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From the Archives: An interview with Moss Keane

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In this fascinating interview from 2009, Eamonn Fitzgerald speaks to legendary Irish rugby player (and his former classmate) Moss Keane about his illness, his Gaelic football career and lining out for his country.

 

Eamonn Fitzgerald: First off Moss, to the urgent and the important, how are you coping with your cancer diagnosis?

Moss Keane: Very well indeed. It was a huge shock, of course. I went in for a routine check-up and the medics discovered that I had cancer. I have undergone treatment for the past six months. We all get setbacks of one kind or another and this is a new challenge for me. I am taking it on like all the other challenges I have experienced over 61 years… And I am in great form.

 

EF: On one occasion you were set upon near Heuston Station and suffered a serious eye injury.

MK: That’s water under the bridge now. 16 years ago. That was a challenge at the time, but I moved on from that.

 

EF: You had a big day recently raising money.

MK: Sure we had a mighty day recently in the K-Club, where a host of stars from a wide range of sports played under Paul O’Connell (Munster) and Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster).

 

EF: On this wonderful day and through your great influence a very significant sum of money was raised for two worthy charities: the Charitable Trust and the Stuart Mangan Appeal - both causes dear to your heart.

MK: Yes, thank God.

 

EF: You are an iconic and charismatic character in Irish sport, yet you’re still very much the ordinary guy we knew shoring up the UCC football defence…

MK: Playing football with UCC was great. Let’s get one thing straight: I was only a filler-in, making up the numbers. Look at all those great players from Kerry at the time. From the Killarney area alone you had Dan Kavanagh, D Coff, Tom Looney and that great trio from Beaufort: Paudie and Brendan Lynch, and Jim Coughlan. At one stage we had 14 Kerry men and a lone Cork man on the UCC football team.

 

EF: You captained the Skull and Crossbones to Cork County Championships and to Sigerson Cup successes.

MK: I was a compromise captain. They could not decide between two great footballers, Ray Cummins and Brendan Lynch, so to avoid any aggro they planked me in there. It wasn’t for my footballing ability I can tell you.

 

EF: Were you ever sent off in football?

MK: Only twice.

 

EF: What were the circumstances?

MK: On one occasion we were playing a Cork Championship, or was it a Kelleher Shield match, and the ref thought I was a biteen too enthusiastic. On the other occasion, the game was only on about 10 minutes when one of the opposition laid into Jim Coughlan, God rest poor Jim. I strode over to sort out yerman and of course the ref, Jimmy Dennigan, pointed me to the line. No red cards at that time. I made sure I brought one of the opposition with me, to even things up. Not too long afterwards, Mick Morris (Kerry centre back) was sent off on his own and we got the mother and father of a hiding.

 

EF: You played under 21 for Kerry, fronting me against Cork.

MK: No one passed me in anyhow, whatever about the ball. I left that to you.

 

EF: And then Currow went on to produce yet another international rugby star…

MK: It really is amazing that a small rural area in Kerry produced The Doyle brothers, Mick Galway and myself thrown in there as well. At that time, even more so than now, certain second-level schools were primarily rugby producing schools and these fed into the rugby clubs, inter-pros and international teams. My secondary school was the Sem (St Brendan’s), where (Gaelic) football was really the only sport and there was no mention of the oval ball.

Some of the lads in UCC rugby team asked me to join in when the footballers were finished, and it went from there.

 

EF: Bill McLaren (rugby commentator) described you as 18-and-a-half stone of prime Irish beef.

MK: Did he? That must have been after I had gone on a diet. He missed a bit more.

 

EF: Why do you think you made it at international level with Ireland?

MK: I started because I was big and strong. I could push and shove and do a few more things in the mauls, where you couldn’t be copped. Sure, I gave away penalties early on because I didn’t know the rules. The refs missed a lot more. The rugby crowd wanted me because I was big and strong. I could jump and I could push and shove. It wasn’t for any great ball skills.

 

EF: I was in Landsdowne Road the day you took off for the line and the crowd roaring you on.

MK: That was great. I got the ball somehow, about 50 yards from the line, and this big gap opened up. I stuck the ball under my oxter and took off, scattering any blokes who tried to hang on to me. The adrenaline was flowing and the more the crowd roared, the more I progressed. I was nearly there, but the oxygen expired.

 

EF: Do you recall the profile I did of you for the Munster football Final during Kerry’s Golden Years?

MK: Didn’t you get in to trouble with the GAA over that?

 

EF: Frank Murphy took exception to a player from a foreign code (you) being promoted on a GAA match programme.

