Kerry favourites to lift their 38th All-Ireland
Kerry’s 37 All-Ireland crowns ensures that the Kingdom are rightly feared and respected by footballing purists wherever the game is played. Their status as the kingpins of the game is due to generation after generation of fast, strong and stylish footballers. This legacy has created an aura around Kerry sides in the past, particularly for final opponents. Despite this reputation, Kerry hold no fears for the current Galway squad.
One of the counties most scarred by the sight of the Green and Gold jerseys are Galway’s near neighbors to the north, Mayo. They lost out to the Munster aristocrats in the finals of 1997, 2004 & 2006. The 1997 final in particular makes for a good study in sports psychology. A far-from vintage Kerry side overcame a Mayo team who had lost to Meath after a replay the previous year. Maurice Fitzgerald kicked 0-9 and was by far the most impressive player for either side. Their winning total of 13 points was one of the lowest winning totals in the last forty years. Pre-game favourites Mayo meanwhile repeatedly failed to find the target. Shooting wide after wide as the pressure and expectation of winning an All-Ireland title got the better of them.
The crop of 2022
This year the Kerry men have finally beaten a Dublin side who have had the edge over them in big games in recent history. After Sean O’Shea’s dramatic semi-final injury-time free, the bookies have installed Jack O’Connor’s side as 1/3 favorites to lift their 38th All-Ireland title. (Technically it will be their 31st Sam as their first seven titles pre-date Sam’s first appearance. The first Sam Maguire trophy was presented to Kildare in 1928 after their win over Cavan. This trophy was then replaced by an identical Sam in 1989. I just thought I’d clear that up for the pedants out there!).
Despite an almost decade-long dominance from the Dubs, Kerry sides still consider themselves superior to every other county in the land. This confidence comes from their success not just at Senior All-Ireland level, but also from countless victories at all levels of the game. Current superstar, David Clifford’s eye-catching 4-04 in the 2017 minor final win over Derry earmarked the Fossa youngster for greatness. Five minor titles in a row from 2014-18 and a runners-up spot in 2020 has continued on the green and gold production line.
In recent years, however, that air of invincibility has lost some of its lustre at Senior level. Kerry’s most recent All-Ireland title came in the 2014 win over Donegal. Eight years is practically a famine by the standards of their illustrious past. Defeats to Dublin in the finals of 2015 and 2019 have created doubts in their previously unparalleled levels of self-belief. Particularly the 6-point defeat in the replayed 2019 final.
In the first half of the drawn match, the dismissal of Jonny Cooper handed a sizeable advantage to Peter Keane’s side. They had come from five points in arrears to edge ahead in the closing stages. A converted free from Dean Rock four minutes into stoppage time gave Jim Gavin’s Dublin a second bite at securing their historic five in a row. It was a game that the Kerry fans felt they left behind them. 0-8 from 17 first-half scoring chances, which included a Paul Geaney penalty saved by Stephen Cluxton, was a poor return by their standards.
Kerry hold no fears for the current Galway squad
Sunday’s final opponents Galway have none of the big game experience on All-Ireland final day that their opponents have. This is the Tribesmen’s first final since their 2001 victory over Meath. Current manager Padraig Joyce kicked ten points in a comprehensive 0-17 v 0-8 win. Despite the lack of exposure to the pressures that a final appearance can bring, this crop of Galway players are unlikely to be overawed.
Galway football is riding the crest of a wave at the moment. Last Friday week their minors lifted the Tommy Markham cup defeating Mayo in the All-Ireland final in Hyde pk, Roscommon. Earlier this year a NUI Galway side defeated University of Limerick 0-12 to 1-6 in the Sigerson Cup final in Carlow. The aforementioned David Clifford ended up on the losing side despite scoring 1-2. An IT Tralee side with a large Kerry contingent had been beaten in the semi-final in Rathkeale 0-18 v 0-15 a week previously.
Galway’s Matthew Tierney was part of that victorious side and he also enjoyed success at u20 level in 2020. That Galway side defeated Kerry in the semi-final in the Gaelic grounds in Limerick before beating Dublin in the final. When reminded of his track record against some of the opponents he’ll face on Sunday he said “That’s not down to me, it’s down to the teammates as well. We have a load of leaders out there, ….It’s very enjoyable at the moment, so hopefully we’ll keep the success going”.
Tierney’s mother Marie hails from Castleisland in Kerry. When questioned about the loyalties of his mum Matthew said “I won’t talk to her now for the week”. Coincidentally Marie went to school with David Clifford’s mother Eileen. “I have the phone taken off her, don’t worry!” Matthew joked as he shot down any possibilities of a Kerry mole within the camp.
Relevance of past battles
When questioned on whether previous underage success bore any relevance to facing some of the same faces at Croke Park on Sunday Matthew said “I suppose you get a bit of confidence every time you win. But, it’s a different competition and a different Kerry side”. John Concannon a selector with this year’s team then interjected, “The belief that these young lads have from winning the Sigerson, from winning the under 20 All-Ireland, even the lads in 2017 that beat Kerry with a lot of the current team on it. These lads growing up now have a belief that they are winners”. Concannon went on to add “They fear no one, which is great and that’s one thing I’ve learned from them since we came in”.
John Concannon was first involved alongside current manager Padraig Joyce and fellow selector John Divilly at under 20 level in 2019. Five of the current side played for them at that grade. Concannon is impressed by the attitude he sees within the current squad. “Every county is the same to them, they go out with the belief they can win”. He added, “We’re going to believe we can win on Sunday and they are going to go in with that attitude”.
Galway’s captain on Sunday is Moycullen’s Sean Kelly. Alongside Tierney, he was also part of this year’s victorious Sigerson Cup team. He also spoke of the belief instilled in this group of players. “Padraig spoke to us and we believe we should be fighting for All-Irelands. Thankfully, this year now we’ve kicked on an extra step and we are in one”. He was involved in the 2017 u21 semi-final win over Kerry (the final year at that age grade before it changed to u20 in 2018). “We got over the line that day, a lot of those young lads have come through” (to the senior squad). On the prospect of facing Kerry Kelly said “It’s not something we’re scared of, you can’t be scared of someone else. We’re looking forward to it. We know it’s going to be a tough battle”.
Shock on the cards?
Galway will go into Sunday’s final as outsiders. As mentioned earlier Kerry are strong favourites with the bookies offering the westerners at 10/3. It’s a similar price to what was being offered for Andy Farrell’s Irish side ahead of the third test in Wellington last weekend. I see similar value based on this growing and maturing Galway side.
They have shown that they can win games in different ways and have grown as the championship has progressed. Obviously, the instant classic quarter-final penalty shoot-out win over Armagh grabbed the most column inches. It also put the team in the national spotlight. The win over Mayo in Castlebar gave the squad the belief that they could compete with the best. The Connacht final win over Roscommon gave them the silverware to back that up. The Derry semi-final saw them grind out a convincing victory after a very poor start.
The swagger is back in Galway football and red-hot favourites Kerry will hold no fears for Padraig Joyce’s side. Kerry may be the All-Blacks of Gaelic football. But just as the All-Blacks invincible aura was shattered in Chicago, Kerry hold no fears for the current Galway squad. The Tribesmen believe that the time has come to bridge a gap of 21 years. Padraig Joyce’s men are primed to lift the Sam Maguire this Sunday.