Wags banned from bus as Keel bid to exorcise final demons

Donnchadh Boyle

Ahead of their Munster club JFC final tomorrow, Keel secretary Brian Prendergast recalls the club's last foray into Munster with a rueful shake of the head.

It was 2007, and the club that produced Kerry great Tom Prendergast had just secured a return to the intermediate ranks. They travelled to Cork to take on Canovee.

"There was a carnival atmosphere after we won Kerry that year," says Prendergast. "We let the girlfriends and wives travel on the bus. We nearly did it – we built up a nine-point lead with the wind at one stage but we got caught in the end. Our heads just weren't in the right place."

It was a source of both anguish and comfort that Canovee would go on to take All-Ireland honours, but after suffering relegation back to junior level last year, thoughts of Croke Park and big days out couldn't have seemed more distant.

"It was a blow. We took a bit of a risk and brought a man in, PJ Reidy, from outside the club to manage us."

Their season slowly gathered momentum and Prendergast reckons that no team has won the Kerry junior championship via a more difficult route, with testing trips to places like Tarbert, while suffering serious injuries to key players.

But their luck turned at the key moment of the season when they were given a "fortunate" late penalty that helped them snatch victory against Darran O'Sullivan's Glenbeigh Glencar in the final.

"That was great but we decided there would be no sideshows and no distractions this year. The lads have been completely professional. If inter-county teams are doing more than these lads I'll eat my hat," Prendergast says.

Their results show that their work has paid dividends, and they have some talented individuals. Stephen Cahillane was the Kerry minor goalkeeper last year, while his brother Aaron is, according to Prendergast, "the heartbeat of the club".

Gary Sayers won an All-Ireland U-21 with the Kingdom in 2008 and Thomas Ladden also played underage with the county, but Prendergast says they are greater than the sum of their parts.

"There are a great group of lads. There's no egos there at all. They all work hard for each other."

Their results mark them out as clear favourites for tomorrow's clash with Limerick's Feohanagh-Castlemahon.

Recent history points to a Kerry win. Since Keel's couples' weekend in Cork went sour in 2007, Kerry teams have won every Munster club JFC title, as well as three of the All-Irelands on offer.

"There'll be no distractions this time. The only people that will be on the bus this time will be the players," insists Prendergast.