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Kerry’s Golden Years (Part 1): A golden dawn

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Sheehy’s chip. Bomber’s hat-trick. Four (yes, four) different goalkeepers. In the first of a new series of articles on Kerry GAA's Golden Years, Adam Moynihan takes an in-depth look at The Kingdom’s shock victory over the Dubs in ‘78.

We’ve all seen it. The goal that would, in the words of Mick O’Dwyer, “change the history of Kerry football”.

Well, we’ve kind of seen it. Clearly the RTÉ director on the day was expecting Mikey Sheehy’s quick shot about as much as Paddy Cullen was because between the chopping and changing of angles, we can only just about ascertain from the television pictures what transpired.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Yrx2Er5O94

 

Plenty of airtime and column inches have been devoted to dissecting this one incident down through the years and, generally speaking, we are all in agreement on the following three points.

Firstly, and most importantly, it was a magical goal by Sheehy. The vision. The execution. The sheer cheek of it. Half the country claims to have been in the Canal End that wet September afternoon in 1978, but not even those who were actually there to see the goal could claim to have seen it coming.

Secondly, although the goalkeeper has always borne the brunt of the criticism, Dublin corner back Robbie Kelleher certainly isn’t without blame either. When the free was awarded he willingly handed the ball over to Sheehy like it was a newspaper he had already finished reading.

Thirdly (and whisper it quietly), it was never a free to Kerry in the first place. Cullen did not foul Ger Power. So why did Kildare referee Séamus Aldridge decide that he did? The truth may lie in an earlier, and often overlooked, incident involving the same two protagonists.

In the 15th minute of this final, Paddy Cullen came out of his goal to collect a stray long ball by Jack O’Shea. He sidestepped Mikey Sheehy and popped a hand pass off to a teammate. Ger Power came in to meet him and the Kerryman jumped in vain to try and intercept the pass. As Power landed, he collided with Cullen but both players stayed on their feet and Dublin moved the ball up the field.

That’s when things got interesting. Cullen, now 25 metres out from goal, immediately turned back to head for home and as he passed Power on the way, he kicked out his leg and tripped his opponent. Power fell forward and landed with his face in the hallowed Croke Park turf, causing uproar amongst the Kerry supporters at that corner of the ground.

Aldridge missed the incident – although he undoubtedly heard the furore – and play carried on.

In the 33rd minute of this final, Paddy Cullen came out of his goal to collect a stray long ball by Jack O’Shea. He sidestepped Mikey Sheehy and popped a hand pass off to a teammate. Ger Power came in to meet him. There was minimal contact between the two. If anything, Cullen wanted a free. It’s safe to say that he got more than he bargained for.

Speaking to the Independent in 1998, Cullen said that there was “no doubt in [his] mind” that Aldridge’s “bizarre” decision originated from that earlier incident.

CRITICAL

The resulting goal was absolutely critical. It gave Kerry their first lead of the game (2-3 to 0-7) heading towards the interval, and on the balance of play that was more than the underdogs deserved. Dublin, who were searching for their third All-Ireland title on the bounce, had led 6-1 and but for Sheehy’s quick thinking, and John Egan’s fisted goal seven minutes earlier, Kerry were on course for another humbling defeat.

And that, O’Dwyer reckons, would have been that.

The Waterville clubman had led his youthful charges to a stunning victory over Dublin in the 1975 final in his very first year in charge, but that was quickly forgotten after disappointing results against the same opposition in 1976 and 1977.

“It felt like the end of road for me [after ‘77],” O’Dwyer later said. “They were after my head and they were after the chairman of the County Board (Gerald McKenna) as well. The guns were out. But we put up a fight and stayed on.

“If we were beaten that day [against Dublin in ‘78] I could easily have gone, and I might never have been involved with Kerry anymore.”

THE MISSING LINK

Buoyed by their two unexpected goals, Kerry emerged a different animal after the break and, after enduring a torrid enough first half, their 20-year-old full forward was about to announce his arrival on the senior intercounty scene in a major way.

