cup-winning sides.

Former Kerry star Tommy Griffin - a selector/coach under Keane - was involved with those sides and having seen what he did at schools level, the diminutive defender has been thrown into the side with great success.

Outstanding at centre-back as he led Dingle to a rare county final appearance last year, O'Sullivan could be tasked with picking up Dublin live-wire Paul Mannion. If he can keep him quiet, that will be a huge job done.


First brought in by Eamonn Fitzmaurice in 2016 and regularly designated as their chief man-marker, it should come as no surprise that his favourite player growing up was teak-tough Kerry corner-back Tom O'Sullivan.

Foley has brought a lot of the traits of his childhood hero to his own game and progressed to the senior ranks having picked up All-Ireland minor honours in 2014 and 2015.

The Ballydonoghue defender made his championship debut last year against Clare and has emerged as a pivotal figure, although he hasn't been comfortable in his last two outings.

Royal rookie Shane Walsh caused him trouble while Tyrone's Cathal McShane ensured his All-Star award with another superlative display when causing the 21-year-old all sorts of problems.

Foley - coached by footballing legends Tomás Ó Sé and Billy Morgan in his UCC days - was whipped off after 50 minutes against Tyrone but has been a regular under Keane and should hold his place to pick up Dublin sharpshooter Dean Rock.


Another relative rookie in defence, Crowley is one of four Templenoe representatives in what is a remarkable achievement for a club pulling from an area without a primary school and home to just 400 people.

A half-parish with Kenmare consisting of two churches and a pub, they don't have a juvenile section but will likely have more than a quarter of Sunday's starting team in their ranks with Crowley leading the charge.

A masters student at Institute of Technology Tralee - where he captained their Sigerson Cup team this year - the 24-year-old also made his championship debut this year having won All-Ireland junior honours in 2015 alongside his twin brother Brian.

With his namesake Peter ruled out for the year with a cruciate knee ligament injury, Crowley has led the line in defence from centre-back.

As 'Kenmare News' remarked earlier this year when he was "spotted in SuperValu Kenmare checking out their brand new self checkouts, which are every bit as quick as himself!", his pace will be an important asset as their youthful defence hope to nullify a deadly Dublin attack.


As bloodlines go, it doesn't get much better than being part of the Spillane dynasty and Killian was highly touted for senior stardom when coming up through the ranks.

His football education started aged three and that's hardly any surprise given that his father Tom won four All-Ireland senior medals with the Kingdom at centre-back while uncles Pat (eight) and Mick (seven) have 15 Celtic Crosses between them.

Another son of Templenoe, Killian was an All-Ireland minor winner in 2014 before progressing to win two All-Ireland junior titles ('15-'16) and an All-Ireland junior club title ('16) to carve out his own reputation as an attacker with unlimited potential.

Part of the UCC side that secured Sigerson Cup honours earlier this year, Killian joins his brother Adrian in the Kerry squad and looks likely to take a starting berth this weekend.

A big Arsenal fan, Spillane will be hoping that Kerry are not the bridesmaids on Sunday and with a Twitter handle that reads "carpe diem", the 23-year-old will be keen to seize the day and add to his family's remarkable collection.

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