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Your guide to East Kerry football’s most famous nicknames

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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).

LEGION
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.”

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Eileen rewarded for her dedication to athletics

By Sean Moriarty Well-known Dalton’s Avenue woman Eileen Switzer has been named as the Honorary President of Killarney Valley Athletic Club in recognition of her work as a volunteer. The club held its annual awards night on Friday night last. As well as presenting awards to club members in recognition of their achievements at home […]

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By Sean Moriarty

Well-known Dalton’s Avenue woman Eileen Switzer has been named as the Honorary President of Killarney Valley Athletic Club in recognition of her work as a volunteer.

The club held its annual awards night on Friday night last.

As well as presenting awards to club members in recognition of their achievements at home and abroad they decided to honour Mrs Switzer for her “lifetime of volunteering to the community, to sport, to youth and for championing diversity and inclusion”.

“Eileen has been an advocate, a coach and an administrator in the sport of athletics for over 60 years in the town of Killarney, Kerry and beyond,” said club chair Jerry Griffin.

Eileen and her husband Frank have dedicated their lives to the community games and athletics in the greater Killarney area.

“I enjoy, but I don’t like, all the limelight,” she told the Killarney Advertiser.

“I like to watch newcomers as they come up through the ranks, many of the Community Games people of the past are now running the committee.”

In a life time dedicated to volunteerism in Killarney Eileen has helped sports like golf, pitch and putt and badminton grow.  She was also heavily involved in the local Irish dancing scene and remains a great supporter of Kerry Parents and Friends.

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Eamonn Fitzgerald: How to improve the modern game

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Fixing the tackle, binning the bin and cutting the numbers… Former Kerry goalkeeper Eamonn Fitzgerald puts forward a number of measures that he feels would rejuvenate Gaelic football

In recent weeks most of the discussion on Kerry football has centred on the appointment of Jack O’Connor as manager of the Kerry senior football team. The Sam Maguire hasn’t returned to Kerry since locals Kieran O’Leary and Fionn Fitzgerald lifted the Holy Grail in 2014. The domination of the Dubs with the six-in–a row and the disappointments of the past three years, when Peter Keane was very unlucky not to manage Kerry to victory, has led to a deeper frustration among the Kerry supporters.

Some followers of football are losing interest in the game as it is played today. Some say they don’t bother going to games anymore, because the style of football has deteriorated into a mixture of basketball and athletics.

The romanticised recollections of the high-fielding of Mick O’Connell and the marking your own man, thou shalt not pass type of football is largely gone. Joe Keohane, Teddy O’Connor, Paddy Bawn, Paudie O’Shea and a host of others made sure that the opposition’s attackers never got a chance to have an unchallenged shot at the goalkeeper. Zonal defence, how are you?

THE  TACKLE

Mick O’Dwyer always said that there is no really clearly defined tackle in Gaelic football, and I agree fully with him. He saw it from three sides: as a defender, attacker and manager. I talked to him many times about this.

There are three basic types of tackle in Gaelic football: (a) the side tackle, the most common one, (b) the front tackle, (c) the tackle from behind. The referee is the sole judge and has to decide if it is a free in or a free out. Types (b) and (c) don’t pose any real difficulties in decision making. Both are fouls. But a shoulder to shoulder is allowable. However, if a player gets a fair shoulder and falls to the ground, invariably the referee favours the fallen one.

One Kerry football defender of the past perfected the ideal ruse. When he was slowing up in his latter days with Kerry and he faced a jinking speedster, he ushered him out towards the sideline, gave his customary right belt of a shoulder, and then assisted the forward with a helping hand to ensure he stayed on his feet. Free out. Over-playing the ball.

The rule regarding tackling states that you must use one hand and one hand only, but the problem is: what does a defender actually do with that one hand, as opposed to what he is allowed do.

Tackling in Gaelic Football is confined to tackling the ball. It is illegal to trip, punch, hold, drag, pull or rugby tackle another player.

For defenders all you can do safely without conceding a free in is to shadow the opponent with both arms outstretched, doing a sprightly dance like David Rea’s Riverdance, hoping you can entice/force the forward out to the sideline where he is least likely to score. Two hands draw the foul. Of course, some defenders play to the optics using the one hand and raising up the other hand so that the ref thinks he is not fouling. What is the defender doing with that hand? Playing the ball trying to punch it out from the attacker? If that hand delivers a punch to the solar plexus, so be it, as the referee is usually unsighted. Or, as happens too often in club games, the referee is not up with the game and cannot see what is really happening. As he makes his way to the scene, I believe that he is unduly influenced by the roar of the crowd. “Free in, ref!”. Thank you very much says Seánie O’Shea and Dean Rock.