Eoin Liston, nicknamed The Bomber after German soccer legend Gerd Müller, caught Jack O’Shea’s long pass and fisted Kerry’s third goal of the day just two minutes after the restart. Four minutes later, the Beale man beat Cullen again, this time with a superb finish after he fetched a high ball and played a neat one-two with Ger Power.

Subsequent points by Sheehy and Liston meant that Kevin Heffernan’s Dubs trailed by 11 with 15 minutes to play, and any faint hopes they had of salvaging their title turned to dust in the 56th minute when The Bomber rose highest at the back post to spike John Egan’s fist pass into the goal.

“He was a nice, soft, pudgy little fella when I got him,” O’Dwyer would later recall in the brilliant RTÉ documentary, ‘Micko’. “He was a great man for the Mars bars and the packets of Smarties, and by God he had the signs of it.”

Now, the “pudgy” lad from Ballybunion had just scored a hat-trick in the All-Ireland final.

“He made a big difference to the team,” O’Dwyer said. “He was the missing link.”

LAST MAN BACK

It had been an eventful final and The Kingdom were, by this stage, home and hosed but the drama hadn’t finished just yet. With 12 minutes to go, Kerry keeper Charlie Nelligan got involved in a shemozzle with Dublin’s John McCarthy and both were shown the road.

Remarkably, half forward Pat Spillane took it upon himself to stand between the sticks when play resumed. It wasn’t the first thing Spillane took upon himself that day; the Templenoe man was superb in a virtuoso, Man-of-the-Match display.

Starting corner back Jimmy Deenihan, now sporting a yellow full-zip jacket with John Egan’s name emblazoned across the back, temporarily took Spillane’s place in goal before sub keeper Paudie O’Mahony was eventually called upon in the 66th minute.

In the end, as commentator Mícheál O’Hehir joked, they could have put kitman Leo Griffin in goal and it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference. Kerry won by 17, to this date the fourth largest winning margin in an All-Ireland football final.

“That was one of the greatest days of my life,” O’Dwyer would later say, “and one of the most enjoyable, I can assure you.

“We could say to people, ‘Now, we’ve done it’. And it was amazing what happened after.”

 

 

1978 All-Ireland Football Final

Kerry 5-11 Dublin 0-9

(HT: Kerry 2-3 Dublin 0-7)

Referee: Séamus Aldridge

Venue: Croke Park

Attendance: 71,503

 

KERRY SCORERS E Liston 3-2, M Sheehy 1-4 (1-3f), J Egan 1-2, J O’Shea 0-1, G Power 0-1, P Spillane 0-1.

DUBLIN SCORERS J Keaveney 0-8 (7f), B Brogan 0-1.

KERRY C Nelligan; J Deenihan, J O’Keeffe, M Spillane; P Ó Sé, T Kennelly, P Lynch; J O’Shea, S Walsh; G Power, D Moran, P Spillane, M Sheehy, E Liston, J Egan. Sub: P O’Mahony (Spa) for Deenihan (66).

DUBLIN P Cullen; G O’Driscoll, S Doherty, R Kelleher; T Drumm, K Moran, P O’Neill; B Mullins, B Brogan; A O’Toole, T Hanahoe, D Hickey; B Doyle, J Keaveney, J McCarthy.

 

Pic: Connolly Collection/Sportsfile.

 

 

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How ‘box office’ duo Clifford and O’Shea pushed Kerry’s brand into overdrive

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Adam Moynihan caught up with Kerry GAA Store manager Luke Quinn to find out how the Killarney-based business made record profits in 2022

It was a sad day for the parish when Killarney’s famous Nike Factory Store closed its doors in March of this year. That big, white Swoosh had attracted locals and visitors to the Killarney Outlet Centre since both the store and the centre first opened in 1999. Having a brand that large in a town so small was pretty cool. We were all sorry to see it go.

