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# keys to the kingdom
From 'arch-rivals on the field' to exciting management duo - the double act leading the Kerry resurgence
Darragh Long and Declan Quill are leading the Kingdom’s ladies footballers for 2020.

AFTER A PERIOD of transition and turbulence, the Kerry ladies footballers have enjoyed a perfect start to 2020 — and to a new era. 

Under the new management duo of Darragh Long and Declan Quill, the Kingdom have won four from four in Division 2 of the Lidl Ladies National Football League, and sit top of the table having posted some impressive scoring tallies. 

kerry Inpho. Darragh Long and Declan Quill. Inpho.

The double act, who have both played their fair share of club and county football in the past, were over the Kerry minors last year, while they had some involvement in coaching the senior set-up through the summer.

“While it is a new group, it’s not that we’re complete strangers,” Long told The42 ahead of the league kick-off. “They knew how we worked from the bit of time that we did spend together.

We’ve been able to hit the ground running to a point, but it’s a fresh start for everyone this year. Fresh ideas, new voices both from us two and the management group that we have with us. So far, so good so no complaints.

It was Kerry LGFA chairman — and former GAA presidential candidate — Sean Walsh who first got Austin Stacks man Long involved in Kerry ladies football. And he hasn’t looked back since.

“18 months ago, he gave me a call because I had done development squads at the time, and asked if I’d be interested in the minors,” he explains. “I said I would, but I wanted help. I didn’t want to go in there with so little experience and not do the job justice.

“Himself [Quill] was the first fella I called, and he mulled over it. I sold it to him on the, ‘Look, it will be six months and we’ll have loads of time for our families then after that.’ 18 months later and the start of another three-year term, I don’t think our wives are thanking me too much! We probably see more of each other than we see of them.”

Quill, a star forward with the Kerry seniors in his day, pipes up: “I just blame Darragh for getting me roped into it!”

So that was it,” Long continues. “We played for two rival clubs in town, Austin Stacks and Kerins O’Rahillys, so for 20 years we were arch-rivals on the field. We’re very much so the odd couple, but we get on really well.

“I think our coaching and our playing philosophy are very, very similar and very much aligned. That’s supported by our management group too.

“Look, we’re not going to go out to try and not win games this year; we’re going to go out to win games, and that’s going to show with the way we play. We’re going to put up some big scores hopefully and we’ll see where we end up.”

The pair are as thick as thieves, scheming away in the corner at the launch of the Lidl Ladies National Football Leagues, happy to keep a low profile and stay out of the spotlight.

But once there’s a recording device put in front of them and they get chatting away about their new challenge and the team they’re honoured to head up, their passion and enthusiasm shines through. 

They don’t want to dwell too much on the turbulent times Kerry have had over the past few seasons — the chopping and changing in management, relegation to Division 2 and other off-the-field issues — and they’re very keen to push the fact that this is a fresh start.

It’s all about Division 2 football, after the side were beaten in last year’s final, and Munster and All-Ireland senior championship from there.

“Look, the two of us are new to the game ourselves,” Quill states. “We have very little experience behind us. I spent time training the ladies side in my own club, we’ve spent the year with the minors and Darragh has done a bit of work with development squads and things like that, but really we have no ties to any of the girls.

declan-quill-celebrates-scoring-the-winning-goal-along-side-timmy-osullivan James Crombie / INPHO Quill (left) celebrates scoring a goal for Kerins O'Rahillys in 2009. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“Well, we have with a few of the minors from last year but…”

“No baggage,” Long interjects, as Quill continues: “No baggage coming with us. It’s absolutely fresh.

“I think the girls are liking our approach: every place on the team, every place on the panel is up for grabs throughout the year; league, championship, Munster championship, whatever; if you’re playing well at the time, we don’t care who you are, you’ll get on the team, you’ll be on the panel and the girls realise that’s going to be our approach.

It’s hell for leather in there, trying to impress and trying to get onto the panel. It’s been very, very good, it’s been very, very competitive so we’re delighted so far with it.

