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Is this the Sem’s greatest ever XV?

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Killarney Advertiser Sports Editor and former St Brendan’s captain Adam Moynihan selects a dream team of some of the best footballers to ever play for the Sem.

 

For at least a hundred years now, St Brendan’s College has been a dominant force in schools football, winning no fewer than 22 Corn Uí Mhuirí titles, four Hogan Cups and providing the Kerry seniors with countless top class footballers along the way.

Whittling it down to the bare 15 is an impossible task - a huge number of fantastic players are mightily unfortunate not to be included – but through discussions with some Sem stars from bygone eras and a thorough examination of the history books, a version of a St Brendan’s dream team was finally produced.

Some players earned their places via their performances in St Brendan’s colours, others for their achievements thereafter. Some were boarders, others day boys. But they all have at least two things in common: they are all Sem boys and they are all supremely talented footballers.

 

 

1. Johnny Culloty

A highly skilled player who won his first All-Ireland for Kerry as a corner forward in 1954, Culloty didn’t make a name for himself as a goalkeeper until many years after he graduated from the Sem. The Legion legend kept goal for The Kingdom from 1959 to 1971, winning four more Celtic crosses in the process.

2. Denny Lyne

The fifth of the famous Lyne brothers of Cleeney, Denny was an unusually stylish full/corner back in an era of tough-tackling defenders. An All-Ireland winner with Kerry in 1946, he also won the County Championship with the Legion that same year before captaining The Kingdom in their momentous clash against Cavan in the Polo Grounds in New York in 1947.

3. John O’Keeffe

It took the Sem 23 years to win their first Hogan Cup and, somewhat ironically, it was a Tralee man who led them to the promised land. Athletic all-rounder John O’Keeffe from the Austin Stacks club was a boarder in St Brendan’s and he captained the school’s senior footballers to victory over St Mary’s of Galway in 1969. He went on to become a mainstay of Kerry’s Golden Years team, claiming no fewer than seven All-Irelands and five All-Stars along with a Footballer of the Year award in 1975.

4. Mike McCarthy

McCarthy is one player who didn’t really excel in Sem colours. In fact, when he was in sixth year, he didn’t make the school’s senior team. Kilcummin’s quiet man would subsequently blossom into one of the most reliable corner backs of his generation and he was a key factor in the All-Ireland wins of 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2009.

5. Jackie Lyne

Younger brother of Denny, Jackie is perhaps the best-known sibling in Legion’s most famous footballing family. A versatile, barrel-chested ball player, he is regarded by many as the finest footballer of his generation and one of Kerry’s all-time greats. Jackie won a Kerry colleges title with the Sem before securing two All-Irelands with Kerry in 1946 and 1953.

6. Séamus Moynihan

Séamo was an influential figure for St Brendan’s as the school bridged a 23-year gap to claim their second Hogan Cup in 1992. A couple of months later, the Glenflesk native was lining out at midfield for Kerry in the Munster Championship and a remarkable intercounty career was born. He won four All-Irelands and three All-Stars over the course of 15 years in the green and gold.

7. Donie O’Sullivan

Much like Mike McCarthy in the corner behind him, Spa man Donie O’Sullivan was not a star in his school days but he came into his own at senior level. He played over 100 games in all competitions for Kerry, operating at corner back, half back and midfield over the course of an impressive 14-year intercounty career. The county’s first All-Star in 1971.

8. Páidí Ó Sé

Ask most people about Páidí Ó Sé’s time in the Sem and they’re sure to bring up his expulsion but focusing on this alone is doing the great An Ghaeltacht clubman a great disservice. Páidí won three O’Sullivan Cups and two Corn Uí Mhuirí’s with St Brendan’s, starring at midfield as the Killarney school reached the All-Ireland final and semi-final in 1972 and 1973 respectively. An eight-time All-Ireland winner with Kerry and a five-time All-Star.

