We are experiencing a golden era for football in East Kerry. There can be no denying that. Dr Crokes are dominating, Kilcummin have just won an All-Ireland, The Sem won back-to-back Hogan Cups, and the Kerry minors have won five in a row with East Kerry youngsters playing key roles.

We’ve produced David Clifford, Gavin White and Dara Moynihan, to name but a few, in the space of a couple of years. In short, the district is churning out ballers at a frightening rate.

It may be a couple of years before some of these promising club players really make their presence felt at senior level but a quick glance at the County League tables suggests that East Kerry sides are certainly on the rise.

This season there are no fewer than five clubs from East Kerry in Division 1: Dr Crokes, Legion, Spa, Rathmore and newly-promoted Kilcummin. We have far more top-flight clubs than any other district in the county. Apart from East Kerry’s Big Five, there are three teams from Tralee, two from West Kerry, one from Kenmare District and one from South Kerry.

Glenflesk and Dr Crokes B, meanwhile, will be vying for promotion to Division 1, although the latter can’t actually go up as they are not allowed to play in the same division as their A team. Unless the Dr Crokes first team somehow get relegated to Division 2…? God knows what would happen then.

Much like the top tier, Division 3 is also littered with clubs from East Kerry. Fossa, Firies, Listry, Currow and Gneeveguilla will all be hoping for a big year and there are bound to be some keenly contested derbies over the course of the campaign. In fact, there are two all-East Kerry clashes on the opening day alone as Currow face Gneeveguilla and Firies play host to near neighbours Fossa in Farranfore.

In total, 11 of the 13 clubs from the east are currently in the top three divisions with just Cordal (Division 4) and Scartaglen (Division 5A) operating in the lower reaches of the County League.

Division 1 Preview

Defending champions Dr Crokes are on the hunt for another league title and if the past decade is anything to go by, the competition is theirs to lose. The Division 1 trophy has been stowed away in Lewis Road for four years now and in total they have won the league seven times in nine years.

The Crokes are blessed with numbers – they now have A, B and C teams in the Senior County League – but one interesting thing to look out for is how winning the All-Ireland might affect their panel. Some older heads, such as Eoin Brosnan and Colm Cooper, may well choose to bow out on a high if Crokes defeat Corofin on St Patrick’s Day.

Others may also be considering their future, although personally I can’t see the likes of Shane Doolan, Brian Looney, Kieran O’Leary or John Payne, the next oldest starters on the team, stepping aside any time soon.

Either way, if Brosnan and Cooper do decide to pack it in, that would naturally leave a void. You simply can’t replace experience like that.

We had an indifferent league campaign with Killarney Legion last time out and with a new management team of Stephen Stack and Pat Flanagan on board, we will be hoping for better in 2019. It’s a very tough division, though, and at the moment we have three players in with Kerry, which is more than most of the teams we’ll be up against.

On a positive note, the return of Podge O’Connor and Kieran Slattery has helped to bolster the squad.

Spa enjoyed an incredible start to the 2018 County League, winning their opening five games and putting themselves in a really good position to challenge for a spot in the final.

Unfortunately, they were eliminated from the Intermediate in the group phase and like most teams they seem to struggle with motivation when they don’t have championship to aim for. If they fare better in the Intermediate this year, league results could well follow suit.

Key player Dara Moynihan will be obviously be unavailable but the good news is that former Kerry minor captain Liam Kearney is back in action following a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Rathmore didn’t have a great year in 2018 by their standards. They had a poor championship and relinquished their O’Donoghue cup title to the Crokes, while in the league they needed a result on the final day to guarantee their survival.

Shane Ryan will be a massive loss. The Kerry keeper plays full forward for his club and frequently provides the team’s main scoring threat, both from frees and from play. Others will have to step up to the mark in his stead.

All-Ireland Intermediate champions Kilcummin are riding the crest of a wave following their triumphant visit to Croke Park but there are plenty of opponents in Division 1 ready and willing to take a pop at the champs.

As impressive as they were throughout their Intermediate campaign, they were brought back down to earth with a bang when Dr Crokes defeated them with 22 points to spare in the O’Donoghue Cup final. Division 1 will be a big step up for them.

Having said that, Willie Maher has built a very solid team with plenty of determination (and no little skill), so they certainly have what it takes to claim a few major scalps before the year is out.

Prediction: Dr Crokes are obviously favourites but after that it’s very hard to call. Rahilly’s impressed last year en route to a second place finish but they will be without Kerry stars Tommy Walsh and Gavin O’Brien, so they might find it difficult to repeat the feat.

Many teams in Division 1 seem content to just survive but there appears to be very little to choose between the chasing pack heading into the opening weekend of fixtures.

A good start for any team could realistically set the tone for a title challenge.

Fixtures can be viewed here.

Pic: Don MacMonagle.

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