It wasn’t the only sports brand to call the Outlet Centre home, though. As Nike shut up shop, just across the way, on the other side of the escalator, the Kerry GAA Store was gearing up for what would turn out to be their best year ever.

The official retail outlet of Kerry GAA racked up €200,000 in profits in the financial year up to November. Not quite Nike numbers – the US sportswear giant made €21 billion globally – but the store’s record revenue certainly came as a welcome bonus for the county board.

Preparing intercounty teams has become hugely expensive (Kerry spent almost €1.5 million on their footballers and hurlers in 2022) and plans are in place to redevelop the Fitzgerald Stadium at an estimated cost of €72 million. Every cent counts.

The unprecedented success of the business is also a sure sign that the Kerry brand, which has been developing in one way or another for over 100 years, has now slipped into overdrive.

I recently called into the Kerry GAA Store to speak to manager Luke Quinn and find out more.

OFFICE

After selling a half-zip tracksuit top to a customer and handing over to his assistant, Luke invites me into a narrow office down the back. Myself and Luke actually know each other a long time. As kids we were neighbours down in Whitebridge Manor. I recall borrowing his Schmeichel-era Man United keeper jersey once so I could play in goal. It wasn’t the last jersey he gave me (although, in fairness, these days I pay).

A popular figure at his club, Dr Crokes, Luke experienced great success as a player and he is currently part of Brian McMahon’s senior management team. After chatting a bit about football, we get down to business.

I get the impression that I’m embarrassing him somewhat when I ask for the official amount that the store handed over to the county board, but he readily admits that he is delighted with the 12 months he and his team have put down.

“I think with the new jersey being released, and with Kerry reaching and winning the All-Ireland final, all those things combined and led to a very profitable year,” Quinn says.

“Any time you bring out a jersey, especially a home jersey, it gains traction – not alone in Kerry but all over the world.”

The popularity of that new O’Neills home jersey is an interesting one because it actually received quite a poor reception when it was unveiled in January. For his part, Quinn attributes that initial reaction to the imagery that accompanied the release. The sublimated background graphics on the body of the shirt were exaggerated in the launch photos, which made it look far louder than it actually was in real life.

“When people saw it in reality and when the team wore it, sales went through the roof. I remember the first weekend they wore it on TV against Kildare, the jersey gained unbelievable traction. I think people’s minds were changed.

“I know that O’Neills were very confident that it was going to sell well and, to be honest, we were as well. It’s like anything when it’s new, it takes a bit of time to seep in.

“I think the return of white trim was a factor. The bit of white just makes everything pop. It’s subtle enough but it makes a huge difference; it makes the green and gold more prominent.”

Perhaps even more significant than the design of the jersey itself was the talent wearing it. Kerry ended their eight-year drought by defeating Galway in the All-Ireland final in July with Man of the Match and Footballer of the Year David Clifford to the fore. At just 23 years of age, Clifford is now the sport’s standout superstar and Quinn says that he and semi-final hero Seán O’Shea are now driving the Kerry brand on a national and global level.

“Kerry is a worldwide brand at this stage. It’s a known brand and it’s not only Kerry people who want to buy the shirt, it’s people in the midlands, up the north, all over the world really.

“This Kerry team is relatively young and they’re after building a nice relationship with the public. The more you win, the more you’re going to be in the news and the media and the likes of David Clifford and Seánie and these guys, they’re box office now. The boys really do give [the brand] that extra push.

“It’s very hard to quantify but one thing you’d notice is that this year we had parents coming in who might have no interest in the GAA, in particular foreign nationals from places like Eastern Europe, and they had kids who were mad to get the jersey. They would actually point to the photos of David and Seánie and say they wanted the jerseys that those guys wear.

“You can’t really put a figure on it but you can see that these players are reaching out to a large audience because of who they are. At this stage, if they wore a black plastic bag, the kids would want a black plastic bag.”