MK: Frank of Cork, of course… Jesus, Mary and Joseph! God forgive me my sins. I cringe when I think of that narrow-minded…

 

EF: Was second row your best position?

MK: Second row is no great rocket science. There is a greater need for skills in the other positions. My old friend, Johnny Brosnan, from Curnow told me I might make a decent enough Gaelic player, but I would never be a Kerry senior. I was too big for it. I knew he was right. There were times when I was in tight situations when I felt like a man trying to turn an articulated lorry in a bathroom. He said that rugby might be an option.

 

EF: What goes on in the scrums?

MK: A lot of huffing and puffing. And there is more! You don’t see or hear everything, but you would want to keep at least half an eye half-open so that you could give some fella a good dunt, thump or a decent slap. Of course, you’d get a dunt too, if you weren’t on the lookout. The camera work wasn’t great at that time, but nowadays the electronic eyes are on you. Many people thought the Munster v Leinster game was very clean, but I can tell you that a fair bit of skelping went on…

 

EF: We have seen several examples of eye-gouging in rugby games. Reminds me of that tragic scene in King Lear when his eyes were gouged out.

MK: I wouldn’t know anything about King Lear. Don’t you remember it was Macbeth we did for the Leaving Cert in 1965. You must have read King Lear later in your studies.

 

EF: You did return to St Brendan’s many years later.

MK: I did indeed, when they ended the boarding school section in 1999, or so, I headed down to the refectory, where we used to eat. Would you believe it I got the same damn pangs of hunger that assailed me 34 years earlier?

 

EF: Once you started the rugby you moved through the ranks very quickly.

MK: The infamous ban (Rule 27) went in 1971 so I switched to rugby via UCC, Highfield, Munster, and on to Lansdown when I went to Dublin to do the Masters.

 

EF: What went through your mind when you won your first cap?

MK: I did a fair bit of pinching of myself. Was this real that an ordinary guy reared in football in Kerry and in Cork was now wearing the green jersey of Ireland?

 

EF: The professional era hadn’t come in when you were playing.

MK: That’s right, but you must remember that it is only the elite group of players are making the big money. There are many players who have small enough money going with their contracts. Some of these are paid figures below subsistence level. In today’s game if a player has a long-term injury it hits him hard in the pocket, so players must bear this in mind. In my time Trevor Brennan was being sent in as a sub to subdue a certain player and the only question he asked his manager was, “Do I take him out just for this match, or do you want it extended for the whole season?”

 

EF: There is a strong suspicion in the GAA hierarchy that the GPA are not just seeking better conditions for their players but are angling for pay–to–play also. Is this on in the GAA?

MK: No, it is not. The GAA cannot sustain hurling and football as professional games. Remember the professional game is built around big sponsorship and there isn’t enough of that to go around. How do you square up the ordinary club player with the clubmate that is getting paid for some competitions?

 

EF: You were, of course, on the Munster team that defeated the All-Blacks in Limerick, which has gone into the annals of folklore.

MK: Yes, that was a mighty day. Of course, it has proved almost impossible to defeat Munster in Thomond Park. Much the same way I don’t think the All Blacks would relish a trip to Aughrim. Didn’t Micko (Dwyer) prove that in the qualifiers this year? Three northern teams came down and he took them one by one in battle.

 

EF: Any thoughts as you look back on an illustrious career in sport.

MK: I enjoyed every bit of it and the craic was mighty in all sports. Looking back on it I would love to have been fit, of course. Fitness is a very relative experience. Gaelic footballers are far fitter now since Heffo and Dwyer upped the pace in the mid-70s. The level of fitness of the Kerry teams nowadays is way ahead of the great Kerry teams of 1955 and 1959. Similarly with club teams and the same goes for rugby.

 

EF: I have heard so many stories about you, Moss, that have entertained myself and others, but what is fact and what is fiction.

MK: You can blame Willie Duggan for some of these, I am sure. Fire away anyhow.

 

EF: How did you and Pádraig O'Meara from High Street, your great friend in your UCC days, manage to fit into one of the tiniest, minuscule Fiat cars?

MK: It was fully taxed and I don’t mean the disc… We always had a bag of spuds on board from home to sustain us for the week in the flat.

 

EF: I heard that you left a great print on the ceiling of the Blue Bull pub in Cardiff and they are very proud of it. How did you manage to put your two footprints on the ceiling of the pub?

MK: I don’t remember. Must have been an act of God.

 

EF: Do you remember Smyth, the BBC commentator, who interviewed you during the Lions tour in 1977 about the highlight of your tour, and your reply?

