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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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For all of Kerry’s attacking riches, it’s the defence that should give fans hope

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by Adam Moynihan

When Kerry travelled to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the 2019 Munster final, three years ago last week, their frailties were laid bare for all to see. They scored 1-19 and ended up with the right result but every Kerry fan in attendance came home saying the same thing: we’ll win no All-Ireland defending like that.

Cork scored three goals to go along with their 10 points – which was alarming enough by itself – but more worrying was the fact that Kerry coughed up four or five more goalscoring chances on top of that. Pat Moynihan could have driven his big red bus through the gaps down the centre of Kerry’s defence. And bear in mind that this was Cork doing the damage. What would the five-in-a-row-chasing Dubs do to us?

Kerry went on to give Dublin a good rattle in the All-Ireland final, pushing the champs to a replay, but they were ultimately undone by an opposition player running completely unchallenged from his own 65, right down the barrel of the gun, and dispatching a goal from the 13-metre line. No one laid a hand on him. From a defensive perspective, it was criminal.

The Kingdom kept six clean sheets in 16 games in 2019. In fairness to Peter Keane and his management team, this was a marked improvement on 2018 when Kerry managed just two in 12. But if anything Kerry’s ability to shut out their opponents deteriorated over the last two seasons. Kerry kept a clean sheet three times in eight attempts in 2020, and in 2021 their record was 0/8.

The 2020 campaign came crashing down when Cork scored a very preventable last-minute goal, and it’s safe to assume that Kerry would have at least reached an All-Ireland final were it not for the three goals Tyrone registered in last year’s semi-final.

Throughout all of these unsuccessful seasons, or certainly towards the tail end of them, Kerry’s defenders, especially the full back line, had targets on their backs. Guys like Jason Foley and Tadhg Morley were singled out. “Not up to it”. On the surface it makes sense to blame the backs. The full forward scores a goal ergo the full back is at fault, right?

It wasn’t that simple. If you look at the Cork match and pinpoint where the goal chances came from, most of them originated from runners out the field. It was the collective that was the problem, and the structure, not the full back line or anyone in it.

This season is proof. Under Jack O’Connor Kerry have kept nine clean sheets in 11 games. That’s as many shutouts as the previous three years combined.

That is an astonishing turnaround, especially when you consider the fact that the personnel involved hasn’t changed too much at all.

If you compare the Cork game in 2019 with the Mayo game last weekend, 12 of the 15 starters are the same. Another starter on Sunday came off the bench against Cork in ’19, and two subs who came on also came on in that provincial decider three years ago.

Two of Kerry’s most maligned backs back then, Jason Foley and Tadhg Morley, are now being heralded as potential All-Stars. What has changed?

Well, in the case of Foley and Morley, their positions have changed for starters. Foley has shifted from corner back to full back and Morley from full back to No. 6. Morley’s positional switch seems so obvious now that it has actually come to pass. He’s a natural fire fighter and is perfectly suited to man the area in front of Kerry’s full back line.

As excellent as they have been so far this season, to focus too much on the performances of Foley and Morley is to fall into the same trap people fell into in 2019. Just as Kerry’s defensive shortcomings in recent seasons weren’t down to individuals, Kerry’s defensive strengths this season are not down to individuals either.

At the end of last season I wrote about Kerry’s version of 100% effort without the ball and how I felt it differed to Tyrone’s version of 100% effort without the ball. It wasn’t that Kerry weren’t trying, far from it. It just didn’t seem like Kerry players revelled in the act of spoiling. It almost felt, as a supporter looking on, that conceding goals didn’t hurt them enough. Opponents were bursting through untracked, or if they were tracked they emerged from their foray unscathed.

This year something has clicked. Across the board, the tackling intensity has been turned up a notch or two and Kerry are hunting in packs. Guys like Brian Ó Beaglaoich (a hugely underrated player in my opinion), Adrian Spillane and Jack Barry have been irritants to the opposition, which is precisely what was needed. (Spillane and Barry will be big losses if they don’t recover in time for the Dublin game.)

You’d have to say that Jack O’Connor and his backroom team of Micheál Quirke, Diarmuid Murphy and Paddy Tally have installed a really good defensive structure. The clean sheet stats don’t lie.

Kerry aren’t there yet. It only takes one poor showing to undo the work of an entire season. But as things stand, for all the team’s riches in attack, it’s the defence that should give supporters hope. Nine clean sheets so far. Two more and Kerry will, in all likelihood, be All-Ireland champions.

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Schools compete for pitch and putt title

By Michelle Crean A pitch and putt competition which began in St Oliver’s National School 14 years ago is now gaining momentum with other local schools taking part. Back in […]

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By Michelle Crean

A pitch and putt competition which began in St Oliver’s National School 14 years ago is now gaining momentum with other local schools taking part.

Back in 2007, St Oliver’s pupil Leon Hennessy asked if the school could start a pitch and putt competition.

After much perseverance from Leon, teacher Noel O’Sullivan asked his colleague Tommy Galvin, who they dubbed as their ‘Minister of Sports’, and it was organised for June 2008.

As part of the competition the winner would receive the Brendan Walshe Shield in honour of the former principal of St Oliver’s.

“Over the years we have had various pupils win the shield who have gone on to excel in pitch and putt and golf, including John Kerrisk, Ewan MacIndoe, Stephen and Conor McCarthy, and Brian McCarthy who won it in Fourth Class and Sixth Class, denied a trio of victories by the lockdown in 2020, when he was in Fifth Class,” Noel told the Killarney Advertiser.

“Tommy Galvin retired last year but we had a regular chat about opening up the competition to other schools. So this year I decided to make this idea happen and though the idea was thrown out there late enough in May, Lissivigeen, the Monastery and the Gaelscoil were in a position to enter a team in June.

“We had a very high standard of pitch and putt, and the winning score came from a birdie on the last, care of the overall individual winner, Dara Wickham of Lissivigeen NS. That birdie handed Lissivigeen the overall victory.”

It was decided to name the shield for this new inter schools’ competition the ‘Tommy Galvin Shield’ as it would be a fitting recognition of Tommy’s work promoting pitch and putt, and golf in the primary schools in Killarney.

“Tommy was surprised and delighted with the news which we sprung on him at the prize giving. He encouraged the boys and girls present to give pitch and putt, and golf a go, and to try new sports over the summer.”

Tommy is captain of the Killarney Golf Club and supports an excellent youth set up in the club, he added.

“The Killarney Golf Club also has seen a huge growth in girls playing and we were delighted to have three girls compete in the pitch and putt competition. Cora O’Sullivan won the Best Girl prize which makes me a very proud father!

“Hopefully next year the Tommy Galvin Shield will feature more schools and that this is the beginning of a hotly contested competition over the coming years!”

He thanked Deerpark Pitch and Putt Club for their sponsorship.

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