9. Paudie Lynch

Another member of the victorious 1969 team, Paudie Lynch from Beaufort was a superb player who became a trusted servant for Kerry during the Mick O’Dwyer era. Lynch could play multiple positions, lining out at midfield in the 1975 All-Ireland against Dublin before moving into the backs in his later years. An ever-present during The Kindgom’s historic four-in-a-row run from 1978 to 1981.

10. Dara Moynihan

The 21-year-old from Spa still has his whole senior career ahead of him but he gets the nod in this team for the significant part he played in the school’s third and fourth Hogan Cup triumphs. Moynihan was instrumental against St Pat’s of Derry in the 2016 decider as he kicked four points from play and he repeated the trick as captain in 2017 when once again he led his team to glory in Croke Park, this time against St Peter’s of Wexford.

11. Dick Fitzgerald

This Crokes icon was the first superstar of the GAA. After studying in the Sem and later the Presentation Brothers College in Cork, Dickeen won five All-Irelands with Kerry, including the county’s first in 1903 and two as captain in 1913 and 1914. The Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney is named in his honour.

12. Pat Spillane

Another offshoot of the Lyne dynasty, Pat Spillane boarded in St Brendan’s where he won a pair of Munster titles and also reached the Hogan Cup final alongside Páidí Ó Sé in 1972. The incredibly fit and remarkably skilful Templenoe man went on to forge one of the finest intercounty careers the GAA has ever seen, winning no fewer than eight All-Irelands and nine All-Stars, both of which stand as a records to this day.

13. Colm Cooper

It’s amazing to think that one of the greatest talents in the history of the game wasn’t necessarily a superstar in his school days, but that’s how it was for Dr Crokes legend Colm Cooper. A student at the Sem during the lean years and not always a guaranteed starter, Gooch more than made up for it over the course of a glittering career for club and county. One of the best to ever do it.

14. David Clifford

Despite having talented teams in the nineties and noughties, after ’92 the Sem somehow managed to go another 24 years without winning the coveted Hogan Cup. Then Cliffy came along. The Fossa prodigy lit up the schools scene in 2016 and he grabbed national attention for the very first time by scoring 2-5 in the final against St Pat’s. Now the captain of the Kerry senior footballers, the 21-year-old already has two All-Stars to his name.

15. Tadhgie Lyne

Nicknamed the Prince of Forwards, Tadhgie Lyne (no relation to the Lynes of Cleeney) is remembered as one of the most stylish footballers to ever come out of Killarney. He helped the Sem to two Munster titles in 1946 and 1947 and although he never made the Kerry minors, the Crokes man went on to win three All-Irelands, a Footballer of the Year award and was Man of the Match in the 1953 final when he kicked six points from wing forward against Armagh.

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No reform for football championship as Plan B falls short

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by Adam Moynihan

There will be no radical change for the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship in 2022 after a motion to restructure the format of the competition failed at GAA Special Congress on Saturday afternoon.

Motion 19 (also referred to as ‘Proposal B’ or ‘Plan B’) proposed that the National League and All-Ireland Championship should become one competition, with the provincial championships being separated from the All-Ireland series for the first time ever.

The motion needed support from 60% of delegates but, contrary to projections, it fell well short of that majority. In the end, after an hour-and-a-quarter of debate, just 50.6% of voters opted for Plan B.

Plan A – four groups of eight “provinces” plus an All-Ireland series – garnered far less support. 90% of those present voted against that particular proposal, which was down as Motion 18 on the agenda.

The end result of the two failed motions is that intercounty football will revert to the status quo as it was before the Super 8s were introduced in 2018, with a qualifier or “back door” system in place. A second tier competition known as the Tailteann Cup will also be staged.

ARGUMENTS

Introducing Motion 19 to delegates at Croke Park, former GAA President John Horan described the proposal as a starting point.

“If we feel we need to improve it, that opportunity would be there,” he said. “This proposal will mean more matches for our players and a better playing to training ratio.”

CEO of the Gaelic Players Association Tom Parsons said the ‘league as championship’ model would spark life into Gaelic football, before reading the testimonies of some intercounty players who supported Plan B. Among them was current Kerry captain Paul Murphy, who was quoted as saying: “The time has come to try a new structure for our football championship.”