MK: I've no doubt about my highlight: when I heard that Kerry beat the daylights out of Cork in the Munster final. That’s true alright. Dermot Coffey had told me the result some days before that.

 

EF: Fred Cogley interviewed you for RTÉ Sport before one of the internationals?

MK: He did indeed and he kept calling me Maurice Ignatius. That was only for my birth cert in Currow. I remember him saying that I had won so many caps, but had never scored for Ireland.

 

EF: How did you answer that?

MK: I took my time, then leaned forward and gave it to him there and then. “Not yet, Freddie."

 

EF: Finally, Moss how would you like to be remembered?

MK: Are you putting me down already?

[Howls of laughter from the Big Fella. His mind and quick wit are as sharp as ever, even with that invasive, progressive bowel cancer.]

Give me a shout anytime at all.

 

EF: I will.

 

Moss Keane, an enduring icon of Irish sport and mighty company. How much time has he left?

 

Update: 2021

They laid Moss to rest a year later, on October 7, 2010, in Portarlington graveyard. A real “who’s who” of Irish sport joined his wife, Anne, and daughters, Sarah and Ann Marie. You can just imagine the stories about Moss that flowed after the funeral.

Moss would love to have been in the middle of all the craic. He was one person I was glad to have known since that first day in the same plebs class in the Sem, September 1960.

Thanks for the memories, Moss. You enlivened many a day and many an occasion. The quotes are in the bank of treasured memories.

 

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New-look Lakers ready for big tip-off

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Last year the Scotts Lakers were left to rue a slow start when they missed out on the playoffs by a single basket. With that in mind, starting off on the right foot is sure to be a priority this time around.

The Lakers get their 2022/23 National League Division 1 season up and running on Saturday, October 1 with a home game against the Limerick Sport Eagles. When they take to the court at Killarney Sports & Leisure Centre there will be a new enough look to the team.

Foreign imports Godwin Boahen and Emilian Grudov have moved on during the off-season and have been replaced by American shooter Eric Cooper Jr, Dutch ball carrier Esebio Strijdhaftig and Ukrainian big man Dmytro Berozkin.

Cooper Jr is a graduate of Pepperdine University and his eye for a basket has been evident in pre-season. His 84 three-pointers in a single season is the third best haul in Pepperdine’s history. Bosman player Strijdhaftig plays point guard and he was very adept in defence and in taking the ball to the rim at his previous club Almere (Netherlands).

Berozkin will be endeavouring to use his 6’10” frame to his advantage in both offence and defence. He has represented his native Ukraine at U16, U18 and U20 level. Now based in Killarney, he will be looking to settle quickly into the pace of the league.

Rui Saravia – the Portuguese player who signed last season – is staying put and with local lads Mark O’Shea and Paul Clarke also committed (GAA commitments in the short term allowing), the Lakers are expecting to put out a strong starting five.

Teenagers Jamie O’Sullivan and Senan O’Leary will be looking to add minutes to their court time and, the more he played, David Gleeson improved immeasurably as a force at both ends last season.

The squad will be further boosted by the presence of Irish underage international Ronan Collins, who, like Gleeson, is a Gneeveguilla native. Collins had a very impressive record in the green of Ireland and once he settles into the league he will be a real asset to the squad.

Marko Benčić, the son of former Lakers coach Vojkan, contributed hugely to the scoring effort in the latter part of last season’s league campaign. He will be looking to push on again in 2022/23.

The club will, as always, be looking to harvest the potential of their outstanding underage structure and young guns Mark Sheahan, Jack O’Sullivan and Eoin Carroll – amongst others – will be involved with the squad. Another addition to the squad is Jamie Cooke who is well known for his basketball prowess with the Kerry Stars club.

That sluggish start in 2021 was mitigated somewhat by players being unavailable and the fact that their home venue was being used as a makeshift vaccination centre (their first four home games were staged at alternative venues).

There should be no such excuses this time around and coach Jarlath Lee will be hoping for a positive opening month that includes three home games here in Killarney. The other Limerick side, the Celtics, will visit the town on October 22 and Cork outfit Fr Mathews will cross the county bounds on October 30.

The sole road trip in October is to Waterford to take on the SETU Waterford Vikings October 8. The league is a little more arduous this season in terms of travel; with away days in Donegal and Dublin, a large, functioning squad is vital.

St Paul’s have once again expressed their gratitude to the team’s main sponsor, Maurice O’Donoghue of Scotts Hotel. The O’Donoghue family’s legacy in supporting Killarney basketball goes back over 40 years.

