Nicknames are rampant in Ireland and it’s hard to say exactly why.
Maybe using pet names is our way of showing affection. Maybe we just love making fun of one another - certain sobriquets seem to have their roots in funny stories or amusing likenesses. In some instances, alternate names are simply functional, a way of differentiating this John O’Sullivan here from that John O’Sullivan down the road.
Whatever the reasons, nicknames are everywhere and naturally our national games are no exception. Our playing fields have been graced by some superb examples down through the years. Babs. Bomber. Bubbles. Brick. The Rock. The Man. Star. Nudie. Cake. Jelly. Woolly. Fingers. The list goes on and on. I’m not sure where they all came from, and maybe in some instances I don’t want to know.
The dressing room environment is surely a factor in all of this. When 20-plus young men get together three times a week, the storytelling and slagging is bound to produce nicknames, and some of those nicknames are bound to stick.
Killarney (and East Kerry) is no exception.
THE BIG ONE
Let’s address the most famous one first (not just around here but perhaps in the entire sport): The Gooch (Colm Cooper). The man many consider to be the greatest to ever do it got his nickname from his Dr Crokes clubmate Peter O’Brien (aka Head), apparently due to the young mascot’s resemblance to the popular ‘Goochie’ dolls of the time.
Speaking of Crokes, Gooch himself lined out alongside a number of players throughout his career who are perhaps better known by their nicknames. Smiler (Michael Moloney, who inherited the name from his father, Smiler Sr), Melon (David Moloney), Socky (Alan O’Sullivan) and Boo-Boo (James Fleming) are some of the more notable ones, alongside current half back David O’Leary who is widely known as Buddy. The late Martin Beckett was the one who gave O’Leary that moniker: he thought that the toddler from Woodlawn looked like American singer Buddy Holly.
Staying in Lewis Road, the O’Sullivan family boast three famous nicknames: the great Eddie Tatler O’Sullivan, his son Patrick The Bag O’Sullivan, and his other son (current senior manager) Edmund Fox O’Sullivan. The latter and the former are fairly self-explanatory. The Bag, perhaps, less so.
Apparently when Patrick’s father was a selector with the Kerry team he was given an Adidas kitbag which he passed on to Patrick, who was a young lad at the time. He was proud of the bag and carried it everywhere, prompting his friends to say, “Look at Patrick with the bag, it’s as big as himself”. The bag became synonymous with Patrick and that was that.
THE NICKNAME KINGS
As many bynames as there are above in Crokes, they simply cannot compete with the undisputed kings in this particular domain: Gneeveguilla. The small parish just the right side of the Cork border is a veritable hotbed for cognomens. To be honest, I feel bad for anyone back there who doesn't have a nickname. They must feel left out.
Forgie, Slug, Lobster, Spider, Rats, Pebbles, Fuzz, Mops, Bawnie, Stones, Blondie Mike, Curly, Horse, Fox, Badger, Mosquito and, believe it or not, Chesty La Rue have all represented Gneeveguilla with distinction, as has a player with one of the more interesting nicknames around, Pharaoh (Donie O’Connor). The man himself explains how that one came about.
“The GAA club in Gneeveguilla used to run a drama competition called Tops of the Parish in the local hall and in the 1980s, as part of one of the comedy sketches, my father was doing a scene where he was a pharaoh.
“After that everyone locally started calling him Pharaoh and subsequently I became known as Young Pharaoh. It has stuck with us since then. It’s funny now how many people wouldn't even know my real name, and just call me Pharaoh.”
Over to Rathmore and another unusual leasainm catches the eye: the club’s captain when they won the East Kerry Championship in 2015, 2016 and 2017 is affectionately known as Bonze (Brendan O’Keeffe). Again, I’ll let the player himself enlighten us.
“My dad runs a hardware shop in Rathmore and we had a forklift that was in the business for years called The Bonzer. He claims that I was a little wrecker when I was a young lad, tearing around the place like the forklift. So, I was christened after a forklift, and it has stuck to this day.”