Parsons added that some players are being “laughed at” while wearing county tracksuits after suffering heavy defeats.

Former GAA President and ex-Kerry GAA Chairman Seán Kelly also spoke out in favour of Proposal B, suggesting that it should be trialled for a period of three years.

“If you stand still, you go backwards,” the Kilcummin native said. “This motion should be trialled for a maximum of three years and then reviewed. To turn our backs on the voice of the players does not make sense to me.”

Michael Duignan from Offaly, Colm Collins from Clare, Seán Carroll from Sligo, Kevin O’Donovan from Cork and Declan Bohan from Leitrim all backed the proposal.

Representatives from Mayo, Donegal, Antrim, Cavan, Derry, Monaghan and Armagh argued against.

Mayo GAA Chairman Liam Moffatt raised concerns about the sixth place team in Division 1 not qualifying for the All-Ireland series while teams from lower divisions would.

Tiernach Mahon of Fermanagh GAA said that “this motion has the potential to destroy the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of Fermanagh people”.

Meanwhile, Kerry GAA chair Tim Murphy called for Motion 19 to be voted on at Congress 2022 instead.

“It’s a really strong motion with really good attributes and something we should really consider. But I would caveat that by saying it would be a travesty today if the motion is put to the floor and defeated. All the work of the committee would go to waste.

“The sense I get from the floor is that everybody is for change and for us to grow and evolve as an Association we have to accept that. I do feel the motion has huge attributes, but maybe we should go around to the provinces and invite in county officers and players to have their view. If we come back in 12 or 13 weeks with the same motion, then no-one can say we haven’t discussed it properly.

“Perhaps bringing this motion to Congress 2022 is the best solution to the situation we find ourselves in.”

Bringing the debate to a close, Horan again urged delegates to back the proposal.

His pleas fell on deaf ears, however – at least for 83 of the 168 people in attendance. 100 ‘yes’ votes were needed for change, but Motion 19 received just 85.

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A lover of music and song: Jimmy O’Brien RIP

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Eamonn Fitzgerald remembers the late Jimmy O’Brien, the eminently popular bar owner, singer and GAA fan who left an indelible mark on the town of Killarney.

Publican Jimmy O’Brien was laid to rest at sunny Aghadoe on Monday last. He wouldn’t want any fuss, but he got his promise from his lifelong friend, Jimmy Doyle. Jimmy was on the button accordion playing ‘Mary from Bonane’, a firm favourite, and even more so in recent weeks when Bonane native Seán O’Shea was kicking points from all angles.

After his love for his family, nothing meant more to Jimmy O’Brien than football, music and song.

Born in the town land of Lyreatough, Kilcummin in 1932, he attended the local Anabla NS and was well inducted in the various stages of getting the turf from sleán to the reek in the haggard. He was of the bog and proud of it. But he knew it was very hard work and headed for town, specifically Culloty’s Garage at Fair Hill (now Killarney Hardware). There he learned his trade as a mechanic. He didn’t boast about it but was very proud of the papers he received to certify him as fully qualified.

Like so many more people of that time, he was taken to America by Patrick Cronin in 1956 and was home for good in 1961. He must have collected a fair fistful of dollars and held on to them because, when Conno Healy’s pub came up for sale in 1959 (across the road from Culloty’s), he bought it. He returned home to open up Jimmy O’Brien’s pub along with his wife, Mary.

The family came along in due course – Siobhán, Ann and Jim – and the business grew. All went well until September 29, 1994, when his beloved Mary passed away aged 61. Too young to die and it hit him hard. No wonder; wasn’t she his life and soul?

His three children, the bar and his twin loves of football and song kept him going. He had no time for soccer, recounting times he would go up to the Friary, say the rosary, and still no score when he returned.

He was an ardent supporter of the Kerry football teams, but even more passionate about club football. Which was his club?

