There were joyous scenes at Austin Stack Park in Tralee on Monday night as the North Kerry minor team defeated Mid Kerry by five points to win the county championship.
Reasons for the celebrations are probably a few. Obviously, there's the pure bliss of young players winning a title after putting in years of hard work, but also, the championship was won after a replay. In the drawn game a week previous, Oisin Healy had twice brought North Kerry level at crucial moments, at the end of normal time and then at the end of extra-time. Tension had built and was released at the final whistle on Monday.
North Kerry Football is alive 💪💪🏆🏆 pic.twitter.com/RCZyZZFdjp
— North Kerry Football (@nkfootballer) August 29, 2022
This is just the second year of there being a North Kerry divisional team at minor level. Previously, two divisional teams from the region had participated: Feale Rangers, who are comprised of players from Listowel Emmets, Duagh, St. Senan's, Moyvane, Clounmacon and Finuge, and Shannon Rangers, made up of players from Asdee, Ballydonoghue, Ballyduff, Ballylongford, Beale and Tarbert.
The north of the Kingdom had been starved of minor success. Shannon Rangers' 1991 victory was the last time a team from the area had won the championship.
"We talked about that with the lads during the week, only six teams from North Kerry have won a minor championship, which amazed me, so this is only the seventh time that that trophy is coming up north,” North Kerry manager Brian Scanlon told The Kerryman.
“It means a lot, because sometimes you just need to bring something back. You need to lift a trophy to break a bad habit. That’s a big part of what that was. The under-21s, in fairness, had a great campaign this year, they were very close, the under-15s last year and this year are putting in the work, so it means a huge amount to the football community in North Kerry.”
The next task is ensuring these players continue their progression to senior level. 2007, when Feale Rangers defeated South Kerry, was the last time a North Kerry team won the senior county championship.
This season, as Kerry won their 38th All-Ireland title, Ballydonoguue's Jason Foley was the only player from North Kerry established on the panel. For an area which produced Sam Maguire winners like Ogie Moran, Bomber Liston, Jimmy Deenihan, Tim Kennelly, Eamonn Breen, Liam Flaherty, Stephen Stack, Noel and Tadhg Kennelly, Eamonn Fitzmaurice, Anthony Maher and Paul Galvin, it's an unsatisfactory position.
Last year, 2014 All-Ireland winning manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice agreed to chair a committee tasked with improving that situation.
"I think in North Kerry we have a good few clubs, there is an awful lot of good work being done on the ground but there are fellas making Kerry minor panels but not quite making the step to the senior panel, which is a challenge," he told Balls in 2021.
"So we’re going to try to help those pathways and support the clubs and those players. If there are players that make your minor panel, how can we support them for the year or two until they're eligible to make the under-20 panel? If they don’t make a senior panel straight away, how can we continue to support them to continue their development?"
Brian Scanlon believes this week's victory can be a "wonderful platform" for players.
"There is a passion and a love for the game in North Kerry that is as strong as in any part of the country," he said.
"I said it to the lads over the last couple of weeks that people in North Kerry just needed a project to buy into. This is the project, I think."
Congratulations to @nkfootballer the new Keane’s SuperValu Minor Champions, commiserations to @Midkerrygaa2 -we were fortunate to witness 2 brilliant games between these teams. Captain Eddie Healy was presented with the Frank King Cup. Micheál Keane presented MOTM to Oisin Healy. pic.twitter.com/SgoEp4IqLo
— Kerry GAA (@Kerry_Official) August 29, 2022