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Guinness, golf and gambling: The day Michael Jordan came to Killarney

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What did Michael Jordan do after The Last Dance? He did what any wealthy American retiree would do. He came to Killarney to play golf and drink Guinness. To find out what the GOAT was really like, Adam Moynihan spoke to the locals who showed him around back in May of 1999.

 

If, like me, you’ve been gripped by the ‘The Last Dance’, you’re probably wondering what comes next. Now that the fascinating documentary is all over, how do we fill the void?

Well, Michael Jordan was probably wondering the same thing himself after the real Last Dance back in 1998. With his sixth NBA championship secured and the break-up of the Bulls imminent, the game of basketball was about to lose its biggest star for the second (but not the final) time.

A salary dispute between players and owners pushed the beginning of the 1998-99 season out to the New Year so Jordan officially retired on January 13, 1999. Just a few short months later, perhaps to get away from the States during the NBA Playoffs (which, for the first time since 1984, did not feature the Chicago Bulls), Michael and a dozen of his friends landed in Ireland for 10 days of non-stop golf.

Why did he choose our little island? The same reason many American basketballers have arrived on our shores down through the years. The late, great Paudie O’Connor.

GOLF TRIP

Arguably the greatest Irish basketballer of all time and one of Killarney’s most famous sons, Paudie revolutionised the game in this country when he was responsible for bringing the first American professionals to our league in 1979. He subsequently moved to Las Vegas where he set up O’Connor Golf Tourism and when a mutual friend introduced him to Jordan, Paudie, ever the big thinker, jumped at the prospect of bringing one more baller back to his hometown. He suggested that Jordan, an avid golfer, should join him on a trip to Ireland and Scotland.

The biggest athlete on the planet accepted his invitation and on May 18, he and an entourage including his manager, George Koehler, and fellow athletes from the NBA, NFL and MLB arrived in Shannon Airport on a private jet adorned with a large Nike swoosh.

There to greet him on the runway was Killarney man Dennis Carroll, a Kerry Coaches bus driver who would ferry Jordan and co. around the country for the following week and a half.

Dennis remembers the trip well and speaking to the Killarney Advertiser this week he said that, contrary to his portrayal as a disagreeable character in the documentary, he found Jordan to be “perfectly fine”.

“You wouldn’t think that he was the superstar he was,” Dennis says. “He’d salute and he’d engage… He was respectful, courteous and he took care of me. As a group, Jordan and his friends were good fun. They were just like ordinary guys.”

Paudie’s brother Séamie, who caddied for Jordan when he was in Kerry, admits that the six-time NBA Finals MVP “got a bit cranky at certain things”, but overall they got along famously during their time together.

“To me, he was a very fine gentleman,” Séamie recalls. “I couldn’t say a bad word against him.”

FANS

Understandably, Jordan’s arrival in Killarney caused quite a furore.

“The day he played Killarney it was like the Irish Open,” Dennis says. “Young fellas were skipping school left, right and centre to see him. I think there were a few teachers there as well if I’m not mistaken! When they played Ballybunion one of the teachers from a nearby school was a golfer and he got wind of it. He brought his whole class down to see Michael Jordan.

“Everywhere they went there were lots of people. It was kind of being kept quiet but word got out fairly quickly. He didn’t shun the people but he wasn’t going around pressing the flesh and signing autographs. He was here on a private visit and he was given his space. The Irish being the Irish, they were respectful. They weren’t on top of him at all.”

 

[caption id="attachment_32183" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] NBA legend Michael Jordan at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club in May 1999. Watching on are Paudie O'Connor and former National League basketballer Joey Sheehan. Pic: Eamonn Keogh.[/caption]

 

Jordan never asked Séamie to keep fans at arms-length either.

“He didn’t refuse anyone anything and he didn’t tell me to stop anyone coming up to him, but I used to wait for the right moment and give the young lads a wink to say, ‘now is the time’.

