The game which is likely to attract most media attention when the 2024 National Football League gets underway this weekend is the meeting of Kerry and Derry in Austin Stack Park, Tralee, on Saturday night. This will be a repeat of the 2023 All-Ireland semi-final when Kerry won by two points. Six months back Tyrone-born Ciaran Meenagh was temporarily in charge of the Oakleaf county after Rory Gallagher was forced to step aside. Since then Mickey Harte, another Tyrone man, has left County Louth and returned to his native Ulster to become Derry manager. It was a controversial move. It will be Harte’s first visit as an inter-county manager to Kerry since 2012 when he got a great reception in Killarney from Kerry supporters after Kerry beat Tyrone in the All-Ireland qualifiers. No doubt Harte is an excellent manager, having proved that with Tyrone and more recently with Louth. Derry are likely to be without the Glen players for a few weeks, but Harte has been able to look at new players in the McKenna Cup games. With Jack Barry having taken a year out Kerry manager Jack O’Connor is likely to experiment at midfield. Diarmuid O’Connor had a great game against Derry last July and this time round he may be partnered by the fit-again Joe O’Connor.
No doubt there will also be a lot of focus on Ballybofey on Sunday afternoon when Jim McGuinness makes his National League return at home to Cork. ‘‘Jimmy’s winning matches’’ was the song Donegal fans loved to sing during McGuinness’ first spell in charge when he led Donegal to win the Sam Maguire Cup in 2012, only the second time in history that ‘Sam’ headed for hills of Donegal. During his first term from 2011 to 2014, McGuinness developed a very defensive set up where often there were 14 players behind the ball. And then when Donegal won the ball, the team attacked in waves. Jim holds the honour of being the inter-county manager to beat Dublin in championship football under Jim Gavin; that was in 2014. Former Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice, who now work as an analyst for RTE, reckons that McGuinness, having already perfected his defensive style first time round, might now opt for a more attacking game plan. But do Donegal have the talent right now? Home advantage is important in the League, but I wouldn’t be surprised if an improving Cork team win in Ballybofey on Sunday.
IN DR. CULLEN
A few months back there was speculation that Kildare’s football would play their home league games at Croke Park, as a Saturday double header with Dublin. However, in the end the Kildare County Board opted for Dr. Cullen Park in Carlow instead for their home games while St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge is being revamped. So Dublin versus Monaghan will go ahead as a stand-alone game at GAA headquarters on Saturday night at 7.30pm, while Kildare’s game against Cavan gets under way at 5pm in Carlow.
Last year newly appointed Mayo manager Kevin McStay took the National League very seriously and they won Division One. However, seven days later Mayo were knocked out of the Connacht championship by Roscommon. Maybe McStay will treat the League differently this year. On Sunday Mayo travel Pearse Stadium in Salthill for yet another clash with old rivals Galway.
Former Mayo and Aussie Rules player Cora Staunton is taking the next steps into her coaching career with Ballina Stephenites, the Mayo men’s senior football champions. Staunton, who worked as a performance coach with the Galway camogie team last year, has now joined Niall Heffernan’s backroom team as a coach. Heffernan has looked to Staunton after the departure of coach Eanna Casey. He previously worked with another Mayo ladies footballer, Fiona McHale, during his time as Claremorris manager. The trend of female coaches working with men’s team is growing. Last season Wexford manager John Hegarty had Aine Kinsell as his assistant, while former Cork goalkeeper Elaine Harte was Tipperary’s goalkeeping coach.
Cora Staunton. [Inpho/Bryan Keane]
No doubt there are thousands of Manchester United fans in Ireland, while there are also a good few ABU’s (Anyone but United) around. On Sunday afternoon there will be a mix of those fans tuning in to watch the FA Cup 4th round tie between Newport County and Manchester United. Graham Coughlan, a young boy who supported Man United, that I used to give a lift to training with Cherry Orchard over 35 years ago, will be sitting in the Newport County dug out as his team take on United at Rodney Parade. (My son also played for the Cherry Orchard’s under 12’s.) After Cherry Orchard, Coughlan, a strong centre half, later played for Bray Wanderers and a few clubs in the lower divisions in England. His managerial career has also been in the lower divisions, and Newport spend most of their time in the bottom half of the League Two table. But the FA cup is a great leveller and it allows clubs from the lower divisions to try and upset a big name like Manchester United. Coughlan is a Dubliner and he has Kerry-born Shane McLoughlin, Ryan Delany from Wexford and English-born Harry Charlsey, a former Irish under 21 player in his team hoping for an upset on Sunday.