Not to be outdone by their neighbours with their Egyptian, Rathmore also have some Italians in their ranks. Back in the eighties, Zoff (Donal O’Connor) was named after fellow goalkeeper Dino Zoff and later his clubmate Brendan Nagle came to be known as Baggio after legendary striker Roberto Baggio.
Speaking of Rathmore, another star from the eighties (and also my uncle-in-law) Dan O’Leary is more commonly known as The Knife. Meanwhile, his son, Dan Jr, is known to his friends as The Dagger. A similar pattern can be found in Gneeveguilla where you have the aforementioned Stones (Michael Murphy) and his younger brother Pebbles (Donal Murphy), and out in Firies where you have Bush (James O’Donoghue) and his younger brother Shrub (Shane O’Donoghue).
Heading back towards town and Legion have Beano (Kevin Breen), Shadow (Danny Sheahan), the great Mixie (James) Palmer, and of course not forgetting the legendary Weeshie (Aloysius Fogarty), who got his famous nickname from his pals on New Street who were unable to correctly pronounce his “posh” first name.
Spa have no shortage of nicknames either. Chief amongst them is veteran forward Stam (Mike O’Donoghue), and I can tell you the origin story of this one myself because I was actually present when he got it.
Mike was a teammate of mine underage at Killarney Athletic and he turned up for training one morning wearing a Manchester United jersey and sporting a buzz cut. Skinheaded Dutch defender Jaap Stam was at United at the time, so Mike really walked into that one.
Other well-known Spa nicknames include Batt (Eoin and Cormac Cronin, a name they inherited from their father, Johnny) and The Kid (Ryan O’Carroll), and an honourable mention must go to what is surely the cleverest and most delicious nickname around: Chili (Con Kearney).
Kilcummin have Todd (Shane McSweeney) and Dodge (DJ Fleming), Currow have Buff (Michael McCarthy), Glenflesk have Shaky (Michael O’Shea), there’s a Spoon (Jerh O’Sullivan) from Firies and in Fossa you’ll even find Snakes (Kenneth Clifford).
There are scores more at the clubs mentioned above and elsewhere but the names are far too numerous (and, in some cases, far too inappropriate) to share.
So, with all that in mind, what makes a good nickname? In truth, I don’t really think there’s such a thing as a “good” or “bad” nickname. There are simply nicknames that stick and nicknames that don’t. Some are funny, some aren’t. Some make sense, some don’t. Either way, plenty of them tend to stick around these parts - whether the bearer likes it or not.
As one player who has a funny-but-slightly-embarrassing-if-you-know-the-whole-story nickname told me this week: “It’s funny how someone can come along one day and just change your name, but there really isn’t a whole pile you can do about it.
“If it sticks, it sticks.”
Fleming and Doherty top Killarney crew at Boggeragh
The Boggeragh Rallysprint, organised by Cork Motor Club and based in the forest complex of the same name, took place over the Christmas break.
Based near the village of Nad, the event attracted a strong 60-plus car entry and was won by West Cork driver David Guest and his Millstreet co-driver Liam Moynihan in a Ford Fiesta Rally 2. The latter is a member of Killarney and District Motor Club.
The first all-Killarney crew to make the finish were David Fleming and Kieran Doherty in their Honda Civic. The Killarney-based crew finished 20th overall on what was only their second time competing on a gravel rally.
World Rally Championship launch
The new Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid that Craig Breen and Paul Nagle will drive in this year’s World Rally Championship is set to be unveiled on Saturday in Austria.
The World Rally Championship will undergo major environmental changes this year when new technical regulations drive the series towards a more sustainable future.
The season launch takes place at Red Bull’s headquarters near Salzburg ahead of the first round of the WRC, next week’s Rallye Monte Carlo, as a new era for the sport dawns.
Breen and Nagle will be in attendance and the launch will be live streamed on WRC.com
Killarney Valley athletes rubbing shoulders with the best
Killarney Valley AC continued their upward curve last Sunday when they entered men’s and women’s teams in the prestigious National Indoor Track and Field Championships, which were held in Abbotstown in Dublin.