Rugby is very clear-cut when it come to the defined tackle and to some extent in soccer, where the sliding tackle is not acceptable.

While there is some credence in the perception of these disillusioned football followers, who long for the Kerry football style of the good old days, I don’t see it through the same rose-tinted glasses. Too often in the past the hard man was lauded for his physical prowess and not for his skills. I can see the merit of the modern possession game, but not endless lateral hand-passing, the fulcrum for launching a successful game strategy, which was one good reason why Dublin won six-in-a-row. They were also a great team.

You’re a loser all the way with Dean Rock and Seánie O’Shea delivering almost 100%. Take a recent game as an example. Seánie kicked 15 points versus Dr Crokes and 14 of those were frees, from any distance from 45 metres inwards. The winning score was 17 points. So a reliable free-taker is essential on any team.  He repeated the performance on Sunday last by scoring 11 points to squeeze past Dingle. The scoring in football games nowadays is very high and even more so in hurling.

PITY THE REFEREE

I have great sympathy for the referee in football and have never commented on the performance of the referees in these pages, unless I attended the game. Second-hand accounts are biased, unreliable and unacceptable. When I attend games in person, I comment on the performance of the referee, but never personalise these comments. It is a judgement on performance not on the referee as a person.

Quite simply, I respect referees. I believe they have an impossible job. It’s tough enough at intercounty level but pity the ref in some local game where he does not have neutral umpires or linesmen. The ref should apply the rules, but also apply common sense, knowing the difference between a deliberate intentional foul and body contact where the player is playing the ball, not the man. No free or card for such, even if the player falls to the ground.

The modern game has evolved and there is much to recommend it, but I believe that it can be made much more enjoyable for players and spectators by making necessary changes

IMPROVEMENTS

Some of the he rules are not clear-cut, particularly the tackle.

Rid the game of the mark. The idea was that it would reward high-fielding, a wonderful but fast–fading feature of the game. It has not done that, particularly around the middle of the park. Midfield is often bypassed today and worst of all a mark is allowed for a player near goal, who manages to catch a low ball stumbling to the ground and raises his hand within a few seconds to signal his achievement. Did he, or did he not, raise his hand? Invariably the referee awards the mark and a simple tap over for a certain point, which may be the winning score.

Learn from the women’s game. The LGFA has got it right with the clock (in major venues) taking the timing of games away from the referees. The same happens in basketball. The clock stops when there is a hold up in play. Then there are no grounds for dispute. I have seen too many games where the referee played too much overtime, or too little, and the winning scores came during the extended time. Recently I witnessed 13 minutes added on by a referee. There is a lot of stoppage time in 13 minutes.

Spectators have watches and stopwatches/timers on their phones, so then the arguments commence. That time added on is at the discretion of the referee. He has too much to do already and more advisory discretion should be given to umpires and linesmen. In the absence of a clock, let the other officials bear that responsibility.

Get rid of the water-breaks too. Too often they influence the flow of the play. Pardon the pun, but too often they also change the run of play.

13-A-SIDE

I would love to see the teams reduced to 13 players. Take out the full back and the full forward, create more space and set the scene for more open football. I have seen it used very successfully at colleges level and it is a joy to watch. Also, it would help rural clubs in particular, who are hard pressed to have 15 players available due to depopulation and other factors. It would help clubs to field their own team instead of being forced to join up with their neighbouring parish, probably their greatest rivals for many years. Amalgamations are undesirable, but often necessary. I think of South Kerry clubs in particular.

There is an argument to get rid of all referees’ cards, red, yellow and black. For a start dump the black card. As it is, some players feign injuries, waste time and run down the clock. The 10-minute penalty and 14 players effectively means the sin-binned player returns after seven, six or dare I say five minutes. The timekeeper is the ref. He is not God almighty and he has enough to do.

The modern game of football has plenty going for it, but there are responsibilities on the GAA authorities, the referees, the managers and the players to improve the enjoyment of the game. Ditto for the spectators, the hurlers on the ditch, or in this case the footballers on the terraces. Too many are not conversant with the new rules. It is hard to blame them; there has been too much tricking around with the rules governing football that it can be hard to know the updated position.

That situation with local club rivalry and natural bias leads to misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the facts and rules that leads to difference of opinions, to put it very mildly.

Pity the poor ref having to make instant decisions, de facto on his own. Video analysis is not confined just to The Sunday Game. Many club games are also filmed. The ref can’t win. Who would want to be a referee? Certainly not for the money – a very modest €40 for a local senior game.

Is it a just reward for running the gauntlet of some players, or a few officials who spend half their time encroaching onto the pitch, and the tirade of abuse from spectators, usually personal, misguided and unwarranted?

Who’s reffing the game on Sunday next?

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