So Near But So Far- The Story of the 2011 Kennedy Cup:
In our preview last week we asked the question as to what would be the next number in the finishing sequence for Kerry of 2, 7, 23? The answer is 16th place. But finishing 16th does not tell the whole story the week in Limerick.
The Group Games: Kerry opened with a game against the Group’s 4th seeds North Tipperary. The seeding system is one of the greatest talking points surrounding the Kennedy Cup. Teams are rated on their finishing positions over the last three competitions. North Tipperary came into this year’s tournament in 32nd place having finished 30th, 28th and 30th. But the 2011 North Tipperary side were a different class that their predecessors and would eventually finish 6th overall.
So Kerry were a little unlucky to come up against a side in that form and who to be fair deserved their 2-0 win over The Kingdom. Kerry went 1-0 down after eleven minutes and conceded the second with ten minutes to go.
So day 2 was going to be crucial for the Maurice Guilfoyle led side and the boys responded with two huge performances. Firstly they opened like lightening against South Tipperary and were 2-0 up inside the first five minutes thanks to two goals from Calvin Foley. Sean Dukes added a third before Foley completed his hat trick to give Kerry a 4-0 win.
Then it was onto the Sligo / Leitrim game but with an eye to the all Tipperary clash on the adjacent pitch. Both games were due to start at 5pm but with a little gamesmanship the North Tipperary / South Tipperary match began five minutes late. Kerry were well on top and ended up comfortable 3-0 winners thanks to goals from Ronan Buckley (2) and Brian O’Seanachain. With five minutes left South Tipperary were 1-0 up and Kerry were top of the Group. However a minute later it was 1-1 and Kerry were out of the top eight.
This was a big blow for this very dedicated bunch and I think it would be right to say they never recovered from it. Kerry lost 2-0 to Limerick County in the Bowl Quarter Final and then 3-0 in their clash with NEC (North Eastern Counties).
This set up a final game against West Cork in the battle for 16th and 17th position. Kerry found themselves 4-0 down and a lesser bunch would have thrown in the towel. But this squad didn’t put in three years of hard work to lie down and go out with a whimper and by the last ten minutes had levelled the game at 4-4. They then went 5-4 down but again levelled and so onto penalties. It was finally decided on the 15th scored penalty going the way of the Cork boys 8-7.
An Overview: A couple of minutes away from topping the Group but loosing out was a cruel blow to the 2011 Kennedy Cup Squad who were a credit to the League and to themselves. But the Kennedy Cup competition now is an unforgiving place and there are no bad teams. Schoolboy soccer throughout the country has benefited hugely from the running of Academies in every League. The DDSL lost the final this year for the first time in seven years to North Dublin. Looking at some of the rest of the top seeds Donegal (ranked 3rd) finished 28th, Dundalk (ranked 5th) finished 21st and Wexford (ranked 12th) ended up 12th.
North Tipperary were the big improvers and for Kerry it was a case of a week of mixed performances. The League will now conduct a review and see what lessons we need to learn.
However it would not be right to end this review without a word of thanks and praise to the whole squad, management, support staff, parents and supporters who travelled to Limerick.
Hopefully many of this squad will now be offered places in the FAI Regional Centre in Tralee and go on to play at their highest possible level. The development of the players is the paramount and while we all want to finish in as high a position as possible this is secondary.