The GAA is different to sports like soccer in that players don’t have squad numbers or their names printed on the backs of their shirts. If the GAA went down that road, Quinn has no doubt about which jersey would be the most popular.

“You’d just be stocking up on Clifford jerseys, wouldn’t you?” he laughs. “I’ve heard squad numbers being mooted but intercounty GAA is so different. The panels change so often, especially the higher numbers. Kerry could have 40 different players training with them throughout the year so it would be hard to nail down numbers.

“We possibly will bring out a number 14 and a number 11 shirt ourselves (Clifford and O’Shea’s usual numbers). Maybe a number 8 too. The more prominent ones. There is a demand for that. But as for names on the back, that might be a bridge too far.”

Aside from the jerseys, many items from Kerry’s leisure and training wear collections are also big sellers. The store receives four ranges from O’Neills every year, two of which are exclusive to the shop (i.e. the National League range and the Championship range). These collections include the same hoodies, jackets, half-zips and polo shirts the players wear travelling to games, as well as the clothing that team manager Jack O’Connor wears on the sideline.

The training jerseys sported by the players when they warm up before matches are also popular.

STRONG RELATIONSHIP

After a turbulent period in the nineties when they changed kit supplier three times (adidas to Emerald Active Wear, then to Millfield, and then back to adidas), Kerry have now been with O’Neills for 22 years straight. The relationship between the two parties is strong. Quinn certainly doesn’t see it ending any time soon.

“O’Neills are a great company to deal with. They have a lot of stuff in the pot – 30 or 31 counties – but they’re good at what they do. They wouldn’t be at the top of the game for this long otherwise. Their production is very streamlined, they have a good marketing team, and a good design team. The reps on the ground are very helpful and I can see them going from strength to strength to be honest with you, and further afield in other sports as well.

“The issue with another company coming in instead of O’Neills – for example if we took on another smaller producer – I think the bottom line is that if the team gets to an All-Ireland semi-final or final, the demand for jerseys and leisurewear goes through the roof. I don’t think there’s any other company in the country that could accommodate that demand in such a short space of time. Especially with the season being shortened, I just can’t see anyone else being able to take on that production.

“O’Neills have a monstrosity of a factory up in Strabane as well as the one in Dublin, which is no small factory either. And even at that, when it comes to the summertime, they would be at capacity. I can’t imagine another company taking on a county like Kerry or Dublin or Mayo who are GAA mad and are always at the business end of the season. Other companies will find it hard to dip into the big hitters.”

At a national level, O’Neills jersey sales were actually down 16% in 2022, something the company has attributed to the shorter intercounty window. Thankfully for Quinn and for Kerry, the Kerry GAA Store didn’t experience the same drop in sales once the season ended in July.

“I suppose with Kerry getting to the final and winning it, we weren’t affected as much,” he reflects. “There was a nice little buzz after the final. We brought out some different bits of merchandise on the back of winning as well so that’s always going to help. I also think people are getting ahead of Christmas that bit earlier this year.

“It would be different if Kerry lost earlier in the year but I can’t say the split season affected us too much.”

SEVEN DAYS A WEEK

Quinn took the reins five years ago and although he describes it as a busy job, it’s one he’s massively enjoying.

“I’m loving it. I took over from Botty (Niall O’Callaghan) and Seán O’Sullivan so I had big boots to fill but the boys were great on the handover. I’ve got some good bosses who help me out big time. The county board leave me to my own devices but they’re always there when I need any help.

“It’s busy and we’re open seven days a week. The only days we’re closed are Christmas Day and New Year’s Day so it’s gung-ho all the time. With new ranges and new jerseys and new fashion trends, you have to keep your finger on the pulse at all times. So it is busy but it’s the way I like to be.”

What does a normal day look like?

“It’s always about planning ahead. Today I’m ordering next year’s Christmas range. I don’t even know how exactly Christmas is going to go this year in terms of sales but O’Neills need to plan so far ahead in their production that I’m already ordering for Christmas next year. You’re always trying to keep ahead of the game.

