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02nd Nov 2023

‘Anger’ and ‘ire’ as Kerry club lash out at championship format and ‘special status’ of divisional teams

Niall McIntyre

Recently relegated Kerins O’Rahillys have expressed their ‘anger’ and ‘ire’ at the lay-out of Kerry’s county championship.

Despite being the reigning Munster champions, the Tralee club were demoted to the intermediate grade when they lost to Na Gaeil after extra-time in last Saturday’s relegation final.

O’Rahillys defeated Newcastlewest in last December’s Munster club final before going onto push All-Ireland champs Kilmacud Crokes all the way in an All-Ireland semi-final, but injuries have hit this year and the for the first time in their history, the club went down.

In a statement today, O’Rahillys PRO Pat Flavin suggested a revamp of the Kerry championship model, which would broaden the senior championship from eight to sixteen teams. It was also suggested that divisional teams would only compete at intermediate level, made up of players from junior clubs.

As it is now, divisional teams have the pick of junior and intermediate clubs, with two divisions, in mid Kerry and east Kerry, contesting this Sunday’s Kerry SFC final for the second year in a row.

“As the dust settled following our defeat to Na Gaeil on Saturday night last, consigning us to the intermediate ranks for the first time in our history, the sense of disappointment was tinged with anger and ire that this situation could occur whilst we are still the reigning Munster senior club champions,” read Flavin’s statement.

Anger with the county board and their sense that 8 senior clubs is the maximum allowed at county championship level and ire at the special status afforded to divisional sides who are exempt from relegation/demotion from the top tier.

It is clear for the last number of years that clubs, at all levels are putting all their efforts into winning their respective club championships – this has evolved particularly since a provincial and All Ireland series was introduced by former president Seán Kelly and getting your day in Croke Park in your clubs colours is the pinnacle of many players careers.

The effort, commitment and sacrifices players make is best exemplified that whilst the vast majority of us were relaxing on St Stephen’s Day, eating left over turkey and watching racing from Kempton/Leopardstown, our own players were playing a challenge game in Killarney vs UCC as they prepared for the showdown with Kilmacud Crokes, on the 8th January – this is why we feel for this group of lads, who have soldiered on despite the loss of so many key players and coping with injuries etc.

The reaction locally and nationally has been notable, with Seán Kelly suggesting that the day of the divisional side is all but over and Irish Independent GAA correspondent Colm Keys asserting that the Kerry competition is not fit for purpose.

As we have seen, Austin Stacks and now ourselves depart senior ranks whilst county champions and Munster club champions respectively. There is a solution I believe that could suit everybody and requires just a small change – divisional sides can be accommodated at county intermediate level whilst increasing the number of clubs in the senior county championship to 16 also.

The solution is as follows: Existing 8 senior clubs be joined in the senior county championship by the 8 quarter finalists from this year’s intermediate championship.

The remaining 8 intermediate clubs be joined by the 8 divisional sides who will compete with only junior clubs available to them – this may require some tweaking as Mid Kerry would be shorn of 4 clubs leaving them with just 2 to pick from but it’s not insurmountable.

Relegation/demotion to take place at senior county championship level with the divisions remaining sacrosanct and if good enough progressing to intermediate and then onto senior. I believe that this makes sense as it affords the divisional sides a place in the championship at a level where they can be more competitive – currently this is not the case for the majority as none of West Kerry, South Kerry, Feale Rangers, Shannon Rangers, St Brendans picked up any points this year.

It also prevents “ super powers’ ‘ emerging at divisional level – no disrespect to the backroom teams of Mid & East Kerry but with each having 4 intermediate sides in their ranks, it’s no surprise that this year’s county final is a repeat of last years.’

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This will level the playing field, provide more meaningful competition and bring back spectators – compare the crowds in Austin Stack Park last Saturday night and Sunday with the attendances at the two county senior semi finals – think back to the meeting of Castleisland Desmonds and Fossa this year where over 3,000 people attended. The passion and excitement witnessed far surpasses anything seen to date at county championship level.

The proposal is worth a go – it’s not a knee jerk reaction to seeing Tralee reduced to one senior club, it will benefit all sides and looking at the bigger picture it may well benefit the county team too.”

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