No minor matter for next generation of Kerry and Donegal footballers
Under-18s take part in first All-Ireland joust between rival green and golds ahead of senior decider
Kerry’s Liam Kearney and Gary Murphy of Cork tussle for possession in this year’s Munster Championship minor football final. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
MFC All-Ireland final Donegal v Kerry Croke Park, 1.15pm
GAVIN CUMMISKEY It was uttered by a Donegal mother: “Tony’s motto all year was I can repeat my Leaving I can’t repeat the minors. So, we had no option but to go with that motto because it’s what he has always wanted to do; play Gaelic.”
Turns out Caroline’s son, Tony McCleneghan, got enough points to enter third level education this month (where there’s plenty of football to be had). Symmetry matters. Darragh Ó Sé made a decent comment about the curtain raiser mirroring the senior final. “I’m not saying that roar will be any less if Donegal get beaten in the minor match,” said Ó Sé. “But you can see it being that few degrees higher from the start if they’ve won it.” Ó Sé is 40 next year.
Last time Kerry captured a record 11th, shared with Dublin, minor All-Ireland title the Ventry midfielder was only a year out of the grade. They have been saying ever since that it doesn’t matter, that so long as a few players stream into the senior panel each winter then The Kingdom will continue to prosper.
There is precious evidence to the contrary with Sam Maguire spending six winter retreats in Kerry since 1997. But this group are different.
Jack O’Connor knew it. Undoubtedly haunted still by the last moments of the 2009 final, he came out of the south Kerry midst, muscling way back among the green and gold again. O’Connor’s no fool (“What is tradition? Tradition evolves and you have to innovative”). No fool at all. If he wanted a piece of them there must be something there.
Cork got within three points of them in the Munster decider, Mayo ended up 0-4 adrift after a thunderous semi-final second half from Kerry teenagers. Even the names should still your childish play. There is a TomÃ¡s Ã“ SÃ© (no relation but already a champion Irish dancer) and Killian Spillane (son of Tom, nephew of Mick and Pat).
Their captain, Liam Kearney, rejoins this pair is a potentially devastating full forward line as Jordan Kiely makes way. So, it’s that simple. Donegal should go away and dream.
But wait. Declan Bonner brings a hardy gang down from the hills. This might be their first All-Ireland final but they return to Croke Park following the 1-12 to 1-11 slaying of Dublin. “Colleges football is strong in Derry and Tyrone, and Tyrone have a great record underage,” said Bonner of late. “I felt any day we went out to play Tyrone at minor level, we were beat already and that was basically it. Nine times out of 10, they were right, we were beat. When we came in, the one thing we made sure was that we were not going to be afraid of anyone.”
Lift the fear and anything is possible. They have their own traditions up there as well. Like their senior brethren, no team was released. It demeans the game. Presuming they play, scores must come from Lorcan O’Connor, Jamie Brennan and John Campbell if victory is to be realised.
Campbell looks a real jewel while Stephen McBrearty, brother of Paddy, keeps the family ties flowing through both counties. “Twenty years has been a bit too long, yeah,” said O’Connor “There’s nothing like the month of September, preparing for an All-Ireland final. It’s what we live for.”
It’s not what Donegal live for, it’s what they dream about. The reality might just be too far a bridge to cross. Kerry by a few.
Kerry: Shane Ryan; Dan O’Donoghue, Brian Ó Beaglaioch, Tom O’Sullivan; Brian Sugrue, Andrew Barry, Cormac Coffey; Barry O’Sullivan, Mark O’Connor; Micheal Burns, Brian Rayle, Matthew Flaherty; Killian Spillane, Liam Kearney, Tomás Ó Sé. Referee: F Kelly (Longford). Paths to glory: Donegal 1-10 Derry 0-8 (Ulster quarter-final) Donegal 2-19 Antrim 1-10 (Ulster semi-final) Donegal 2-12 Armagh 0-10 (Ulster final) Donegal 0-10 Roscommon 1-5 (All-Ireland quarter-final) Donegal 1-12 Dublin 1-11 (All-Ireland semi-final) Kerry 2-16 Clare 0-7 (Munster quarter-final) Kerry 2-18 Tipperary 0-7 (Munster semi-final) Kerry 2-17 Cork 2-13 (Munster final) Kerry 2-15 Kildare 1-8 (All-Ireland quarter-final) Kerry 1-14 Mayo 2-7 (All-Ireland semi-final) Ends