Kerry's unsung heroes
June 15, 2004
We all know about Kerry's proud footballing legacy. But, in the north of the aptly-named Kingdom, there exists a potent pocket that's gradually putting Kerry hurling on the map. We catch up with Kilmoyley and county stickman Colin Harris to get the lowdown on the Kingdom's small ball revolution.
Munster's hurling heritage is one of the jewels in the GAA's crown. But, for all their record-breaking heroics in football, Kerry have been left behind by the 'other five' when it comes to the ancient game. Cork, Tipp, Limerick, Clare and Waterford all rank amongst hurling's elite . but Kerry (through no fault of their own - not many counties would match up to such esteemed company) have always been the odd one out, struggling to keep abreast of their provincial counterparts.
It hasn't been for want of endeavour, however, and in recent times the movers and shakers behind the small ball game in the Kingdom have been putting in a concerted effort to make up some lost ground on those illustrious neighbouring bigwigs.
Of course, realistically, Kerry may never bridge the gap, but they are capable of competing at a higher level, as recent results/performances underline.
In last year's SHC, Kerry came a cropper against Waterford in the first round but then put together an impressive run of three successive wins in the qualifiers. Limerick eventually put them out, but it was nonetheless rousing stuff from the Kingdom's lesser-known intercounty ambassadors.
Kerry also reached the Division Two final of the 2003 national hurling league, wherein they were edged out by Antrim. This year, led by a magnificent backroom team of Eddie Murphy, Maurice Leahy, (former Tipp Star) Cormac Bonnar and (Kilmoyley goalkeeper) Joe Walsh, their intention was to go one step better by negotiating the bold step up into the top flight. They began well with wins over Mayo and Carlow, their 9-13 to 0-15 annihilation of the Leinster county in particular suggesting that this team might not be entirely out of its depth in Division One. More victories have followed, at the expense of Meath and Wicklow before faltering against Down and Westmeath in the second stage.
Last season was Colin's first full year as a regular on the Kerry hurling team. (He'd featured on the panel previously, before emigrating to Australia for a spell.) Kerry certainly raised a few eyebrows with their run in the championship in 2003, and the Kilmoyley clubman was satisfied with their performance:
"We lost to Waterford in the first round in Munster but we then beat Westmeath, Carlow and Derry through the back door and had a big crowd in Tralee for the qualifier against Limerick. They beat us by seven or eight points in the end, but we led with something like ten minutes remaining, before their greater experience told."
How far are Kerry off the pace then? Are they almost ready to challenge the big names in Munster? Colin is honest and forthright in his assessment of the situation: "To be realistic, we're probably still miles behind the top teams, but we're progressing and we're well able for Division Two.
We're hoping to get back to the Division Two final next year and it'd definitely be interesting to see how we'd do if we made it up into Division One. I'd like to think we could at least compete with some of the teams in the top division.
"On the championship front, I'd be in favour of the introduction of a second tier, which would give Kerry a realistic chance of All-Ireland success. We beat Derry, Westmeath and Carlow in the championship last year and ran Antrim close twice in the league. We're not quite up there with the top teams, but there's a group of fairly decent hurling counties that we can hold our own against."
At club level, Colin lines out with Kilmoyley. Having endured a 30-year famine, the club has come good these past three years by claiming successive county SHCs.
Kilmoyley are managed by Corkman John Meyler - credited by Colin as making a huge difference to the team. "We've been going great guns since he took over four years ago," he says. "We won the Munster league in October, beating Na Piarsaigh from Cork in the final! John is an exceptional trainer and he has instilled a lot of confidence and discipline in the team."
Indeed, Kilmoyley are well on top of the hurling pack in Kerry these days and look set to dominate for many years to come. Backboned by a crop of excellent hurlers who have come through the ranks together, garnering championship honours at all levels (culminating in the three-in-a-row at senior level), Kilmoyley currently have five men on the county senior panel: Shane Brick, Billy Brick, James McCarthy, Darran Young and Colin Harris.
How far can that Kerry team go in the medium- to long-term future? Colin believes: "We're definitely progressing, but it's difficult to imagine us ever competing with the likes of Cork and Tipperary. The fact of the matter is that football is the number one game in Kerry, but that won't deter us from giving it our all.
"In the past, try as we may, we could never beat the likes of Carlow, but look at the result we got against them in the league this year! If we're ever going to compete with the big counties, we'd have to go right down to grassroots level and start from scratch. It would take a lot of time and effort.
"For the time being, though, we have a young team, with an average age of maybe 24 or 25, and we're looking forward to a good year. We'd love to win Division Two and record a few more wins in the championship. Last year was very good and it's important that we keep the momentum going."
Away from the hurling fields of north Kerry and beyond, Colin works as an engineer with O'Flynn Construction, a Cork city headquartered firm with a strong portfolio in property development and construction - here in Ireland and in the UK. The company is currently undertaking a massive ten-year project in Ballincollig - one of the largest commercial developments ever outside Dublin, including 900 new homes and a new town centre on the outskirts of Cork city.
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