Sean O'Shea says whether Kerry should have more senior clubs is a much debated topic in the Kingdom. The county's eight top tier clubs contest the Senior Club Championship before another eight divisional sides - comprised of players from sides below the senior ranks - join them in the County Championship.
Last year, O'Shea's Kenmare side narrowly avoided the drop from senior level with an epic victory over Austin Stacks in a relegation playoff. The two sides had finished bottom of their respective groups. Stacks were county champions two years ago, and won the senior club title in 2019, 2020, and 2021. This year, they will play at intermediate level. The word cutthroat is synonymous with senior club level in Kerry.
Only having eight senior teams also gives Kerry an advantage in the intermediate and junior grades at Munster and All-Ireland levels. Last month, with Rathmore's victory over Galbally Pearses, a Kerry side won the intermediate crown for the 11th time while Fossa's win against Stewartstown Harps was the seventh time a club from the Kingdom won the junior title.
'The senior club championship in Kerry is ridiculously competitive'
"It's a contentious question below in Kerry," said O'Shea, speaking at the announcement of Allianz’s new sponsorship of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.
"It's hard to know what the solution to it is. Because I think the regulation from the GAA now is 16 teams max in a championship. So if we're to go tinkering with the eight club teams in Kerry we'd have to do something with the districts. Either merge more of them together or play preliminary rounds or something.
"I know the Cork championship from playing with UCC is quite decent. The divisionals play off their own championship first and is it one comes in at the quarter-final stage then? Something like that anyway where one team comes through. That could be an option to look at.
"But the senior club championship in Kerry is ridiculously competitive. The eight club teams. I think we've been there six years and I think we've played three finals, didn't win any of them, and two relegation play-offs in six years. So you're either looking at winning it playing the final or in a relegation play-off nearly every year.
"It is tough. Like, for Stacks to go down having won three club championships in a row and a senior county championship the year before, it's tough on a club then to be going down to the Intermediate level having had that level of success. But I suppose we all know at the start of the year that's the way it is and you just have to be ready for it when it comes around. But it is a very tough, competitive championship.
"We get great games in it too is the other thing with eight teams. You get seriously competitive games in it. There's pros and cons in both ways, it's hard to know what way is best."
Just a fortnight after defeating Galway to win the All-Ireland title, O'Shea and his Kenmare teammate Stephen O'Brien were in club action.
"The thing about that as well is the rest of the boys playing with the club have been training since January/February as well, really working hard, so you need to come back in there and you can't be coming in thinking, 'Jeez, I won't train tonight, I'll be fine'. You have to go back in and when you're back you're fully involved," said O'Shea.
"It's definitely been busy. We were brought back down to earth straight away against Na Gaeil in the first round last year when we lost. And then we were under pressure for the rest of the competition.
"The lads in the club work ridiculously hard so we know when we go back we need to be driving it on again and giving as much as we can to them because they put in serious effort all year throughout the league and stuff."
Tralee side Kerins O'Rahillys won last year's Kerry Senior Club Championship. After divisional team East Kerry won the county championship, O'Rahillys went on to represent the Kingdom in Munster. They defeated Newcastle West in the provincial final before losing to Kilmacud Crokes in the All-Ireland semi-finals.
"It's probably something a lot of clubs have tried to do," O'Shea said about Kerins O'Rahillys targeting the club championship.
"Realistically, last year at the start of the county championship, East Kerry were the strongest team in the championship, and if they played well, you knew it would be tough to beat them. We got them in the quarter-final of the county championship, and we played very, very well that day, and would be happy enough with our performance but we just came up short. They are a serious outfit, they just had too much for us.
"I'd definitely say it's something clubs are doing, taking that gamble, and going hard for the club championship, seeing if you can out of Kerry that way. It's very tough, especially with group stages in the county championship. After playing, three or four very tough games in the club championship, to go into another group stage, and play another five or six games to win a county championship."