At that point, Long echoes his managerial counterpart’s sentiments. 

“It’s a clean slate for the older girls too, who have baggage from the last number of turbulent years as you put it. We told them from the first day: everyone starts at 100% with us, it’s up to you to stay at 100%.

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“I think they’ve enjoyed the approach too. They enjoy having no baggage this year, because as Dec said, we’re inexperienced at this game so we’re learning as we go too.

“As a whole group — management and players — we grow together, and that’s only going to benefit us.”

Both have gathered some coaching experience in the men’s game at underage level. Long has managed the Austin Stacks’ minors, Quill the same age group at Kerins O’Rahillys.

“I’ve coached our U6s too,” he grins, and Long adds: “We both have young fellas playing at U6s so we have plenty of experience at U6 level!”

Quill, who works as a schoolteacher, has plenty of Cumann na mBunscoil coaching knowledge to add to his underage endeavors at club level, too, he assures. 

“We have good experience in how to deal with teams and stuff like that,” he notes. “We’ve played with our own clubs for 20 years, senior football, both of us.

We have a lot of experience from that, but we’re going to learn a lot this year. I think we learned a good bit from the three games we were involved with last year at senior level, and we’re going to learn more and more this year and pick up tips from other managers. They have way more experience than we do!

At that exact moment, three-in-a-row All-Ireland-winning Dublin ladies manager Mick Bohan walks by, so it’s interesting to hear their thoughts on the transition of managers from the men’s game to the ladies’. 

Bohan is one example; he’s been involved with coaching the Dublin, Clare and Dublin City University [DCU] footballers in the past, while Mayo boss Peter Leahy and Cork’s Ephie Fitzgerald are two more who have made the switch over.

All three have stressed how attractive ladies football is, and Kerry’s joint-managers are of the same opinion. 

darragh-long-celebrates-with-the-cup Cathal Noonan / INPHO Long lifting the 2014 Kerry senior championship title. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s flying it, and look it’s the fastest growing sport in Ireland at the moment,” Long beams. “I know the All-Ireland [senior] final probably wasn’t the best spectacle last year, but the weather played a part in that. Look at the intermediate final that was played before it… outstanding game of football.

“We can only speak for the three games we were involved in last year. Against the eventual finalists, Galway, we were 1-10 to a point up after 25 minutes and through our naivety as coaches at that time… would we change things now? Of course we’d change how we played that last five or 10 minutes.

“But that was an unbelievable spectacle of football for 30 minutes, the way Galway came back at us again. It’s a super sport to be involved in.

I’ve done underage teams in our own club as well, and girls are like sponges. They’re just so good to work with, they take instruction, they want to get better the whole time. Sometimes with underage boys you have a couple of Primadonnas who don’t want to listen!

“They’re told they’re great since they’re U6 and they start to believe it,” Quill adds with a giggle. In jumps Long again:

“I’m sure Carla [Rowe] and Aishling [Moloney] who are here today , they’re going to learn again this year and they want to keep learning. That’s a super thing about the ladies sport, and that’s something we’re really enjoying from the last couple of weeks that we’ve been involved at senior.

“The girls, their eyes are bulging when we start talking, just to take in the information. And then to see that information repeated during our session and during a few challenge games has just been brilliant for us.”

That’s surely continued through their dazzling start to the league.

“I just think as well that the competition in the country… there are one or two outstanding teams, but nearly every team can beat every other team on any given day,” Quill offers.

We could play a Division 1 team or whatever it might be, and we would give them a very, very close game. Whereas you see sometimes in the men’s game it’s very, very lob-sided but the ladies’ is fiercely competitive. In the majority of matches, it’s very, very close.

“It’s a brilliant sport to be involved in, we’re delighted to be involved in it and delighted to be trying to drive the message around Kerry for a couple of years anyway.”

Trying, they are. And succeed, they should, by the looks of things early on.

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