Killarney Advertiser sports columnist Eamonn Fitzgerald reviews the autobiography of his former Kerry teammate Donie O’Sullivan
There is no shortage of sports books on offer and many will make their way into our stockings this Christmas.
Several sports personalities’ autobiographies are ghosted, but all too often star players commit to print far too soon after ending their glorious sporting careers. Invariably, these books are shallow, egotistical and a self-glorifing journey of self-delusion, providing no real insights into the person’s thoughts and values.
The hero’s achievements are well known but what does the biography tell us about the inner persona?
There are some great exceptions. I found the biographies of Kieran Donaghy and Philly McMahon well worth reading and hopefully some of this year’s Christmas crop will emerge as very worthwhile too. I have found one already and it is very much homegrown, well over 40 decades since the subject’s playing days. Mature reflection provides the necessary savvy.
Donie O’Sullivan: A Footballer, Once, an autobiography penned with fellow Spa man Jimmy O’Sullivan Darcy, gives us a fine insight into the values and principles of an enduring GAA star.
Four All-Ireland titles with Kerry, one All-Ireland Club and three Kerry SFC titles in a row with East Kerry, Kerry’s first All-Star, nine O’Donoghue Cups and a plethora of other awards. That and more but you’ll be scratching your head to find these facts in this autobiography.
Jimmy Darcy is a sports columnist who provides a comprehensive and constructive honest analysis of the local and national sports scene. In this book he sets the context of the social and political life during which the ‘once footballer’ excelled.
I had the good fortune to play on teams with Donie and we were also in opposition in the very healthy Spa v Dr Crokes O’Donoghue Cup rivalry. He was a full-blooded competitor, tough as táithfhéileann, but fair and sporting.
We travelled far and wide along with Mick Gleeson to play together most times, but not always. Donie gave sterling service to Dr Crokes in the early 1960s, winning three O’‘Donoghue Cups. When Spa got going once more, he quite rightly played with his home team, winning six more O’Donoghue Cups.
He was the leading figure for Spa along with Pat Casey and Mick Gleeson, usually at the expense of the Crokes. The game plan was simple, direct, and successful. Donie boomed a 70-yard kick-out, Casey fetched cleanly and delivered quickly into Gleeson. Raise another flag.
I recall the 1968 O’Donoghue Cup final fixed for a Friday night. Mick Gleeson and I were in the same workplace in Dublin and Donie was employed elsewhere in Dublin. The game was fixed for 7.30pm in the Park. Travelling in the same car out of Dublin on a Friday afternoon without the luxury of a motorway; a four or five-hour journey was not the ideal preparation.
The friendly conversation kept us occupied until we took a four-minute sos to stretch our legs 14 miles from the Park, just 20 minutes to throw-in. I had the duty to mark Mick Gleeson, a huge challenge at the best of times. No quarter given or taken, friendships suspended for one hour. But with the shake hands at the final whistle, normal respectful relationships were renewed. Values.
Darcy drove Donie around the Spa countryside and the latter supplied the commentary, facilitating the reader to see into the recollecting mind of footballer. The writer discovered the real personal values of faith, integrity, and respect of the footballer of fadó, fadó.
Footballer, is it? He readily admits that he couldn’t even make the Sem team. Why? because he was “too small”. Maybe so, but there was plenty of work to be done in the modest farm at Tiernaboul. Cycling both ways on a high nelly was enough to take the teaspach off anyone.
He was also a very keen student, a lifetime learner and teacher, which took him off to the USA on so many occasions, especially to San Diego. He studied there and lectured on Irish history, a subject dear to his heart, as is the Irish language. Significantly, his Ó Súilleabháin offspring have Irish names: Colm, Fionnuala, Eoin and Orna.
Forget the Kerry minors or U21s but look to Maynooth. That was the era of big numbers answering the call of a Higher Authority. Donie answered the call.
He must have togged out there every day whatever the weather. He liked the structure of Maynooth, the self-discipline. “You studied, you slept, and you played sports.”
Friends in that seminary said that Donie practiced and practiced kicking, which in later life crowned him King in the Kingdom of dead-ball kickers. When I placed the ball on the edge of the square, his explosive contact was like a jet taking off and Mick O’Connell, his lifelong friend, knew exactly when and where to leap into the clouds.
