The rise and rise of Kerry Under Age Football

March 22nd, 2016
by Weeshie Fogarty

These are exciting and unprecedented times for Kerry underage football, St Brendan's College Killarney are sweeping aside all opposition and have high hopes of  making it their third Hogan Cup All Ireland championship win. And then Jack o Connors under 21 young men have lifted the recent gloom of defeats at this age group as they await a visit from Cork in the Munster final on April 7th in Tralee. It's an amazing football county and the splendid work being done by club, school and county coaches continues to bear bountiful fruit as we have already witnessed with the two recent magnificent All Ireland Kerry minor victories and the two historic Hogan Cup successes by Pobschoil Chorca Dhuibhne.

But let's not just take for granted exactly what is occurring around us and being involved in my own club management committee I am fully aware the happing's in relation to coaching, elite squads, having the right people in charge to pass on and continue the huge emphasis in teaching the skills of the game to our young players. And then you also have the importance aspect in strength and conditioning training needed in today's world of underage football. Then add in, if you want to be successful, dietary needs, everyday healthy living and absences of enjoying the guilty pleasures of Kerry life and you get a small idea what our young men are willing to sacrifice to win at the highest level. 

The whole area of underage football has changed beyond recognition. Success at senior level is of course a completely different kettle of fish as they say but with such a huge number of players achieving at under age level it definetly improves dramatically the county's chances of further honours in the future. Someone once remarked to me, "show me a successful squad of young footballers and I will instantly tell you who is training them".

Wise words indeed and here is the real secret of what is happening around us in relation to this unprecedented success of underage displays with our school and county teams.  Now I emphasis the word displays, because while victory is always sweet the man who can get the very best out of every individual player under his guidance even though winning the big prize might elude him is himself in my opinion the big winner.

Garry McGrath with the Sem, Jack o Connor with the Kerry minors/under 21s, Eamon Fitzmaurice and Tommy Griffin who guided their lads to those two amazing Hogan Cup triumphs. Man management, or should I say brilliant youth management at the very highest level. Of course they all had a great back room team behind them but again here we see their shrewdness and expertise to surround themselves with only the best and in doing so we witness another crucial cog in their wheel of accomplishment. Surly a lesson to be learned here for every club in the county,       

And so back to the Sem, such a famed nursery college, to marvel at that massive twenty nine point victory over Clonmel High School in the recent Corn Ui Mhuiri final as they scored an amazing 5-21, the highest winning margin in the history of this Munster competition. Make no mistake about it but this Sem side appear to be something special and in their six matches in the Munster competition they have amassed the whopping total of 13Gls-69pts. And then to cap it all they carried on and scored 4-21 as they routed Dublin outfit St Benildus in the All Ireland semi-final.

Of course their manager Garry McGrath will be fully aware that the biggest test of all lies ahead as Croke Park and the All Ireland final beckons. All these statistics will be branded around as the final approaches and the Sem will understandably be given the favourite tag, but this is part and parcel of being a Kerry football team going to Croke Park. Young nerves will understandably be jangling but the venue I believe will suit this bunch of brilliant skilful players down to the proverbial ground.

I have seen our under 21 side playing over the last two Wednesdays evenings under lights in the re-vamped Austin Stack Park and while their wins over Tipperary and Limerick have been close and very hard earned this will surly stand greatly to them when the Rebels come calling for the final in a few weeks' time. Cork will go into that match as favourites I believe and of course this will suit manager Jack o Conor down to the ground.

In their two games so far in Munster Cork have won against Clare and Waterford by a massive twenty points, results which gives them absolutely no real idea of their true worth.  As always Cork will come with a strong side, two of their defenders Histon and Cronin have senior experience with Cork and their big man is full forward Peter Kelleher from fame Kilmichael and to the best of my knowledge about seven of last years under 21 side are again available. I saw Kelliher full forward against Roscommon seniors recently and he is a massive handful, a regular on the seniors and a lad with a great future. Michael Hurley is another who will have to be closely watched.

As always Jack o Connor is getting the very best out of his young men. Physically not the biggest with ten of the side having just won All Ireland Minor Medals in 2014/15 and six of the side available from last years defeated team. They are hugely skilful and talented, play beautiful fast moving attacking Jack o Connor style football and the inside forward line against a very good Limerick side were superb. Killian Spillane, (Tom's son) at full forward, corner men Jack Savage (captain) and the highly impressive Tony Brosnan are capable of scoring whenever in possession.

Just how good were Tipperary and Limerick?, very good in my opinion but Kerry never panicked, kept playing controlled football and especial against Limerick had that little bit of extra scoring class and skill to snatch victory when the chips were down in the closing minutes.   Brian o Beaglaoich with his senior experience was outstanding in both games, I would think that Tom o Sullivan would be better in the corner than wing back and it is vital that Brian Sugrue is recovered from injury, he was replaced against Limerick.

The outstanding prospect Barry o Sullivan will hopeful have fully recovered from his knee injury and he, a big strong physical skilful player will be crucial to Kerry's chances, the two games will have brought him on a ton. Micheal Burns on the forty is the man that initiates most attacks, a beautiful classy player his long pin point passes to the inside line are a feature of his game as he sets up scoring chances for his colleges.

Given a good dry evening under lights on a magnificent Tralee surface it will be a fascinating clash between these age old rivals. If Cork full forward Peter Kelliher is contained Kerry have a great chance. Our last Munster win was in 2008, Cork have dominated us, if anyone can plot and plan to turn the proverbial tables its Jack o Connor. A win here would be another massive boost for the continuing rise and rise of the fortunes of underage football in the Kingdom.

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