“Certainly in Killarney there were a lot of young lads around the place looking for autographs and he did a bit of it in fairness, but he was on holiday. It wasn’t long after The Last Dance in 1998 so he had been under a lot of pressure.”

The group, which included baseball player Vince Coleman and NFL wide receiver Roy Green, stayed in the Aghadoe Heights for three nights and they also got to sample Killarney’s nightlife when they were in town.

“They went into The Crypt nightclub three nights on the trot and they had great fun," Séamie says. "This was a strange country to them but they were very struck by the courtesy of the people and the food and the drink, and life in general.

“Jordan loved the pint of Guinness and the Irish coffee and he used to consume them both at the one time."

"They’d be on the golf cart when was playing and the Irish coffee would be cold and the Guinness would be flat, and he’d drink them away.”

36 HOLES A DAY

The travelling party played an incredible amount of golf during their stay. In fact, their driver reckons they took on 12 courses (some of them twice) in just 10 days.

“Michael was a fanatical golfer – I don’t know how good he was – but 36 holes a day was no problem to him.

“They played Lahinch, Waterville, Tralee, Ballybunion, Killarney, Ring of Kerry, Old Head, Fota, The European Club, Portmarnock twice, Royal County Down twice and the two courses in Portrush. They didn’t do 36 holes every day but a lot of days they did.”

And, as was highlighted in the documentary, it wasn’t just the love of the game that was motivating Jordan on the course.

“They were playing for quite large sums of money,” Séamie says. “I helped him to get up and down on the 18th in Killarney for a four and he gave me a slap across the arse. ‘Great call, Séamie!’ I had saved him some money. He was quite entertaining.”

 

[caption id="attachment_32182" align="aligncenter" width="614"] Séamie O'Connor caddying for Jordan in Killarney. Pic: Eamonn Keogh.[/caption]

 

Dennis also recalls some significant wagers being made on the bus.

“He was fond of the gambling. Between golf courses, they were playing cards. They were pretty heavy gamblers, most of them. They weren’t afraid of it.”

One day, however, a game of cards was interrupted when Jordan and his friends became very much afraid. It seems as though His Airness, ironically enough, wasn't too keen on heights.

“We were going from the Ring of Kerry golf course to Waterville, so we were doing the Ring of Kerry arseways for the want of a better word,” Séamie says. “Going up towards Coomakista there’s quite a large, steep drop – it’s probably 200 feet – on the left-hand-side into the ocean. Michael and the boys were playing cards in the back of the bus when we went around a turn. Next thing we looked around and they were all hiding under the table!

“I asked Jordan about it after and he said he had never seen anything like it."

Dennis, nicknamed The Steerologist by Paudie and Séamie for his abilities behind the wheel, laughs as he retells the story.

“Yeah, they were scared. The small roads and all that. I wasn’t hanging about because I was trying to make the tee time. Michael was afraid of heights, strangely enough for a very tall man.”

When they were finished in Ireland, Jordan and his friends moved on to Scotland for some more golf before flying back to America. In the weeks and months thereafter, the people of Killarney could have been forgiven for thinking that it was all just a dream. Did the biggest sports star of all time really just potter about our quaint little town, play a round of golf in Killeen and drink pints of Guinness in The Crypt?

“It was an amazing experience,” Séamie says. “It was great for the town and great for the golf club.

“Jordan enjoyed this part of the world too. He never realised it would be so quiet, with parts of it uninhabited and the green grass and the cattle and the sheep. He couldn’t understand how these golf courses were built and how they were so good. He got a great reception in Killarney and he loved it.”

And, of course, the mastermind behind it all was Paudie O’Connor. Sure, who else could pull it off?

 

Main pic: Eamonn Keogh. 

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Crokes hurlers set for senior championship bow

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Sunday will be a momentous day for Dr Crokes GAA as the club’s hurlers are set to participate in the Kerry Senior Hurling Championship for the first time.

The Crokes famously won the Intermediate in 2020 and after exercising their right to graduate to the top level, they now face into the daunting task of negotiating the rough and tumble of the top tier.