Seánie O’Shea is a splendid long kicker but how would he have done with the old ball on a wet day? The weather was never an issue for Donie. The pitches at Maynooth were a small bit shorter than your regular pitch, but still, he could drive the kickout so far, bypassing all lines until it was safely grabbed at the other end by his cousin Bill Murphy. The latter became Bishop of Kerry and is still a keenly interested sports supporter.
The former could well have been a kicker with the New York Jets, who wanted him to join them. However, he felt life is for living and cherishing, even when it throws up so many challenges and disappointments. It wasn’t all plain sailing.
Darcy listens for a response and the open confessions emerge. It wasn’t a winner all the way. Donie had disappointments go leor. Imagine having to listen to the 1962 All-Ireland final on the wireless because at that time clerical students were not allowed to play games outside of the college once they returned to Maynooth in September.
He won his first All-Ireland medal in 1962 and was not one bit sour about not being allowed play. He confided, prayed, and then made his own decision, as he did when he left the seminary some years later. To this day he has an eternally grateful grá for Maynooth and particularly for the lifelong friends he made in that era of his life.
More disappointments were to follow. He was dropped for the 1969 All-Ireland final, having played so well all the way to that final. One never got a reasoned explanation why. He was disappointed but never sulked. Like life, he just got on with it and held no grudges.
Think of the 1970 All-Ireland final. Kerry won, but he received a leg injury after 20 minutes. Still, he continued to play on until half-time. Looking at him hobble off eventually, I was disappointed that the lion-hearted Spa man would not be fit to join us in the county final one week later against Waterville. He had to sit it out for the three-in-a row.
But nothing compared to the biggest challenge of all, life and death staring you in the face, this time off the field. Eoin, his son, appeared to have no chance of surviving and “we were thinking and then discussing when the life support would be unplugged”. Aggressive lymphoma on a 10-year-old is hard to take. Miraculously, Eoin survived and returned to full health.
Also, for six years, Donie was the primary carer for his beloved wife Dr Áine, who was suffering from dementia. His family said he never once complained, resilient and reliable as ever. She passed away in April 2021.
Others will count his medals and a plethora of awards, but the Donie I know values friends most of all. That thread runs right through the autobiography. The friendships forged on the sporting fields endured forever and when he hears that a former player, friend or foe, was experiencing health issue, the once footballer - but always friend - lifted the phone and visited his former teammate or rival player.
This book is well worth reading to encounter the inner persona of a very public footballer who knows where he came from and cherishes his beloved Spa with no hint of éirí in airde. He knows that life is thuas seal, thíos seal.
Donie is fíor dhílis don Ghaeilge i gcónaí, agus ritheann liricí an Ríordánaigh liom. The man from just over the county bounds offers this nugget.
“Is níl laistigh d’aon daoiorse, Ach saoirse ón daoirse sin.”
Donie O’Sullivan: A Footballer, Once, an autobiography with Jimmy Darcy O’Sullivan, is available from Amazon.
Fossa on cusp of history as club from ‘nine square miles’ eyes senior status
Kerry IFC Final
Fossa v Milltown/Castlemaine
Austin Stack Park
Never before in the history of Kerry football has an Intermediate final attracted so much attention.
On Sunday, two clubs go head-to-head with a trophy and promotion on the line – but this high-profile encounter has far more riding on it than that.
In fact, the consequences of the outcome of this second-tier decider are going to be massive. If Fossa win, they will graduate to senior for the first time in their 53-year existence. It would represent a monumental achievement for the club from the small parish to the northwest of Killarney; few, if any, believed it would ever be possible given their lowly standing as recently as a few years ago.
With two generational talents at their disposal in the form of the Clifford brothers from Two Mile, they have rapidly risen through the ranks. Now they are seeking their second successive promotion following on from last year’s extra time win over Listry in the Junior Premier final.
And if the idea of Fossa going out on their own in the Kery Senior Football Championship wasn’t intriguing enough on its own, there’s more. A Fossa win would mean that East Kerry, winners of four of the last five titles, would lose their Fossa contingent for 2024. Most notable amongst that cohort are Paudie and David Clifford, unquestionably the district’s two most influential players.
There is plenty of intrigue from Milltown/Castlemaine’s perspective too. The Mid Kerry side are aiming to get back to senior level for the first time since being relegated in 2016 following defeat to Kilcummin in a playoff. They were not considered to be amongst the frontrunners for this competition before a ball was kicked, and possibly not after the group stage either, so victory this weekend would be sweet.
