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‘I was lucky there was no social media at the time’ – Seán Kelly reflects on opening Croker to foreign games



MOMENTOUS: Ireland and England engage in a scrum during the historic Six Nations match at Croke Park in 2007. Pic: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

Former GAA President Seán Kelly speaks to Eamonn Fitzgerald about his role in opening up Croke Park to soccer and rugby in 2007.

Rules 42 and 27 were the most contentious rules in the official guide of the GAA and both had very clear purposes.

Rule 42 prohibited field games other than Gaelic football and hurling being played in GAA grounds. Soccer and rugby were seen as the enemy, the garrison games in direct competition with Gaelic games. The hierarchy in the GAA reflected the fear and, indeed, the hatred of its members countrywide towards soccer and rugby.

Rule 42 did make provision for once-off games not in direct competition with hurling and football to be played on GAA grounds. One I remember was an American football game played in Croke Park in 1999 between the American Navy and Notre Dame. This posed no threat to the GAA games, so it went ahead.

One could see the logic of excluding soccer and rugby. The GAA has so many games for both genders, played in every parish in the country from juvenile right through to senior, and the logistics of accommodating soccer and rugby in your typical GAA field wouldn’t be realistic. If there were a clash of fixtures at the same time in the local GAA pitch, which would get preference? What pitch would be able to stand up to the wear and tear of the grounds, particularly when most of the soccer and rugby games are played in winter conditions? Who would maintain the pitch, where so much loving care, not to mind the expense, rested on the shoulders of the GAA club supporters?

Also remember that Rule 27 (The Ban) took a long time before it was abolished in 1971.

Move to Croke Park, the hallowed ground, where ardent nationalist GAA supporters, particularly (but not exclusively) from the six counties have not forgotten what happened there on Bloody Sunday 1920, when Croke Park became the bloodied field.

And yet the day came when the Irish soccer and rugby teams played their international games in Croke Park. The man who made all that possible is Kilcummin’s Seán Kelly, who did so during his term as Uachtarán of the GAA from 2003 to 2006.

I spoke with him recently about this and other matters and asked him why he fought so doggedly against fierce opposition within the officialdom of the GAA to the abolition of Rule 42, to overcome the odds stacked against him.

SK: I felt strongly that it was the right thing to do and I first raised the issue of making more use out of Croke Park when I was chairman of the Kerry County Board. It took 14 years to bring that dream to reality and I was realistic enough to know that some members and counties had fears, some justifiably so. I had to take these into consideration, but I felt that our games were thriving and should not be afraid of competition from rugby or soccer. We needed to open up Croke Park to soccer and rugby at that time, showing a generosity of spirit and ecumenism, and an opportunity to help ourselves while also helping our fellow Irish.

For the overall good of Irish sport in a new emerging country, timing was everything. It was so difficult to even get it on the ‘clár’ for Congress and I was very disappointed that in Congress here in Killarney it was ruled out. That cast a huge damper on proceedings in what was an outstanding Congress overall. The timing was favourable with Lansdowne Road closed and no real venue for rugby and soccer internationals. We had a state-of-the-art pitch and full facilities to cater for 82,000 spectators in Croke Park, so why not provide the facilities for the Irish teams?

When I took over as Uachtarán of the GAA in 2003 I deliberately made no mention in my address of plans to abolish Rule 42 and that was strategic.


As expected the ‘No Surrender’ flag was raised by Ulster, particularly by Micheál Greenan, Chairman of the Ulster Council, who could not stomach the thought of the foreign enemy games desecrating the sacred soil of Páirc an Chrócaigh. He branded you as traitor. Not surprisingly the Rebel County of Cork, and their beloved Michael Collins, opposed your mission, especially Christy Cooney. You stood out on a limb because you felt it was right, but you got a lot of stick for pushing your head above the parapet.

I did get a lot of criticism from within some sectors of the GAA as you have outlined, with nasty letters and phone calls, some of which were very bitter and personal. Luckily for me there was no social media at that time, so I was spared the invective so easily delivered at present through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram etc.


I recall you saying in one of your speeches that you were taking Johnny Cash’s advice and that you would walk the line, but keep your eyes wide open all the time, especially for your enemies within the GAA. How did you negotiate with Bertie, Mary Harney and Charlie McCreevy? After all didn’t Bertie have his dream of Bertie’s Bowl, which would have blown your idea out of the water?

In fairness to them they said that ultimately opening up Croke Park was a matter for the GAA itself. Bertie wanted to build that 80,000-seater stadium in Abbotstown and that would have been in direct competition with the GAA for big events such as concerts. The country could not afford an 80,000 stadium and an 82,000 one. A key man backing my proposal was Cahersiveen man Minister John O’Donoghue. He was so supportive and crucially for me I had access to him all the time and he could not have been more helpful.


