GAA Football

Kenny Archer: Kerry clubs helped to higher levels on All-Ireland stages

Ardfert of Kerry (in black) have won one Junior and two Intermediate All-Ireland Club Football Championships - but do some Kingdom clubs have an advantage at those levels?

AMONG my ambitions before I die are to read all of Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time/ Remembrance of Things Past’ and to understand Kerry’s club football structures.

I’ve embarked on both projects and given up.

However, I have learned that the former is about a small cake, while the latter really takes a rather large biscuit – at least in terms of stepping onto the All-Ireland stage.

Of the 48 All-Ireland Senior Club Football crowns, just six have been won by Kerry sides – and the first of those was lifted by an amalgamation, East Kerry.

The Kingdom’s success rate at Intermediate and Junior levels has been far higher, though – six out of 16 and eight out of 18, that’s 37.5 and almost 44.5 per cent respectively.

We’re told that Kerry’s astonishing win rate at those lower levels is due to the depth of talent there, and there may well be some truth to that.

This column has repeatedly acknowledged the quality of footballers produced by the Kingdom - but there’s also little doubt that Kerry has an unfair advantage on the club scene.

You disagree?

Well, consider this.

Fermanagh has eight senior clubs – and so does Kerry.

Sure, 17 teams take part in the Kerry Senior Football Championship – but eight of those are divisional sides, amalgamations of several clubs (at least three and up to nine in the case of South Kerry).

Only eight standalone clubs participate in the (senior) Kerry Club Football Championship; last year they were An Ghaeltacht, Austin Stack’s, Dingle, Dr Croke’s, Kenmare Shamrocks, Kerins O’Rahilly’s, Killarney Legion, and Rathmore.

As far as I can tell there are 54 football clubs in Kerry.

There are 20 football clubs in Fermanagh.

So why do 40 per cent of the clubs in the Erne County compete in their senior set-up while only just under 15 per cent of Kerry’s clubs compete under their own banner?

Obviously it makes sense, for the purposes of knockout competitions, for Fermanagh to have eight senior clubs (and then eight at intermediate, and just four junior).

Yet the only reason for Kerry to have only eight senior clubs is to benefit Kerry.

That’s fair enough – except when it comes to advantages it gives them outside the Kingdom.

There are often anomalies between championship and league, with some pointing out that St Enda’s, Glengormley, are actually a Division One (1B, to be precise) side in Antrim.

However, it’s hard to comprehend how Beaufort, who became Kerry’s latest winners of the All-Ireland Club Junior FC, played in the 12-team Division ONE of the Kerry Football League last year…

Obviously it wouldn’t be equitable to set the same figure for senior sides in every county, due to the different numbers of clubs.

Yet surely splitting the total number of clubs into three lots - senior, intermediate, and junior - is the fairest way.

Most counties have at least a third of their clubs competing at senior level.

It’s not asking too much for Kerry to have 16 actual clubs in their senior championship, is it?

That wouldn’t weaken their challenge at senior level in any way, as Dr Croke’s would probably still emerge into Munster, and beyond, onto the All-Ireland stage.

However, it would give other counties a fairer shot at intermediate and junior levels, because of the knock-on effect of elevating eight so-called Kerry ‘intermediate’ clubs up to the senior stage, and some more supposed Junior outfits up to the middle level.

At present, the NINTH best team in Kerry can compete at Intermediate Championship level, whereas it’s the SEVENTEENTH best team from the likes of Armagh, Derry, and Tyrone, and the THIRTEENTH best from Antrim. Sorry for shouting, but it’s rather annoying.

Among the participants in this year’s Kerry Intermediate Football Championship were Laune Rangers and Castleisland Desmond’s, both past winners of the ALL-IRELAND Club SENIOR Football Championship. Club fortunes can ebb and flow but that shows home competitive the Kerry scene is, so they hardly need any extra help.

Dublin, due to having Senior 1 and Senior 2 championships, each consisting of 16 participating sides, send their THIRTY-THIRD best team into the Leinster Intermediate Football Championship, with the consequence that Fingal Ravens, in 2007, have been their only winners at that level.

Similarly, only one Dublin club has won the Leinster JFC, and that was the rising force that is Castleknock in 2012.

This column has criticised Dublin’s advantages and assistance received on the inter-county stage – but, fair’s fair, Dublin clubs aren’t doing themselves any favours in terms of success outside their county.

Kerry folk are clever, obviously. Cute, you might say.

Players from their Intermediate and Junior clubs get the benefit of playing in… (checks internet again and the earlier section of this column) the Kerry Senior Football Championship, as part of one of those nine aforementioned amalgamations.

That obviously helps to improve those players, and probably persuades them to stay with their home club, rather than consider switching to one with a more serious chance of winning that Senior Football Championship.

Admittedly, Dr Croke’s have almost completely dominated that over the past decade, with seven wins – but there have also been triumphs for Austin Stack’s and South Kerry, and final appearances for Dingle (twice), Kenmare District, Legion, and Mid Kerry (twice).

Over the past decade, since its revival after a three-year hiatus, the Kerry Club Championship has largely been won by Dr Croke’s – but also by Dingle, Stack’s, Rathmore, and Kerins O’Rahilly’s (twice).

It seems clear that the amount of competitive, championship football played in Kerry contributes to the county’s success on the inter-county scene, and their set-up is only to be applauded.

Yet with the All-Ireland club championships now firmly established at all three levels, senior, intermediate, and junior, it’s surely long overdue for an equitable entrance system to be put in place.

‘The law of thirds’ makes for attractive visuals – and it would make the All-Ireland Club Football Championships look better, and fairer, at Intermediate and Junior if Kerry clubs were operating at the same level as everyone else.

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