Despite going up against the best of the best in terms of Irish athletics, the Killarney Valley contingent gave a good account of themselves at the state-of-the-art National Indoor Arena, with coaches Tomás Griffin and Con Lynch coming away with plenty of positives to reflect upon.
The women’s team was comprised of Sarah Leahy, Ciara Kennelly, Alison Butler, Grace O’Meara, Ellen Moloney and Melissa Ahern, while the men’s team included Conor Gammell, Oisín Lynch, Kevin O’Callaghan, Sam Griffin, Jason O’Reilly, Dara Looney and Darragh O’Leary.
The nature of the team event presents a number of challenges and opportunities for the forward-thinking club, as coach Tomás Griffin explained to the Killarney Advertiser this week.
“The indoor league is senior elite level so you’re competing against really strong athletes, including some Olympians,” Griffin said. “Part of the criteria is that you try to cover as many of the events as you possibly can within all of the athletic disciplines. You compete as a team, as opposed to normal athletics competitions which are very much based on the individual.
“If you are 16 or you turn 16 in the year of competition, you can participate. That allows us to give our up-and-coming athletes the opportunity to compete as part of a representative team alongside our more established, older athletes.
“There are two rounds with half the events in all disciplines covered in Round 1 and the other half in Round 2. Last week in Round 1 the track events were the 50m sprint, the 200m sprint, and the 800m, along with the 4 x 400m relay. So, for those events alone, you have to have sprinters and you have to have middle distance athletes all stepping up to compete against one representative from all the other clubs.
“The field events were the shot putt, the long jump, and the pole vault. You can see there you’ve got to have a pretty diverse club that is trying to focus on as many disciplines as possible on the development sides of things.”
Individual athletes earn points based on where they finish in their event (12 points for first etc.), with points tallied together to make up the team’s overall total. There are 12 clubs vying for the women’s title and 13 fighting for the men’s. After Round 2, which takes place on January 23 in Athlone, the top six clubs will advance to the finals.
The demands that such a competition place on a club mean that it is a major achievement to be able to take part at all. Apart from Killarney Valley, Leevale AC from Cork were the only other club in Munster who fielded a team.
“For us to have enough athletes of that age or above, that are competent enough in their disciplines to be able to represent us and compete – and score – is a significant breakthrough. We scored quite well across some of the events. There were some events that we struggled to cover because we’re still trying to develop the full range, but as a club we know that we need to develop those disciplines.
“And we have some younger athletes who are 13 or 14 and they’re now learning pole vault, for instance. If we can maintain the momentum then we will have pole vaulters in a couple of years’ time.”
Griffin says the Killarney Valley competitors really enjoyed the experience, while also putting in some impressive performances.
“They loved it. The bigger powerhouse clubs have very high-profile athletes at their disposal; there were four Olympians whom our athletes got to compete against and interact with.
“Our own Sarah Leahy did exceptionally well in the 60m sprint. She ran the joint fastest time in the league, a personal best of 7.61 seconds, which is the fastest she has ever run 60m indoors.
“In the men’s 60m sprint, Conor Gammell made the top five and ran a personal best. We also had Sam Griffin, who is normally a long jumper, who ran a personal best of 7.58 seconds. He finished third in his race. Dara Looney, another long jumper who was doubling up on sprints, finished fifth and also had a personal best.
“Melissa Ahern, an up-and coming sprinter, ran 8.43 seconds, and Ellen Moloney, who was a first-timer at this level, ran a personal best as well. We have a good batch of sprinters competing and it’s good to expose them to this level.
“Alison Butler scored some valuable points for us in the 800m, and in the men’s 800 Oisín Lynch ran a massive personal best. Our shot putt thrower Kevin O’Callaghan is new to athletics; he had to throw an adult shot (7.2kg) for the first time and he did well, scoring five points for us. In fact, he threw the heavier weight nearly as far as he had been throwing the lighter weight.”
Griffin was keen to stress the importance of each individual team member to the overall group effort and whatever happens in Round 2, he is convinced that entering the competition will have huge benefits in the long run.
“We set ourselves of goal of having a team at National League level by 2023 so we’re a year ahead in that regard. It shows that we’re on the right trajectory.”
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