You had to work Congress strategically and were lauded by the press, typified by John Fogarty, (Ireland on Sunday) who said “Kelly leads sport out of the dark ages”.

I was very aware of the sensitivities of the first occasion, so I ensured that rugby was first, a 32-county game, as distinct from 26-county soccer, which could be divisive. And also that Ireland’s first rugby game would not be versus England. That took some negotiating with IRFU and FAI but it was agreed before I left office and handed over to my successor Nicky Brennan.


So, mission accomplished. You got your way and Croke Park was to be opened up for soccer and rugby internationals. Take our readers back to those international match days in Croke Park. The first international played was France v Ireland (rugby) in their Six Nations on February 11, 2007. What were your feelings like in Croke Park that day?

A very proud man when they played the national anthems; proud, relieved and satisfied that what I set out to do several years before was now achieved. There wasn’t a guffaw or a single indication of disrespect from the huge attendance of 81,000. It was exciting and fulfilling that we had moved on to a more progressive organisation in the real spirit of sport. Van the Man (Morrison) was right: ‘nobody told me there could be days like this’. The perfect summation of Sunday, February 11. There was a huge build-up in the media to the England game, the old enemy and how could we tolerate the playing of ‘God Save the Queen’ in Croke Park. There were protest marches and I was vilified on placards. Seán ‘Judas’ Kelly, West Brit, and a lot worse than that. Could we forgive and forget? 83,000 spectators attended and Ireland won 42-13. Van the Man’s line once more.


[caption id="attachment_37212" align="aligncenter" width="708"] MOMENTOUS: Ireland and England engage in a scrum during the historic Six Nations match at Croke Park in 2007. Pic: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.[/caption]


Rugby was tolerated because of its 32-county status, but soccer, the real foreign game, must have been an even bigger challenge. Was the staging of the soccer internationals more demanding?

It presented its own challenges but a full house turned up in a game that Steve Staunton, the late Bobby Robson and their team had to win. Significantly, I noticed that there were far fewer of the GAA hierarchy of the GAA present, unlike the rugby internationals. The game went off without any incidents or protests. We got off to a great start as Ireland were able to grind out a 1-0 win against Wales and a similar winning result four days later when we beat Slovakia on the same scoreline.

‘Olé, olé, olé’ of the magical Charlton days rang round Croke Park with the same passion. In 2007 Ireland played international games in Croke Park between rugby and soccer, winning three and they were just pipped in the other game.


Could you visualise the Fitzgerald Stadium being used for a high-profile soccer or rugby game, maybe a once-off occasion?

I see nothing at all wrong with it, but each request would have to be judged on its own merits. There would be no problem playing these games in Killarney, as long as they didn’t interfere with the GAA games programme.


I admired you for doing what you felt was the right thing to do and for your tenacity to take on entrenched views from, within the GAA and succeeding. That was great but even better still you extended the All-Ireland Club Football and Hurling Championship competitions to include junior and intermediate levels. Now even the smallest GAA club can aspire to play in Croke Park. You must have been particularly proud to see Kilcummin, your own club, win the All-Ireland IFC in Croke Park in 2009?

Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh said that extending those All-Ireland Club competitions, catering for all three grades, was my greatest legacy from my term as Uachtarán. I insisted that all finals would be played in Croke Park. I faced all kinds of excuses to take the games out of Croke Park. Who would turn up for an insignificant junior final, maybe a few hundred followers in this huge stadium where you need upwards to 39,000 paying spectators to pay for the opening up? The first year of the finals were played in Portlaoise. I was bucking but I made sure that from then on the finals were played in Croke Park and that is there to stay.


In your present role as MEP and viewing sport from a European perspective, do you think that the All-Ireland Club competitions can go global? How about the incentive for clubs in all grades to progress to a World Club title?

The concept is great, particularly with the Irish diaspora cultivating their Gaelic games in so many places around the world. Wouldn’t the champions of Dubai love to play in such international competitions. There are some big difficulties such as expense, distances, languages and others, but these challenges can be faced up to, if the will is there and someone with vision to drive the project. I’d be all for it.


Perhaps Larry McCarthy, the new GAA president, would take up that suggestion. His record at club level in the PE College in Limerick and in his native Cork, as well as in New York in recent years, would promote that proposal. In fairness to him, he hardly has his legs under the table and the fall-out from Covid-19 is the major concern at present. However, when we do get back to normal…

You have been a great advocate of promoting hurling since your days as a player with Sat Pat’s East Kerry and your hurling brief at that stage being vice-chairman of the Kerry County Board.