Of course, a Milltown/Castlemaine win would also have a huge bearing on the 2024 County Championship. Mid Kerry (runners-up in 2020, 2022 and 2023) stand to lose five starters if Milltown are promoted: Pa Wrenn, David Roche, Gavin Horan, Cillian Burke and Éanna O’Connor. Such a loss would greatly weaken their hand and widen the gap that already exists between them and the reigning champions. Add to that the fact that East Kerry will keep the Cliffords if Milltown/Castlemaine win, and the significance of this game is magnified further still.
There is so much at stake for all the invested parties in East and Mid Kerry, and there is plenty to consider for the neutral fan as well. Many would welcome the weakening of East Kerry’s squad as it would potentially lead to a more competitive County Championship. However, there is serious concern amongst Kerry supporters that the Cliffords are in need of a rest after a long couple of years with club and county. If Fossa prevail they will advance to the Munster Championship and possibly beyond if they manage to keep on winning. This would likely interfere with their star players’ off-season.
There’s no doubt that the nature of Fossa’s matches to date have whetted the appetite for this final. They were involved in exhilarating extra time victories over Castleisland and Austin Stacks in the previous rounds and more excitement of that nature would be more than welcome after a largely disappointing County Championship.
Milltown/Castlemaine also bring plenty to the table and although the momentum from their own semi-final heroics against Legion may have dwindled somewhat over the many weeks between then and now, they can certainly take heart from that result against one of the pre-tournament favourites.
It’s all set up to be a fascinating match-up and a large crowd is expected in Tralee for this one.
The match will also be streamed live by Clubber.
Home double header for St Paul’s and Scotts Lakers
The St Paul’s women’s and men’s teams are both in National League action this Saturday at Killarney Sports and Leisure Centre with their games tipping off at 4.30pm and 7.30pm respectively.
James Fleming’s ladies take on the Phoenix Rockets on the back of that disappointing cup exit at the hands of the Cavan Eagles a fortnight ago and they will be keen to get back to winning ways on home turf.
Paul’s have a perfect 100% record in Division 1 but they are sure to be tested by the Rockets, who gave a fine account of themselves over the course of the 2022/23 season.
They beat Paul’s in Lisburn last February, though the Killarney side exacted revenge in the playoffs in March. The Rockets have made an inconsistent start to the 2023/24 campaign picking up just two wins from the seven games played. The second of those victories came as recently last Saturday when they got the better of the Limerick Sport Eagles at home, but they fell to another defeat against the Huskies back up north the following day.
The Rockets are coached by former Ireland player Breda Dick, a woman who cites Killarney’s own Paudie O’Connor as her role model. Paudie was her first coach at international level and obviously left a huge mark on Breda.
Dick will be looking to the McGrath sisters Charly and Georgie to carry the torch for them as well as American signing Jay Ashby.
For Paul’s, Khiarica Rasheed has been building a good understanding with Sofia Paska and they will be keen to work on that partnership again on Saturday. In the absence of Lorraine Scanlon, who will be attending the LGFA All-Stars, Meabh Barry may be pushed up the ladder. Lynn Jones and Rheanne O’Shea will also be expected to play prominent roles.
Under the guidance of Coach Brian Clarke, Scotts Lakers have established a winning record of 4-2 and as a result they find themselves fifth out of 12 teams in Division 1 of the National League.
They claimed their latest win at home to the Dublin Lions last weekend (81-71) with Americans Braden Bell (26) and Terion Moss (25) accounting for the bulk of the scoring. Jamie O’Sullivan, Oisín Spring and Cian Forde also made their mark on the scoreboard.
Coach Brian Clarke was very pleased with the contribution of his subs on the night. “Our bench was ready to come on and make the difference and I can’t emphasis enough the importance of that,” he told club PRO Enda Walshe.
“Braden and Terion are great shot-makers but they also have a sharp eye for passes to their teammates. Oisín Spring, and Paul Clarke in previous games, are alive to that and make themselves available. It’s a great opportunity for our young players to make their mark and provided they continue to dedicate themselves to their craft, they will get to enjoy that.”
Next up for the Lakers is the visit of the Limerick Celtics on Saturday. The Shannonsiders are currently second in Division 1 having won five of their six matches to date.
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