Mid Kerry manager Peter O’Sullivan does not believe divisional teams in the county have become too strong and says any review of the Kerry county championship should focus on the number of senior clubs rather than the perceived strength of the various divisional sides.
Saturday’s Kerry SFC final between East and Mid Kerry is the first since 2007 to be contested by two divisional teams.
The 2020 edition of the county championship also saw divisional teams occupy all but one of the four semi-final berths for the second year running.
The number of divisional teams involved at the business end of the championship has led to increasing focus on the structure of the Kerry senior championship.
With the exception of East Kerry, O’Sullivan believes any success enjoyed by the remaining divisions or their progression to a county semi-final or final is “cyclical”.
“I know what people are saying [about the divisions], but it comes in cycles. Go back a couple of years and the argument was that the clubs were too strong. Most districts would argue, with the possible exception of East Kerry, that they go through cycles, whereas East Kerry, not building them up, but they are winning minors and U21s, competitions other divisions aren’t winning,” said O’Sullivan.
“From our perspective, we have a good group of players right now. We are still only picking from six clubs (Beaufort, Cromane, Glenbeigh-Glencar, Keel, Laune Rangers, Milltown/Castlemaine). Granted, they are six decent clubs. Relatively speaking, though, it comes in cycles for districts.”
O’Sullivan certainly wouldn’t be in favour of any move which diminished the involvement of divisions in the county championship. His preference would be to increase the number of senior clubs. At present, there are only eight senior clubs. That figure stood at 11 in 2015.
You look at Kerry teams for the last 20 years or whatever, and you’ll always find lads from junior clubs involved who have been picked off their county championship form with a district team who has reached a county semi-final or final.
“[The number of senior clubs] definitely could do with looking at. The likes of Kilcummin, they came up two years ago and now are gone back down. That is no good for Kilcummin. It is counter-productive, if anything.”
O’Sullivan, a selector last year, was a late appointment to the position of Mid Kerry manager. The Glenbeigh-Glencar clubman took up the post just seven weeks before their opening championship game on August 22.
The division did not train collectively for the first time until 10 days before their first-round outing against Kilcummin, only one of three sessions ahead of said fixture.
His initial view was the truncated championship would work against the divisions. “I thought it would be stacked in favour of clubs given they were coming into the county championship off the back of three hard games in the club championship, whereas we as a unit had nothing done. Luckily enough, we got over Kilcummin.
“I found that when we met for training after the Kilcummin win, there was a big change from the first week. There was a good kick in the players, a good buzz. They were maybe saying, ‘hey, hang on a minute, we got a decent team here and could do something’.”
O’Sullivan’s charges have most definitely been the surprise packet of the championship. Their run to the final stands in stark contrast to the division’s poor form of recent years where Mid Kerry managed only one win across the 2017, ‘18, and ‘19 campaigns.
“When we came in as a management team we made an issue of getting in younger guys just to give youth its fling. If it wasn’t for this year, it was for next year or the year after because we felt we needed to get the ball rolling and get the hunger back in guys to play for Mid Kerry.
“Maybe we didn’t foresee us getting to a county final but we knew if we got things rolling, we would take a lot of beating because there is quality in the district.
“As a district, we have been down for a couple of years. It is six years since Mid Kerry was last in a final. That group probably thought we’ll go again next year and the year after. It doesn’t work that way. You have to take it that this is going to be your first and last final. And hopefully, we will come out the right side of it.”