Historically. hurling played second fiddle to football in Kerry. It was confined, for the most part, to a small number of clubs in North Kerry. When I took over in 1982 there was no hurling in East, West, South and Mid Kerry with some exceptions such as Kenmare and Kilgarvan. We founded St Pat’s East Kerry with the help of great stalwarts such as Pa Doyle, Dan Kelleher, and later Pat Delaney. St Pat’s have been competing ever since and that’s nearly 40 years ago. It was great to see Dr Crokes win the Kerry Intermediate Hurling Championship in 2020 and now they are going senior. That is progress.


You will have noticed that the role of ladies in the GAA as players and as administrators has blossomed in recent decades. In one of my interviews with Micheál O Muircheartaigh for On the Ball over a decade ago, he said his one big wish was to see a lady Uachtarán in the GAA. It hasn’t happened.

Not yet, but I am greatly encouraged to see the involvement of ladies as players and as officers, not just at club level but up along the ranks, and I share Micheál’s dream. Cork County Board would be classified as conservative, but they still elected Tracey Kennedy their first female cathaoirleach a few years ago. She did a great job and women of that ilk are well worthy to lead the GAA from the top. The ladies in the clubs are fully accepted and recognised for their work ethic and ability to manage and to lead.


Any views on the present Kerry GAA scene?

I think that eight teams in the Kerry Senior Football Championship is far too little and this should be addressed. The hurlers are going well and were unlucky to lose a few national titles in 2020. There was fierce criticism of the Kerry senior football players, the management and the county board when we lost to Cork. I was disappointed, but so much of the criticism was unfair. It was a once off on an awful day and Kerry have bounced back before from defeats. The good working relationship between the county board chairman and the team manager is crucial for success. In my 11 years as chairman of Kerry County Board, I worked with four managers: Mick Dwyer, Mickey Ned, Ogie and Páidí Ó Sé. All different, but all fully committed. We won some and we lost some, but we worked well together.


Finally, Seán, have you spent most of the last 13 months in Gortroe, working remotely as an MEP?

Pretty much so. I have only been in Brussels three times in that period so, like so many others, most of my work is conducted via Zoom .It’s great to have it, but it’s not as effective as being in the Parliament meeting up with people and getting things done. The vaccination programmes worldwide are paying off, as we see here in Ireland with less than 400 daily admissions. More new vaccinations, inter-country cooperation and we will get back to normal in the not-too-distant future.

Go néirí go geal leat, san Eorap anois, a Sheáin. Fís le torthaí agus gaisce mór ar son CLG.




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Almost impossible to look beyond East Kerry but Dingle are best placed to challenge



Adam Moynihan breaks down the groups and likely contenders in the 2023 Kerry Senior Football Championship

Group 1: East Kerry, South Kerry, West Kerry, Templenoe

Defending champions East Kerry are on the hunt for their fourth county title in five years and with a talented squad that’s looking as stacked as ever, only the brave would back against them.

Rathmore’s promotion back to senior level means that Kerry players Shane Ryan and Paul Murphy are missing from last year’s nine-point final victory over Mid Kerry but East Kerry’s strength in depth in all sectors means that no individual player is irreplaceable – excepting the obvious.

David Clifford’s performance for the ages in Fossa’s landmark intermediate semi-final win over Stacks provided a stark reminder of his awe-inspiring talents. Paudie Clifford was excellent too and this year the Two Mile brothers are joined on the panel by four clubmates – another glaring indicator of how far Fossa have come.

James O’Donoghue must be considered an injury doubt after only managing a cameo in Legion’s last outing but his clubmates Brian Kelly, Jonathan Lyne, Darragh Lyne and Cian Gammell are all likely to feature. Current Kerry senior panelists Chris O’Donoghue and Darragh Roche (Glenflesk), Ronan Buckley and Ruairí Murphy (Listry), and Donal O’Sullivan (Kilgarvan) would also be expected to play their part, with plenty of young talent from all seven clubs hoping to break into the starting line-up.

Realistically, the holders should navigate Group 1 with little fuss with South Kerry, West Kerry and Templenoe battling it out for second.

South Kerry and Templenoe played out a draw in the group stage of last year’s championship so there might not be much between them this year either.

West Kerry will be aiming to pick up at least one result after losing all three of their fixtures in 2022.

VERDICT: East Kerry and Templenoe

GROUP 2: Kenmare Shamrocks, Rathmore, St Kieran’s, Feale Rangers

Kenmare came mightily close in the Senior Club final and they should be able to carry that momentum through to the County Championship. Seánie O’Shea is obviously their one bona fide match winner but they’re also strong around the middle third where James McCarthy, David Hallissey and Kevin O’Sullivan put in the hard yards.