ROGUES

Set the scene in the Fair Hill bar, with a nice crowd inside. That’s the way he liked it – he got a bit flustered if it became jam-packed. It’s summer time and the O’Donoghue Cup draw has been published.

Johnny Batt (Cronin) was the instigator, and his Spa club mates the Herlihy brothers (Dave and William) stirred it further. Who was Jimmy going to support in the forthcoming matches, in which the rivalry would be intense? Mick Gleeson was as philosophical as ever; he knew better than to try and win this one.

The McCarthy brothers from Gneeveguilla, Thado, Joe and Billy, were in fast to lay claim to the boss of the house. After all, wasn’t he reared in the traditions of Sliabh Luachra and one of its finest sean-nós singers? Rosy was far more definite. Gneeveguilla, of course, I have to say.

Kilcummin’s Dermot Moynihan was in no doubt about how the allegiance would stand. After all, Jimmy was born in the parish, went to school in the parish and the parish rule was, and still is, sacrosanct in Kerry football.

The odds favoured the country clubs and were stacked against the townies. Weeshie Fogarty was a regular and he had lined Jimmy up for Terrace Talk.

His daughter, Ann, married Harry O’Neill (Dr Crokes), Tom Long was his gun club friend traipsing around Cock Hill and not a word out of him, but beside him supping porter and watching the scene develop was Mike Cooper, the man who was born just inside the county bounds and was now living in Killarney. The Crokes are the team, said Mike, his chest swelling with pride. He had just returned from Cahersiveen where Dr Crokes had defied the odds to beat the Maurice Fitzgerald-led South Kerry team in the Kerry County Championship. Five of his sons played the full match to secure victory. But I thought there were only four?

“No, I have five, all good, but the youngest is only a slip of a lad. You’d think you’d blow him over, but the foxy boy will be the best of all of them.” How right he was. The boy became a man and won five All-Irelands with Kerry. Crokes went on to win the 2000 Kerry SFC, managed by Harry O’Neill, Jimmy’s son-in-law.

How was the proprietor going to get out of this one before the gallery of rogues? Sure, he was the greatest rogue of all himself, but we loved him for it.

Everyone looked to Jimmy for an answer, but he turned to another regular, the independent voice of Bracker, from the Rock.

Plenty of grimacing and carry on, but no answer to Johnny Batt’s question. Jimmy O’Brien had the knack of not falling out with anyone and he couldn’t win this one, so he carried confirmation of club allegiance with him to his grave.

I’m pretty sure it is Gneeveguilla, in the heart of Sliabh Luachra, which made Jimmy O’Brien a household name in traditional music, especially with his lifelong ‘brother’ Jimmy Doyle. He embraced the greatness of Julia Clifford, Denis Murphy, Johnny O’Leary, the Doyle brothers and many more.

SINGING

What’s more, he enhanced that marvellous tradition, not in playing, but in singing. I asked Jimmy Doyle at the graveside about Jimmy on the melodeon. “Oh, he could play… But he was only alright! But for singing he was tops, pure and just outstanding. He could interpret a song so well. You wouldn’t hear a pin drop when he sang unaccompanied.”

Is it any wonder that his pub in Fair Hill was a mecca for traditional singers and musicians? They came to the master’s pub for a session.

Paddy Moloney, chief of The Chieftains, was a regular caller; as were The Dubliners; and the Kelly brothers, Luke of ‘Raglan Road’ and Paddy, who was also a beautiful singer. When Paddy was head of the Trade Unions, they held their conferences in Killarney’s Great Southern Hotel. Business over, they trooped down to O’Brien’s. The pint was much cheaper there and they would have a right session singing, and what are you having yourself, sir?

Dolly McMahon, The Wolfe Tones, and the Begley’s all came to sing and play.

There were so many impromptu sessions and you’d get the discreet phone call that the session had already started. “Come, you’ll enjoy it, but ná h-abair focal to anyone.” What an invitation to listen to musical greats from the list above.

“Johnny O’Leary and the Doyles will be here around 10. We have Seán Ó Sé (Poc ar Buile), Johnny Lehane and Diarmaidín Ó Súillabháin will be here from Cúl Aodh. He’ll have the recorder for Radio na Gaeltachta.”

