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Kerry’s Golden Years (Part 3): ‘It’s not our fault if we wreck the game’

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A new decade, same old Kerry. In Part 3 of our Golden Years series, Adam Moynihan dissects The Kingdom’s bruising triumph over Roscommon in the 1980 All-Ireland final.

It was an unlikely rivalry. The two counties were, after all, at opposite ends of the honours list. But make no mistake about it: the teams contesting the first All-Ireland football final of the eighties did not see eye to eye.

The enmity between the Kerry and Roscommon players of this period is said to have started back in 1978 when the Connacht champions hosted The Kingdom in the final of the U21 championship. For some reason, apparently through no provocation or bad behaviour by the players in question, the home supporters engaged in some unsavoury chanting that was targeted at Beale clubmates Ogie Moran and Bomber Liston.

Choruses of “Ogie is a moron” and “Bomber is a monkey” didn’t go down too well with the visitors, and it also probably didn’t help that Roscommon halted Kerry’s bid for four-in-a-row at U21 level the same day.

With conditions poor and perhaps a few old scores to settle, it should have been no surprise that the senior final of 1980 descended into a battle, although the spectacle was undoubtedly more unedifying than anyone could have anticipated. Writing for the Irish Press, Peadar O’Brien concluded that “the best thing about this match was the final whistle”.

He wasn’t far wrong, but, for Roscommon, things could have been profoundly different.

JIGS AND REELS

As the teams marched out behind the Artane Boys Band, a large primrose and blue banner poked out above the Croke Park crowd. It read: “When Jigger dances – Kerry reels” and just 39 seconds after the throw-in, the prophecy was fulfilled.

John ‘The Jigger’ O’Connor capitalised on some stellar work by Tony McManus to palm the ball past Charlie Nelligan in the Kerry goal and the underdogs were in dreamland. Point by Séamus Hayden and John O’Gara followed and with just 12 minutes played, Roscommon, who were hoping to bring Sam Maguire back west for the first time since 1944, led by five points to nil.

The champions, playing into the wind and missing influential full forward Eoin Liston (appendicitis), were in danger of falling apart.

The ever-dependable Mikey Sheehy settled things down with a free and captain Ger Power, who would be forced off at half-time due to a recurring hamstring injury, fired over a cracker moments later. Then came the sucker punch that knocked Roscommon back on their backsides.

With 20 minutes on the clock, Tommy Doyle found Pat Spillane who cut like a knife through the heart of the Roscommon defence before playing in Sheehy. Kerry’s scorer-in-chief drew the goalkeeper and popped a handpass over his head. All of a sudden, the holders were level.

It was yet another goal from the hand that typified Kerry’s style of play during this era, a style that had no shortage of ardent critics the length and breadth of the country.

Just weeks earlier, Kerry had defeated Offaly by 4-15 to 4-10 in the All-Ireland semi-final and just one of their four goals came via the boot. Writing for the Irish Independent, Donal Carroll called it “an utter abuse of the handpassing rules”, which at the time allowed for various examples of striking motions that would not have been allowed in the decades preceding or succeeding the Golden Years. Of course, scoring a goal directly from the hands has since been outlawed entirely.

For his part, Mick O’Dwyer knew that Kerry were very good at moving the ball through the hand and he had no intention whatsoever of bowing to public sentiment. In fact, O’Dwyer would instruct one of his forwards – usually Spillane – to throw (quite literally) a dodgy handpass in the opening minutes of a game to see how the referee responded. If the pass was allowed, that was that. Kerry would toss the ball around like the Harlem Globetrotters so long as it worked to their advantage. Which it invariably did.

Referring to the GAA’s decision to allow more leeway when it came to handpassing, O’Dwyer was heard to remark: “If they want basketball, we will give them basketball”.

“We will win everything for as long as we can and after a few more years, they can have it,” he is quoted as saying in Owen McCrohan’s brilliant book ‘Mick O’Dwyer: The Authorised Biography’. “It’s not our fault if we wreck the game. We are like Liverpool in soccer.”