The fact that Feale Rangers reached last year’s semi-final indicates that they’re on an upward trajectory. The question now is can they repeat the trick? In 2022 the team was backboned by Listowel Emmets players (seven started that defeat to Mid Kerry) and those lads are coming into this competition in confident form having secured a spot in the still-to-be-played Junior Premier final.

Rathmore are always a tough championship team and the Ryans (Cathal and Mark at midfield and Shane at full forward) are sure to be a handful for any opposition.

St Kieran’s have troubled decent teams in the not-too-distant past – although they lost all three group games (including one against Kenmare) a year ago.

VERDICT: Kenmare and Feale Rangers

GROUP 3: Mid Kerry, Spa, Kerins O’Rahillys, Shannon Rangers

In 2022, Spa found the going tough in a Group of Death that included East Kerry and Dingle. The draw has been kinder to them this time around and they would probably expect to beat Rahillys and Shannon Rangers.

The wheels came off against Dingle in this year’s Senior Club Championship but they impressed the week before against Kenmare. Dara Moynihan, Evan Cronin and Cian Tobin will be important players in attack, with Dan O’Donoghue manning the midfield and Shane Cronin protecting their defensive third from number 6.

Mid Kerry, runners-up last season, will provide their sternest test in this pool. A lot of eyes (including those of Jack O’Connor) will be on Cillian Burke after his heroics for Milltown/Castlemaine in the semi-final of the Intermediate Club Championship. His clubmate Éanna O’Connor (son of the Kerry bainisteoir) will also play a crucial role at centre forward.

Rahillys are facing a relegation playoff if they fail to reach the final of the Kerry SFC and their form in recent weeks would suggest that making it that far is a long shot.

VERDICT: Mid Kerry and Spa

GROUP 4: Dingle, Dr Crokes, St Brendan’s, Na Gaeil

Breaking free of East Kerry’s stranglehold will not be easy but crafty Senior Club champions Dingle are surely best placed to wriggle loose. With four in-form Geaneys in the forwards – Paul, Mikey, Conor and Dylan – they have the tools to trouble any defence, and the return of their established AFL player Mark O’Connor adds solidity going the other way. They also have the incomparable Tom O’Sullivan pulling the strings. As things stand, they are easily the standout club team in the county.

Their Group 4 opponents Dr Crokes will be aiming to improve upon their showing in 2022 when they bowed out at the quarter-final stage. Naturally much will depend on the availability or otherwise of star players Gavin White and Tony Brosnan. White missed the recent Senior Club semi-final defeat to Kenmare with a hamstring injury. Encouragingly, Brosnan (who has been sidelined with a recurrence of a lung problem) was togged for that match, though he did not play.

The Killarney club will be fancied to qualify from their group alongside Dingle, although St Brendan’s – strengthened by the addition of an unknown number of Austin Stacks players to their ranks – could be dangerous.

The other team in the pool, Na Gaeil, are facing a relegation playoff against Rahillys once both sides are finished with the Kerry SFC. Reaching the final of this competition would spare them but Na Gaeil can count themselves unlucky to have been handed a difficult draw for the second year in a row.

VERDICT: Dingle and Dr Crokes

All things considered East Kerry and Dingle appear to be the frontrunners to capture the Bishop Moynihan trophy but there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way, starting this weekend with a full round of fixtures.

All eight matches will be either televised or streamed online. Dingle v Dr Crokes is on TG4. The remaining seven matches are on Clubber.


Friday 8pm Na Gaeil v St Brendan’s (Austin Stack Park)

Saturday 3pm Templenoe v West Kerry (Fitzgerald Stadium)

Saturday 5.30pm Rahillys v Shannon Rangers (Austin Stack Park)

Saturday 7.30pm East Kerry v South Kerry (Austin Stack Park)

Sunday 1.30pm Rathmore v St Kieran’s (Fitzgerald Stadium)

Sunday 2.15pm Dingle v Dr Crokes (Austin Stack Park)

Sunday 3.30pm Feale Rangers v Kenmare Shamrocks (Fitzgerald Stadium)

Sunday 4.15pm Mid Kerry v Spa (Austin Stack Park)

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Kerry’s old dogs ready for Tyrone challenge in All-Ireland final



Adam Moynihan chats to Kerry Masters goalkeeper Tony Lyons ahead of the over 40 All-Ireland football final

Hi Tony. Thanks for speaking to me.

No problem, Adam.

Can you tell me about the Kerry Masters’ season to date?