“There are new training jerseys coming out pre-Christmas. There’s a National League range coming out pre-Christmas. There’s an away jersey coming in January. You have to get your numbers right, get your system set up to take in all that stock, organise staff, and make sure everything is streamlined.”

That mention of a new Kerry away jersey will no doubt pique the curiosity of our readers. The outgoing away top, an eye-catching blue and lime green effort, has been in use since 2020. I pressed Luke for details.

“I haven’t even seen samples yet. If you’re talking to O’Neills tell them to send them down as soon as possible! I genuinely don’t know what it will look like. The design team at O’Neills will develop a good few prototypes, they’ll be sent down to ourselves and the county board, and we’ll go through them. O’Neills will give us a good idea of what they feel will work.

“Some of the players will have an input and then a final decision will be made. At the end of January, Kerry will be out against Donegal and hopefully we’ll see the new away jersey then.”

It’s hard to imagine Kerry footballers from bygone eras having (or wanting to have) too much say in the design of the kit but, generally speaking, the modern player is more into fashion than his predecessors. In that regard, it makes sense for them to have their say.

“There would definitely be an input,” Quinn reveals. “Some of the players just want to concentrate on the football or the hurling but other guys would be very style conscious in what they want to wear. Colm Whelan, the kit man for the footballers, and Tim Daly with the hurlers have a big interest in what ranges and training jerseys and playing jerseys are coming in. They know the guys [on the panel] who would be into the fashion side of things and we have a couple of WhatsApp groups to get the players’ opinions.

“O’Neills would definitely take it on board,” Quinn says, before jokingly adding, “I suppose if the best footballer in the country wants a certain thing then you’re going to have to go with it, aren’t you?!”

FOOTBALL TALK

One thing I’ve noticed from my trips to the Kerry GAA Store is the constant flow of GAA-related chat between the customers and the staff. Admittedly you could probably overhear football talk on any premises in a town like Killarney, but the store is the perfect setting for it. And that’s something Quinn and his employees relish. 

“You have all these business things going on in the background but the main thing in all this is the customer. We can’t lose sight of that. You still want to give the customers coming in the best experience, to chat about Kerry football, and engage with the public. That’s what it’s all about.

“This shop is bucking the trend. We do have an online store but it’s still very much a kind of ‘shop local’ set-up. All profits raised go back to the county board and we have so many repeat customers. Some people don’t even buy stuff, they just come in and shoot the breeze about how bad the Crokes were last weekend or whatever. From my point of view, I love it.

“My staff are great too. Seán House from Tralee is the assistant manager. He has been here a year and a bit and he has been excellent. We have eight or nine part-timers and most of them are in college but they’re all very invested in the place. They’re all here four or five years which is a good sign. They get excited when new stuff is coming in, they get a kick out of that.”

As a Kerry native who played the game to a high level, Quinn is naturally a massive fan of Kerry football. I was curious to know if the nature of his line of work, specifically the fact that the fortunes of the business depend so heavily on the fortunes of the team, affects the way he watches the games.

“A couple of years ago Kerry lost to Cork and we were out so early. Maybe not during the game but shortly after you’re saying to yourself, revenues are going to be a lot further down now. So definitely after the game it would be one of the first thoughts to come into your head. But it’s more the county board and the revenues that go back that I’d be thinking of.

“It would pop into your head afterwards but I’d be a normal Kerry supporter as the game is going on.”

Ultimately, it’s all about facilitating the continued growth of football and hurling in the county and Quinn is full of praise for his bosses who help make that happen.

“The chairman Patrick O’Sullivan – the store was his idea first day – as well as John O’Leary, John Joe Carroll and Liam Chute, they’re all very successful in their own professional careers. They’re very much doing this on a voluntary basis because they’re so proud of the shop and how well it has done. We’re all in it together.