The club is also seeking additional support via the following initiatives: Season Ticket (€100) – Admission to all nine home National League and cup games; Patron Ticket (€150) – Admission for two adults to all nine home National League and cup games; Game Sponsor (€300) – Admission for two to all nine home National League and cup games, your business name featured on the front of your sponsored game programme, and your business name attached to all advertising for the game on social media, local written media and on Radio Kerry previews and reports.

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A closer look at sport’s occupational hazards

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In Part 1 of a new series, former Kerry goalkeeper Eamonn Fitzgerald examines the complicated world of sports injuries

Injuries are an occupational hazard for players in all types of sports.

Injuries to elite sports stars hit the headlines. Of the Kerry team that won the 2022 All-Ireland, Joe O’Connor, Gavin White and Micheál Burns are out of action with long-term injuries.

Just back is Dara Moynihan, who was most unfortunate to sustain an injury during Tuesday night training before the All-Ireland final. Talk about hard luck for the Spa flyer. I am sure he would have started if he had avoided injury.

Fellow clubman Dan O’Donoghue was also unlucky. He was playing great with Kerry during the league and was shaping up so well to nail down a position at corner back. Injury denied him that privilege and up sprung Graham O’Sullivan to get the corner back position.

Injuries are also heartbreaking for the regular sportsperson at club or individual levels.

They suffer the disappointments of missing the National Indoor Championships, the All-Ireland Cross Country, the National League games in basketball, the Celtic v Athletic local derby in the cup, the county final, the O’Donoghue Cup and many more occasions. Missing out on the next race or match is a worry and if the injury is serious enough they may well lose out for the rest of the season. That is hard to take after the enforced inactivity during COVID.

PERSPECTIVE

While researching for these articles, I talked with players and athletes from a wide range of sports about sports injuries. It also proved interesting to get the perspective and perceptions of trainers, managers, selectors and others involved with the injured competitors. What I learned from these people I relayed to doctors, physios, dieticians, and other medics. In all cases, I offered them anonymity and, with that assurance, they spoke freely. That wish is guaranteed. I am indebted to them all for being so willing and helpful to engage in the process.

The athletes/players I have contacted have been very forthcoming and helpful because injuries are so much part of their lives.

“I knew straight away it was serious and wondered if this knee injury would mean that I would miss out. I was devastated,” Player A said.

The contributions from all will help me to clarify opinions of my own on sports injuries, how they are caused, prognosis, diagnosis, treatment, remediation, rehabbing, and a return to action. The big question for the competitors is ‘when’. When will I be ready to play again?

In the case of a very serious injury, the question (and the pleading) switches to ‘Will I be able to return to the sport I love?’.

The consultant/doctor/physio may well have to explain to the injured party the difference between the urgent and the important. It is urgent for the athlete to be able to play in the cup final in two weeks’ time; it is important for the medic to emphasise that risking a return to play after two weeks rehabbing in a four-week programme is too risky, when further damage will most likely be caused. In some cases the harsh reality is that the person may have to end their career, or switch to a less demanding leisure activity.

Participants suffer injuries in non-contact sports, high-contact sport and collision sports. Go to any game and in most cases some player has to be substituted because of an injury sustained and not because the player in question is playing poorly.

REFEREES

Fortunately, in modern day sport, the referees suspend play while medical attention is sought to determine the extent of the injury and whether the player is fit to continue or to be substituted. Most teams now have a person in their backroom team with some medical expertise

That can be the relatively straightforward ruling where a player has to leave the action temporarily and a blood sub is allowed. The injured player may return to the action after the medics have done running repairs.

Which are the most dangerous sports? Are males more at risk than females? What goes through the mind of a sportsperson when he/she suffers a career-threatening injury? How are their domestic and professional lives affected? Are their dangers for young players being over-taxed and pushed on too early? Are individuals and teams training demands too high at intercounty, club and individual levels?

So many questions to tease out.

At grass roots level the most common injuries are soft-tissue and muscular. Then there is the unmistakable hamstring. Injuries to ligaments and joints are common. One cannot forget breaks, of course, and lacerations.

The high profile one now is the ACL .The journey to Santry Sports Clinic, or elsewhere, will cost in the region of €5,000 and that is just for the surgery. There are other considerable costs such as travel, accommodation, physio sessions, and missing work.

In some cases, the injured party will be covered for wages, but what about the self–employed plumber?

Most sports associations at national level have player injury insurance, but that only offsets some of the expenses incurred. The remainder, which can be quite considerable, falls on the individual. Her/his club may or may not be able to lessen the load.

There is also the mental health and well-being of the injured athlete to consider in the long rehab programme before returning to action.

