It's not such a long way from Clare to here


Last year Kilmurry-Ibrickane were caught at the death by Dr Crokes but this year they are waiting for them on home soil, writes IAN O'RIORDAN

ALL IS not quiet on the western front. For a county that rarely makes football headlines, Clare are going at it hard this weekend, targeting a great Kerry tradition, in a couple of ways, and one man caught in the crossfire is John Kennedy.

Whatever about the fortunes of the county footballers in 2013, it’s almost exactly a year now since Kilmurry-Ibrickane were left on the killing floor, struck down by the strength of Dr Crokes in the closing minutes of the Munster club football semi-final.

It ended 0-12 to Kilmurry’s 0-9, after Dr Crokes, a man down and two points in arrears, looked to Colm Cooper to steer them home – which is exactly what he did, whipping over the last four points of an intense contest.

They’d looked dead and buried, but at least partly inspired by the home crowd in Killarney, Dr Crokes somehow survived, and then went on to claim a fourth Munster club title.

None of this came as any great surprise to Kennedy who, although in his first year as manager of Kilmurry-Ibrickane, know all about the strengths and weaknesses of both Clare and Kerry football. An All-Ireland winner with his native county in 1984 and 1985 under a certain Mick O’Dwyer, he then managed the Clare senior team for three years, from 2003-05, before returning to Kerry as minor and under-21 manager in recent years.

“Sure, I remember going into Killarney last year, and being very familiar with a lot of the Dr Crokes players, having worked with them at Kerry minor, and under-21 level,” he says.

“And while we certainly matched Crokes for long periods in that game, I suppose it was the experience of players like Colm Cooper, and Eoin Brosnan, in those last 10 minutes in particular, that just got them over the line.”

Well, not yet a year on, and destiny couldn’t keep them apart. Last Sunday, Dr Crokes won a third Kerry title in succession, beating Dingle handily, while the previous Sunday Kilmurry-Ibrickane also retained their Clare county title with an equally convincing six-point win over St Joseph’s.

In fact that was their fourth county title in five years, having claimed historic Munster titles of their own in 2004 and 2009 .

“I think from the moment we won the county final, two weeks ago, all thoughts moved to Dr Crokes,” says Kennedy, “and that’s not just speaking to the players but the supporters too. They wanted Dr Crokes, in Quilty, this Sunday and now that’s what we have.”

“Because I think there is the feeling of some unfinished business, or at least players walked off the field a year ago, thinking ‘are we really good enough to beat them?’ That remains to be seen, but we’ve got that second chance now, and the hope is everyone can play to their potential, because if we don’t, there is certainly no better team in the country than Dr Crokes to expose your weakness.”

Indeed it remains to be seen whether or not Kilmurry-Ibrickane are actually a better team from last year. Kennedy is missing a few players from that team, including Stephen Moloney and Michael Hogan, while Mark McCarthy, who suffered a cruciate injury during the game a year ago, is only just back, with about a month’s training under our belt.

“Having said that, we’ve a few new players from the intermediate team, and we’re just after winning back-to-back titles in Clare, which is always good. All we’d be hoping is that we did learn from it, and that maybe by cutting down on mistakes we can be that bit better this time.

“The fact that we do have home advantage in Quilty will be a help. I know once the game starts, it’s all about what happens between the white lines, and there’s no guarantee home advantage will count for anything. But a big home following and an always passionate Clare following will definitely be the 16th man, and hopefully enough of an advantage for us.”

Kennedy effectively became Kilmurry-Ibrickane manager by accident. He was approached early in 2011, while still Kerry under-21 manager, and initially declined, but was then approached again, by club chairman Ger Talty, as their then manager Ger Lawlor had to step aside due to illness.

“It was one man’s misfortune that got me in,” he says, “and when we ended up winning the county championship, I ended up staying on for this season too. But I’ve been very impressed with the set -up here, and would actually say they’re a similar club to Dr Crokes, in a lot of ways.

“It’s a rural club, in west Clare, but they share the ideas of the big urban clubs. They have the structures in place, a fantastic facility there, with a new training ground, with plans for further developments such as lights and a sports hall, so they’re a very progressive club, and even with all they’ve won, they’re not resting on their laurels.

“There’s also big interest in the youth policy, and the proper coaching methods, and there’s some very good guys involved, a lot of past players. I think that has stood to them. This bunch of players have come through that set-up and continue to thrive.

“On top of that there is very passionate home following, because it is a very tight-knit community. There has been a fair share of tragedy in the area, too, and all that has brought the community even closer.”

They’ll probably need more than just passion to get over the line tomorrow, especially with Cooper Co in such sparkling form. “Look, there’s no doubt they’re one of the best clubs in the country, play that open brand of football. It’s a possession game they play, using the ball very, very well. But I think that actually suits us as a team and really brought the best out in us last year too.

“Nowadays you’re often playing against the swarm defence, with teams packing their defence to keep scores to the minimum. But Crokes will always play open football, just try to score more than the opposition.”

Exactly what Kilmurry-Ibrickane intend on doing too, so all in all it could turn out to be a pretty momentous weekend for Clare football.

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