“When you have a successful year financially it means you can develop Currans further, you can develop the pitches, you can bring in more Games Development Administrators. You can keep pushing on.”

The brand has a long way to go to reach Nike levels but with talented individuals on the pitch and in the boardroom, Kerry GAA appear to be ticking all the right boxes.

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Opinion: Talk of sacrosanct jerseys and an apolitical GAA just doesn’t ring true

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by Adam Moynihan

The GAA recently refused the Mayo footballers’ request to wear rainbow-coloured numbers on their jerseys in the 2023 National League. The Association reportedly told the Mayo county board that playing gear is “sacrosanct”.

Let’s be honest: that’s not strictly true. In 2021, sleeve sponsors were given the green light, to add to the chest and upper back sponsors that already appear on many counties’ shirts.

Four branded areas on a jersey. That’s more than the Premier League allow, and the Premier League is regarded as one of the most money-hungry sporting bodies on the planet. I suppose everything is sacred until there’s money on the table.

The GAA’s response to Mayo and their charity partner Mindspace Mayo, who came up with the idea, has drawn a mixed reaction. Some have claimed that it’s a missed opportunity, but the ‘keep politics out of sport’ brigade are also out in force. That’s one argument I just can’t get on board with in general and it rings especially hollow in the world of Gaelic games.

Sports and politics have always been intertwined and the GAA is no different. The very foundation of the GAA was a political statement of sorts, an act of patriotism under British imperial rule. These strong ties between our national games and our nation’s political history are regularly highlighted by the Association itself and by stakeholders within it. In recent years, several teams, including the Cork footballers and hurlers, have worn jerseys commemorating Irish political figures.

O’Neills, the GAA’s primary kit supplier, sell Michael Collins-themed GAA shirts as well as 1916 jerseys with images of the post-Rising GPO on the front and Poblacht na hÉireann on the back.

Leaving all that to one side, it’s also worth pointing out that the Mayo footballers were not trying to make a political statement anyway. The aim of such projects is to make members of LGBTQ+ community feel welcome and to raise awareness around inclusivity, diversity and discrimination. We’re talking about human rights and basic human decency here, not politics.

There are those who say discrimination isn’t a problem in the GAA, that everyone is welcome already. If that is the case then why are there no openly gay intercounty players? It’s very likely that they do exist, and it’s also very likely that they’re worried about how they will be received if they come out. One of the top teams deciding to wear rainbow numbers might seem like a small gesture – I’ve seen plenty of people claiming that it would be meaningless – but doing so might provide reassurance to a gay player or supporter who is struggling with their sexuality. Would that not make it worthwhile?

Of course, whenever someone tries to do something positive in the name of inclusion, the term “virtue signalling” is inevitably thrown out there. This week, it’s the Mayo footballers’ turn to bear the brunt of it.

Funnily enough, the people who tend to use this term are often saying more about themselves than the people they’re targeting. In their own minds, when they see a person speaking up for a group that is less privileged, the only possible explanation they can come up with is that the person in question is seeking praise.

It’s a pretty narrow way of viewing the world but unfortunately that’s just how some people’s minds are shaped.

In defence of the GAA, they have not issued a blanket ban on rainbow colours. Thankfully this isn’t the Qatar World Cup we’re talking about. In the 2020 All-Ireland semi-final, players from Mayo and Tipperary, along with referee David Gough and his officials, participated in the Rainbow Laces campaign. It is understood that the GAA don’t have an issue with laces or armbands being worn in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.

The only slight problem is that the Rainbow Laces campaign tends to run towards the end of the calendar year which suits the Premier League, for example, but not the GAA as the intercounty season ends much earlier. (2020 was an exception due to the pandemic.)

Of course, there’s nothing stopping the GPA and the GAA from coming together and organising their own campaign, if they want to.

It’s one thing saying that everyone is welcome and that the GAA is where we all belong. It’s another thing showing it.

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