Regular visitors were Mick O’Connell, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, Donncha Ó Dulaing and Cíarán Mac Mathúna. Thankfully, Ciarán recorded so many of Jimmy’s songs, preserving this priceless legacy for the Irish oral tradition.

And then there were the American tourists drawn to a real Irish pub. They wanted ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Galway Bay’. They also wanted to know what music college from which the vintner graduated. The prime boys from UCC provided him with the answer for the Yanks question. The University of Sliabh Luachra, with its constituent college in Lyreatough. “Wow, fancy that. Must Google that when we get back to the States.”

FRIENDSHIP

My friendship with Jimmy O’Brien goes back a long ways, but specifically to November 1969, when East Kerry won the second of their Kerry SFC titles and the Bishop Moynihan Cup had pride of place.

He introduced me to so many people, including Con Houlihan, sitting in the high seat inside the door, hair well down his back, no pigtail and his hand cupped to his nose. This genius of a wordsmith was a shy man that I met many times later in Dublin.

Just like Paddy Moloney, Jimmy shared his talents with so many young up and coming singers who went on to great things in life. I recall one such case. A very young nervous girl was preparing for her first time on stage, a recitation in Scór. Would he help her out?

Would he what? Bring her along. To this day the now adult woman recalls sitting up on that seat inside the door and this gentle, loving man encouraging her with great tips.

That seat is long gone, but not the bar stand. He splashed out on a magnificent mahogany piece, surplus to the requirements of the Great Southern. “That’s not like you,” says Johnny Batt. “What’ll you use it for?”

“It’ll be a fine bar counter,” Jimmy replied. “And what’s more, when its job is done, won’t it make a fine coffin?”

He was a great Friary man and the highlight of St Patrick’s Day was the singing of the Ár nAthair. Father and daughter, Jimmy and Siobhán, the All-Ireland champion singer unaccompanied in touching harmony. Flawless. Enchanting.

His relationship with his son Jim was more like that of brothers, looking after each other. They got great joy out of travelling to matches in the ageless red Mercedes, certainly the only one in Killarney, if not in Europe. He never got a parking ticket and definitely was never caught for speeding. I’m convinced that the former mechanic set cruise control at 40km and away she went with co-pilot Jim Bob. No need for GPS, Jim Bob in control. God help the poor motorist trying to pass out on the rural roads.

July was his favourite month to live his passions. The Munster final in Killarney on the first Sunday of July was the occasion to meet so many of his friends from afar. It was also the first day of the Willie Clancy festival at Miltown–Malbay and that ran for a week. He never missed it, linking up with Galway hurlers Joe McDonagh and the Connolly brothers and especially their aunts and uncles, the Jimmy O’Brien cultivators of traditional singing and music in Connemara. It was his spiritual retreat. Sustenance for another year.

His nephew, Fr Liam O’Brien, celebrated the touching funeral mass, enhanced by the singing of Maura Reen.

I had the good fortune to spend an hour with Jimmy less than a fortnight before he died. He wanted to know the inside story on Jack O’Connor’s return and then sang ‘The Boys of Bárr na Sráide’ and Garry McMahon’s ‘Kerry’s Green and Gold’.

Pitch perfect. Word perfect. Never a faltering note.

“Not bad for an ould fella,” were his parting words. He knew he could still do it and I was so happy to video live the Master of Songs, treasured recordings for the memory bank.

I wonder if St Peter will listen in on the hop balls between new neighbours, Johnny Batt and Jimmy O’Brien?

To Siobhán, Ann, Jim and extended families, as well as friends from far and near, comhbhrón ó chroí.

Traditional cultural Ireland has lost some great people in recent weeks: Tony Loughnane, Paddy Moloney, Máire Mac an tSaoí, Brendan Kennelly and Jimmy O’Brien. Class acts.

And Jimmy, go gcloisfidh tú na h-aingil ag déanamh ceoil leat ar Neamh.

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