HOSPITAL

A high percentage of games are played at weekends and it is surprising to find that sports injuries accounted for nearly one in three visits to the A&E departments of hospitals for minor injuries like cuts, sprains, or broken bones playing sport. Add this to the usual many hours of waiting in the A&E for other ‘emergencies’.

Weekend is busiest, of course, but the x-ray departments are also very busy on Mondays.

That is just one more common scenario that beggars belief why such a busy town as Killarney does not have full x-ray and MRI scan facilities for locals, visitors, and in this case for injured competitors. For many years Councillor Michael Gleeson fought a real battle to have a one-stop facility in Killarney for many services including the facility for detecting and diagnosing sports injuries. Conversion and adaptation of St Finan’s was one proposed location.

It is not too late yet to provide that facility in Killarney for all, including the worried player who wants to know as soon as possible if the right hand is fractured. If so that has huge implications if it is close to the Leaving Cert exams or the finals at third level.

A whole new language has emerged in the weekday sports reporting and previewing of games. What exactly does ‘a clean bill of health’ mean when managers indicate that ‘everyone is available for selection’ or that ‘we have a few niggling injuries’? What exactly is a niggling injury? Are the players in question fit to play or not?

If they are not fit to start why are you holding them in reserve with every intention of springing them into action at a strategic time in the game? What does 90% ready mean and why is the player still rehabbing?

These and other terms favoured by the team managers in their guarded responses to the queries of sports reporters make it a mind game. Yes, we can read behind the lines and the jargon, but what is the reality?

I will be looking at these and other questions and responses in the coming weeks after speaking to those at the receiving end of injuries and the people who assist in clearing up the injuries so the players return to action fully recovered.

DANGEROUS

Car rallying, motorbike racing and high altitude mountaineering are very obvious dangerous sports, so there is a high level of mandatory safety precautions. But what surprised me in the team games is that basketball is always at the top or very high up in the statistics for injuries.

I put that very point to a well qualified person in the medical scene, suggesting that poor quality footwear and constant landing on a hard surface over the years must have been very hard on the ankles. The playing surfaces for the game are much improved from those in the past, but still basketball ranks high on the risk factor for injuries.

Those professionals that I spoke with agreed that these were causative factors, but pointed out the specific demands on players in basketball.

“It is a game of high forces, changes of direction, high speed and high skill factors. These are key factors in the high rate of injuries in basketball.”

Then there is the eternal question: is it dangerous and inadvisable to send a talented young player into the senior ranks too early?

It will be interesting to follow the progress of 15-year-old Ethan Nwaneri who became the youngest player in Premier League history. He came on as a sub for Arsenal as they returned to the top of the Premier League with a comfortable 3-0 win at Brentford on Sunday last. If he was here in Ireland, he would be studying for the Junior Cert, even too young to go into TY (Transition Year).

Of course, Wayne Rooney was still only 16 years old in 2002 when he scored a magnificent goal for Everton against Arsenal. He progressed to a hugely successful career with Man Utd and with England. I think he is still the highest goalscorer with Manchester United and with England. Local soccer aficionados will surely update me, if that record has been bettered. He also holds the record for the most appearances of any outfield player for the England national team.

These are elite professional players, but how about the talented 16-year-old in a small, rural club in Kerry who are caught for numbers to make up a team. For the love of the parish often rears its head and in he or she goes to make up the team. It’s the modern-day Matt the Thrasher O’Donovan leading his team to victory with the war cry ‘Up Tipperary’. Substitute Tipperary with St Pat’s/Fossa/Mastergeeha/Ballyhar Dynamos/Killarney Valley AC/Workmen’s/The Valley.

Yes, you are doing it all for the love of the parish.

EXCEPTIONS

At the other end, you have men like Dan Shanahan. He retired from club hurling just this year aged 45 after winning four Munster Championships with his beloved Waterford and three All-Stars (but no All-Ireland medal).

Closer to home are the Dooleys of Ballyduff. Father John Mike and his son Gavin played on the Ballyduff team in the 2022 Kerry Senior Hurling Championship final. They are the exceptions.

I wonder what age was Dan Kelleher when he hung up his boots and hurley. And is there any end to Jim O’Shea the Masters champion in the long jump and in the high jump in London? Modesty and humility are the qualities of this Firies native. No éirí in airde in this man, who has celebrated a very significant birthday ending in a zero. The first digit will surprise you. While other sports enthusiasts settle for spectating and watching sport on TV, Jim just continues to excel. High or long, it doesn’t matter for the greatest lepper alive, in what for him is active retirement. Keep raising the standards Jim. Is fearr léim maith ná droch–sheasamh.

That and more on injuries in future editions.

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