We played six round robin games in the league phase to see which competition we would be in at the end. There are five championships in all with the senior championship being for teams that finish 1st to 4th in the league, the plate for 5th to 8th and so on. There were 23 counties involved in total this year with new entrants like Armagh, Derry and Limerick.

We won five of our six league games against Limerick, Cork, Waterford, London and Clare. Unfortunately we were well beaten by Dublin during the league phase but that served us well because we knuckled down after that and upped the training to twice a week.

We also got a physical trainer on board from Keel, David Clifford, and he has had a huge influence on our development the last couple of months, allied to Adam and Gary O’Reilly from Glenflesk, and Jason Foley from Keel.

We then beat Derry in the All-Ireland quarter-final by a point, setting up a semi-final against Galway in Limerick which we won by 12 points to 7 a couple of weeks back. it That quarter-final win against Derry was our most pleasing result of the season because we were down a few bodies.

What’s the standard like?

The standard is actually very good. While we don’t have a lot of former Kerry players with us – aside from William Kirby and Aidan O’Mahony – we do have a very good calibre of club player with us, the likes of John O’Connor from Kerins O’Rahillys and John Paul Leahy from Ballyduff for example. We’ve come across some big names in some of the games. Limerick had Ciarán Carey, Dublin had Denis Bastick, Cork had Nicholas Murphy and John Miskella, and Derry had Paddy Bradley.

The first halves of the games are really competitive with the second halves probably becoming more of a war of attrition. The key is having depth in your squad and being able to bring players in and out at the right time as players tire, and I think Adam and his management team have mastered that at this stage.

Would a number of the players have represented Kerry at some level in the past?

We haven’t a huge amount of former Kerry seniors but some of the guys would have represented Kerry at junior and underage level at various stages. What the management team focused on when it became apparent some of the former players weren’t joining was getting good quality club players who could commit and make most of the trainings, and I think that has worked well for them.

What’s key as well is that a lot of the players have been playing very recently for their clubs either at senior or junior level. That’s a huge help.

How are the fitness levels?

Depends on what time of the season you’re talking about! The first few weeks is all about trying to knock off the pounds and get to a certain level of fitness. In fairness to Adam O’Reilly, he places a big focus on the warm-up which is important for players of all ages but especially for those of us over 40.

Very few of the starting 15 would last the 60 or 65 minutes so it’s important that the replacements coming in can add an impetus and build on what the guys before them have done. Last year our panel was probably a little light but we have added well with the likes of Kevin Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds), Mark Crowley (Kenmare) and James Nagle (Keel) – all strong and very fit guys – coming in.

Tell me more about your management team.

Adam O’Reilly is the manager. He came on board this year and brought Gary O’Reilly and Jason Foley with him. Gary looks after the statistics, gear and so on and Jason is a selector as well as taking parts of training at various times. David Clifford came on board about two months ago as physical trainer and he has added greatly to the set-up, improving our fitness levels and tackling in particular.

What’s the most enjoyable part of playing with the Kerry Masters?

A huge part of it, Adam, is playing with guys who you would have tried to knock lumps out of at club level over the years! There’s a big social part to it also with us meeting for a pint or two after games and, as well as that, guys getting back into a dressing room environment and having the craic at training.

For some guys who were never lucky enough to wear the Kerry jersey, there’s a huge sense of pride to put it on at this stage. It’s a real an honour. To be fair to the other teams we played, they have treated us with a lot of respect because they know Kerry teams will play football first and foremost.

Also it’s nice to involve our families, kids, partners, and wives and for them to come to the games. We have noticed a lot more people coming to our matches this season.

Which of your teammates are the best craic?

There are a few fellas like Tim O’Donoghue who thinks he’s hilarious but the jury’s out on that one. I suppose the goalies, myself and Niall Hobbert, would be jokers but then the rest of the panel would tell you the jury is out on us too! Kirby is good craic, as is the former Spa man Brian O’Sullivan Darcy. It’s great fun. I would thoroughly recommend it to any guy 40 or over who wants to play a bit of competitive football and also continue training in what is almost like a club environment.

How would you rate your chances in the final on Saturday? Are you expecting a difficult challenge from Tyrone?

Look, it’s going to be very tough. Tyrone have won the last two All-Ireland finals at Masters level and they have the experience, whereas this is our first go, as it were. They have a solid team built with the likes of Seán Cavanagh, Conor Gormley and Stephen O’Neill in their ranks.

It will be a tall order for sure but we’ll give it our all and the whole panel are chomping at the bit and ready for action.

Kerry v Tyrone takes place on Saturday at 4pm in Roscommon. Follow @KerryMastersGAA on Twitter for more information.


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