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From 'looking down the barrel of a gun' to 'within an ass's roar' of All-Ireland glory

Kerry, managed by Declan Quill and Darragh Long, contest their first senior championship final since 2012 this weekend.

Kerry joint-manager Declan Quill.
Kerry joint-manager Declan Quill.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

WHEN KERRY JOINT-MANAGERS Declan Quill and Darragh Long gave the order, they were greeted with blank stares.

Quill laughs that some of the players looked at them like they had 10 heads.

“This year, hand on heart, we told the girls that the All-Ireland final was July 31st, and not to book anything or book holidays before then,” he recalls. “It’s a date that we put in the calendar. I don’t know how much the girls believed in it themselves.”

It’s something the duo always did, and aimed for since taking the reins in 2019, steadying the ship after a turbulent, tumultuous time for ladies football in the county.

Winning Division 2 in April was a big lift for the belief of the players who now find themselves in their first All-Ireland senior final since 2012, eyeing a first Brendan Martin Cup lift since 1993.

“The league final was a big turning point,” Quill explains. “It gave us great confidence winning here in Croke Park in a tight game, finally getting over the line after two years of being beaten. Hand on heart, I will say that we put July 31st into the calendar at the start of the year.

“I don’t think a lot of people outside our group would have believed that we’d be here or anywhere within an ass’s roar of it. This time last year, we were looking down the barrel of a gun, heading for relegation. 

“A lot of people looked at us going, ‘These won’t be contenders this year’. I know it’s an old saying that winning is a habit and it just seems to be, and seems to have driven this group on that they have a bit of silverware. I had a lot of friends telling me ‘Ah, sure you’re out of Division 2. That’s the main aim for the year, and everything else is a bonus’. I think the girls had one cup, and were like, ‘We’re not happy with this yet’.

“It’s just testament to the group, and how much they’ve put into this. We’ve lost girls along the way, girls from last year. We have five girls in America that could possibly be starting on Sunday. We just moved on, there wasn’t an eyelid batted.”

It was the very same when a decision was reached not to travel to Croke Park for last weekend’s Sam Maguire showdown between Kerry and Galway.

“We stayed at home from the All-Ireland on Sunday. To be fair, it was a massive sacrifice for all the girls not to go up and see the men playing but it’s just something that we had to do.

“We had a training session, and got together in Maine Valley Golf Club. They put on a lovely meal for us. All the girls watched it together. Thank God, Kerry got over the line because it would have been a very sombre room only for that but they did brilliantly.”

There were a mixture of reasons behind that conscious decision to stay at home: to conserve energy, Covid concerns, but above all else, routine. “There were no complaints, they were delighted to do it,” Quill confirms. “Lovely morning training, lovely meal after. Everyone was in good spirits after Kerry winning.”

As the party mood continues in the Kingdom, Quill, Long and co. are fully focused on their own job. Standing in their way are reigning champions Meath, the undoubted overwhelming favourites.

Eamonn Murray’s Royals shocked most but themselves last year when they landed their first All-Ireland senior title in their debut final appearance, all in their first year back in the top-flight.

Their unprecedented exploits offered inspiration and motivation to everyone else, Kerry included, and now, for the first time since 2002, neither Cork or Dublin are in the decider.

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“You hear Meath being referenced in a lot of interviews, ‘Look what Meath did last year,’” Quill nods. “It’s something that I think our girls realise is possible because Meath have done it, they’ve come from Division 2 to win an All-Ireland medal. It’s definitely something that is possible.

“We are surfing a wave. The men winning Sunday and the homecoming last night in Tralee and the amount of people coming up to us and wishing us luck and telling us that it will be us next week, you are hoping they will turn up and support us.

“The whole county is talking about football, the amount of signs up for the lads as well as the girls is great around the clubs and around Tralee, on the railings there is loads of them and it is great to see.

“The profile of the game has changed since 2012, how many people knew the ladies final was on, but now the coverage TG4 give it and Lidl give the leagues, and the media and social media have driven is so much. Every man woman and child knows the Kerry ladies are playing in an All-Ireland final on Sunday.”

BTL 5

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Emma Duffy

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