Now, after Sheehy’s latest fisted effort against Roscommon, they were well on their way to “wrecking the game” further still.

FOULING

After Roscommon’s lightning quick start, the first half rather fizzled out and the sides went in level, 1-3 apiece, at the break. The match was being ruined by constant flaking and fouling on both sides, although to borrow from the parlance of baseball, Roscommon did seem to be alone in swinging for the fences.

Sheehy gave Kerry their first lead of the game in the 38th minute and Spillane fisted over soon after to make it a two-point game. Charlie Nelligan denied John O’Connor from close range with a superb reflex save and the Rossies subsequently missed two kickable frees. On another day, they could have entered the final quarter with a healthy lead.

As it was, points by Mícheál Finneran and O’Connor (free) levelled matters with 12 minutes to go but midfield powerhouse Jack O’Shea responded with a big score at the other end. Then came a hugely important incident.

With Nelligan stranded after racing out and crashing into the onrushing Finneran, the ball broke kindly to Roscommon half forward Aidan Dooley who looked certain to score. His marker, Páidí Ó Sé, had other ideas. Ó Sé dived at the boot of Dooley and somehow not only prevented the goal, but also held onto the ball. Dooley proceeded to effectively kick the prostrate Kerryman over the endline but, thankfully for Kerry, the danger had passed. Roscommon didn’t raise another flag for the remainder of the game.

A pair of Sheehy frees sealed a three-point victory as Kerry claimed their first three-in-row since the forties.

In his acceptance speech, Ger Power thanked Roscommon for a “good, clean game”. It was a throwaway comment that any winning captain would make but, in this instance, it drew uproarious laughter from the thousands of Kerrymen and women huddled below the Hogan Stand. The match had been anything but clean – there had been 64 frees in total – and O’Dwyer made no secret of his disdain for Roscommon’s approach when he and his soldiers landed back in Killarney.

“Ways and means to dethrone the present Kerry side are being tried throughout the country,” Micko said, “and those who do not have the skill must resort to other tactics. This was tried yesterday and we came out on top, and, no doubt, we will do so again next year.”

 

1980 All-Ireland Football Final

Kerry 1-9 Roscommon 1-6
(HT: Kerry 1-3 Roscommon 1-3)

Referee: Séamus Murray
Venue: Croke Park
Attendance: 65,898

KEY MOMENT Páidí Ó Sé’s remarkable block on the line in the 61st minute prevented a certain goal and stands out in a game that was largely bereft of individual brilliance at the attacking end of the field. Roscommon would have taken the lead at a crucial juncture were it not for Ó Sé’s intervention and that could very well have spelled the end for Kerry’s three-in-a-row hopes. The following morning, Mick O’Dwyer congratulated his heroic half back on his save. “That was tírniúlacht,” Ó Sé replied. “Love of country.”

KERRY SCORERS M Sheehy 1-6 (6f), G Power 0-1, P Spillane 0-1, O’Shea 0-1.

ROSCOMMON SCORERS J O’Connor 1-2 (1f), D Earley 0-1 (45), S Hayden 0-1, J O’Gara 0-1, M Finneran 0-1.

KERRY C Nelligan; J Deenihan, J O’Keeffe, P Lynch; P Ó Sé, T Kennelly, G O’Keeffe; J O’Shea, S Walsh; G Power (c), D Moran, P Spillane; M Sheehy, T Doyle, J Egan. Sub: G O’Driscoll for Power (HT).

ROSCOMMON G Sheerin; H Keegan, P Lindsay, G Connellan; G Fitzmaurice, T Donnellan, D Murphy; D Earley, S Hayden; J O’Connor, J O’Gara, A Dooley; M Finneran, T McManus, E McManus. Subs: M McDermott for Hayden, M Dolphin for Dooley.

 

Pic: Ray McManus/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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