Breaking the glass ceiling in Kerry was always the biggest step for the county’s youngest club, Na Gaeil.
Just over 40 years old, the Tralee side seek All-Ireland club JFC glory, as they take on Wexford’s Rathgarogue-Cushinstown, at Croke Park, Saturday (3.15pm).
The last time that the Munster champions didn’t go on to claim the All-Ireland was 2014, with Kerry responsible for four of the five wins in the interim and nine of 15 since 2004. It’s often the case that emerging from the Kingdom is the hardest part of the journey and Na Gaeil endured their share of battle scars along the way.
Beaten finalists in 2016 and 2018, they reached the semi-finals in 2017 and, so, were in danger of developing a nearly-men tag. Kerry and Na Gaeil star, Jack Barry, was keen to dispel that notion and then see what happened.
“We set our stall out, at the start of the year, to make sure we would get over the line this time, in winning the premier junior in Kerry, once and for all,” he says.
“We stumbled the three years before it, in losing to Glenbeigh-Glencar, Firies, and Beaufort, so we just wanted to win it above anything else that might follow. Our more senior players in the team would have been big on us having a more winning mentality, but we learned the hard way it was not an easy competition to win. Glenbeigh-Glencar showed that, when you look at how close they were to getting out of Kerry all the years they were trying for it,” Barry says.
Aiding Na Gaeil’s progress has been their ascension through the county league.
“When I started playing senior, we were in Division 4 and to have reached Division 1 last year was amazing for this group, because the club is still a relatively new club, in comparison to some of the others in Kerry,” Barry says.
The club has a lot of young players coming through, so it is a great benchmark for us to set for them into the future, in reaching Croke Park like we have.
“Without doubt, everyone that reaches Division 1 wants to test themselves against the best. It was a bonus, really, because we had reached Division 2 for the first time in 2018 and only really wanted to hold our own there. Even though it was tough, and we didn’t come out the right side of a lot of the games, we were learning all the time from those matches,” Barry says.
An injury in a challenge match against Kerry and Munster intermediate champions, Templenoe, before Christmas limited Barry to an appearance as a substitute in Na Gaeil’s All-Ireland extra-time semi-final win over Kilmaine, of Mayo. “Really, you’re just itching to get on and trying to influence the game, when you see that your team is in trouble,” he says.
“I knew I was never going to be able to play the full game and that 10 or 15 minutes would be the most I could do. That ended up being a bit more, obviously, when it went to extra-time, but these are the things that happen when you are trying to go all the way.”
One more step awaits and Barry is optimistic that what Na Gaeil have done to get this far will be of benefit. “You definitely hope an experience like the semi-final stands to you and, in truth, it was a test we probably needed, after winning Munster so convincingly,” he says.
We’re treating Rathgarogue-Cushinstown with respect. We’ve seen a few clips of their games and they have some very impressive operators in their forward line.