Dean Rock, one of the best free-takers in the history of the GAA and a winner of eight All-Ireland senior football medals, last week announced his inter-county retirement. Son of the legendary Barney another great free-taker, the Ballymun Kickham’s sharpshooter bows out as Dublin’s all-time leading scorer. He was given his senior debut by Pat Gilroy in 2012 and went on to become Dublin’s free-taker during their six-in-a-row run from 2015 and 2020, with Cormac Costello filling in if Rock was injured. Dean who will turn 34 next month is married Dublin footballer Niamh McEvoy, herself an All-Ireland winner with the Jackies.
Paudie Clifford from the Fossa club is Kerry’s new captain for 2024. He replaces his younger brother David, who captained the Kingdom to reach the All-Ireland final in 2023. The Cliffords get the honor of captaining their county as they both play for divisional club East Kerry, who have won the Kerry championship in four of the past five years. It’s a rare feat for brothers to captain a county in consecutive years, but it was previously achieved by the Sheehy brothers from the John Mitchel’s club in Tralee in the sixties, when Paudie, Niall and Seán Og captained Kerry in consecutive years. John Mitchel’s were the top club in Kerry back then, winning five County Championships five times in-a-row from 1959 to 1963.
WILL COST €40M
While Cork GAA’s plans to take on Supervalu as a sponsor for Pairc Ui Chaoimh are temporary stalled, Connacht Rugby did go ahead last week with naming rights to the Sportsground, which will for the next 12 years be known as Dexcom Stadium, following a sponsorship deal with the U.S. multinational medical company, who are setting up their first European manufacturing plant in Athenry. The cost of developing the Sportsground which was opened in 1927, has jumped by €10 million since it was announced in 2018 and it will now cost over €40 million when it is built over the next two years.
Former Ireland Rugby coach Joe Schmidt has been confirmed by Rugby Australia as the new Wallabies head coach. The move means the New Zealander Schmidt and current Ireland coach Andy Farrell are set for a mammoth collision on the next Lions tour to Australia in 2025 with the former Ireland coach set to face his successor. Schmidt coached Ireland from 2013-2019 where he won the Six Nations and was recognised as the World Rugby coach of the year in 2018. Prior to that he was a multiple trophy winner with Leinster. More recently he was an assistant coach for the All Blacks from 2022 and during their runners-up finish in the World Cup last year. Schmidt has signed a two-year deal with Australia and takes over from former England coach Eddie Jones who left the role after the recent World Cup.
WILL ‘TAKE YEARS’
Connacht GAA president John Murphy has warned that integration between the Association and its female counterparts, the LGFA and Camogie Association, is not “imminent” and will require a huge financial contribution from the State to eventually bring it about. Speaking recently at the Connacht GAA convention Murphy was clear that while it is a positive move for the Association, there is only now a realisation as to how great a task it is. Murphy said: ‘‘I believe it will take years to implement. The Committee, chaired by former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, is now discovering that it is a mammoth task. To develop the Association with the means to accommodate all genders will require a massive investment in facilities. Currently we are not in a position to develop facilities as they will be required/demanded therefore it will require a huge financial contribution from the Government to bring it about. It is not possible to change a culture or facilities built for a male-dominated game overnight and people have to understand that.’’
Meanwhile Leinster GAA chairman Derek Kent and Connacht GAA CEO John Prenty have both criticised the GPA in their annual reports. Kent has taken issue with how the GPA spent their €3.4 million GAA allocation in 2022 when he addressed the recent Leinster convention, while Prenty has accused the players’ body of showing a lack of respect to the GAA.
Kent said: “A recent presentation to Ard Chomhairle on their accounts revealed a significant spend on items such as match day tickets, on entertainment in corporate boxes, and on donations at a cost of almost a quarter of a million euro, of our funds, to various other bodies. All of this at a time when every county board seems to be flat out fundraising to sustain the county game, and when we have volunteer chairpersons having sleepless nights about their county’s finances, struggling to meet the demands of their teams and maintain their facilities.” Prenty, claimed the 70 cent mileage allowance being sought for inter-county players is placing a huge burden on cash-strapped county boards. He said:’’ Other demands on player supports also come with a cost and adds to the financial situation our counties are facing. The question must be asked, are we getting value for money? Do we have to have a professional regime for an amateur game? Our county officers, who are volunteers, are tasked with ensuring that the money is available to fund the increasing costs and a huge proportion of their time has to be devoted to fund-raising, to ensuring that facilities are adequate and fit for purpose to accommodate the training required.”