The Killarney club will take on four-time champions Abbeydorney in their first Group 1 pool game, with throw-in at Austin Stack Park at 1.30pm. O’Dorney are sure to provide a stern test; they reached the last four of last year’s competition before exiting at the hands of eventual winners Kilmoyley.

Two teams from each of the three groups of three will progress to the knockout phase.

Crokes will be hoping that the likes of Kerry senior Michael Lenihan and his brother Jack can lead the way on Sunday, while Kerry U20 footballer and accomplished soccer player Tom Doyle is also considered to be a real talent.

Elsewhere in the Kerry SHC, champions Kilmoyley will get the defence of their title up and running against Ballyheigue tonight at 7.30pm, and last year’s beaten finalists Causeway will do battle with St Brendan’s on Saturday at 7pm.

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Neighbours Spa and Crokes vying for Division 1 final

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Killarney rivals Spa and Dr Crokes will face off in Round 5 of the Kerry Senior Football League on Saturday with the winners advancing to the Division 1 league final. The match will take place in Lewis Road at 5pm.

Crokes currently lead the way in Division 1A with seven points from four matches, with Spa one point behind having won two, drawn one and lost one of their four fixtures to date. The new competition structure, which was devised to reduce the amount of games and travel required for all teams involved, sees the top team from each pool (1A and 1B) meet in the decider.

In the other pot, Kerin’s O’Rahilly’s are favourites to finish first as they currently sit on top of the pile with seven points. The Killarney Legion are still in contention – they find themselves just one point behind in second – but Rahilly’s will fancy themselves to win their final group phase match against bottom-of-the-table Beaufort. Legion travel back west to play An Ghaeltacht in Gallarus.

Beaufort have already been relegated to Division 2 for 2022 on the back of four consecutive defeats and they will be joined in D2 by the bottom-placed team in Division 1A. Kilcummin currently occupy that position but they can claw their way out of danger with a final day victory over Austin Stacks.

The second-from-bottom team in each pool will also meet in a playoff to decide the third and final team to be relegated to Division 2. These places will go down to the wire with John Mitchels and Stacks in the firing line in 1A and Rathmore, Kenmare Shamrocks and An Ghaeltacht all potential candidates in 1B.

DIVISION 2

In the second division, Castleisland Desmonds can secure their promotion back to the top table by defeating Na Gaeil in their final fixture, thereby securing top spot in Division 2A. It’s all to play for in 2B as Templenoe, Gneeveguilla and Ballymacelligott are joint top on six points apiece.

The runners-up in both pools will also play each other to decide the third team to be promoted with Glenbeigh-Glencar and St Mary’s in contention in 2A. They will duke it out for that final spot when they meet in Glenbeigh on Saturday; in fact, the winners will secure automatic promotion if Desmonds lose to Na Gaeil in Tralee.

The Dr Crokes B team are currently facing the chop as they sit bottom of 2A on zero points, but they can avoid automatic relegation by beating the team directly above them (Ballydonoghue) away from home on Sunday. Listry can do likewise in 2B if they can get the better of Dromid Pearses in Listry. If Crokes and Listry do the needful, they will meet in a relegation playoff to see who will retain their Division 2 status.

Churchill and Listowel lead the way in Division 3A with Laune Rangers, Milltown/Castlemaine and Brosna in the running in 3B. Glenflesk are safe but the same cannot be said of Currow, who will need to defeat St Senan’s to have any hope of avoiding the drop.

Firies are in pole position in Division 4A with Renard and then Fossa gunning for top spot in 4B. Stacks B and Cordal are in pole position in Divisions 5A and 5B, and it’s all to play for in Division 6 as the B teams of Dingle, Firies, Fossa, Kenmare, Glenflesk and Rathmore, as well as the Dr Crokes C team and Tuosist, are all still in the mix for promotion.

Full fixture list and tables can be found on the Kerry GAA website and across the Kerry GAA social media channels.

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