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Kerry’s Golden Years (Part 4): ‘It was just another All-Ireland coming and I wasn’t counting’

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In Part 4 of our series on the Golden Years, Adam Moynihan takes a look at the 1981 All-Ireland final which saw Kerry secure their second ever four-in-a-row.

By the time the 1981 championship came around, Kerry were in cruise control. With three consecutive All-Irelands in the back pocket and no contenders making a whole pile of noise elsewhere, their period of dominance looked certain to continue.

“Every time we went to play a game, we were nearly guaranteed to win,” O’Dwyer is quoted as saying in a biography penned by Owen McCrohan. “We never thought about defeat. We never looked at the other teams we met along the line. We had 20 players who were good enough to win All-Irelands by playing a style of football that nobody could match.

“At one stage, I never even thought about it. It was just another All-Ireland coming and I wasn’t counting.”

MUNSTER

The Kingdom’s path to Croke Park was about as comfortable as you could get. A 4-17 to 0-6 victory over Clare in the Munster semi-final didn’t bode well for future opponents and Cork were subsequently put to the sword in remarkably emphatic fashion. Kerry prevailed on a 1-11 to 0-3 scoreline, prompting Seán Kilfeather of The Irish Times to remark:

“There have been more cheerful funerals than this. And not just that; but the wake did not even produce a single moment of hilarity. No song stood out; no piper played a lament. Nobody could care less, least of all the 41,292 people who saw the most pathetic Munster football final ever at Fitzgerald Stadium. Cork could only score one single point from play in the 70 minutes. The young man who scored – Dave Barry – is said to have been offered a job as a professional soccer player in England. If he has not already been in touch with those who see his potential elsewhere, he should do so straight away.”

The All-Ireland semi-final was even more one-sided as Micko’s men hammered Mayo by 2-19 to 1-6. The handpass (as opposed to the closed fist pass) had now been banned by the GAA but Kerry appeared to be unperturbed and they were now just 70 minutes away from a record-equalling four-in-a-row.

SPILLANE

Disaster struck for the champions one week before the final against Offaly when one of their star players, Pat Spillane, aggravated a recurring knee injury in a trial game in Killarney. The Templenoe man received treatment from a specialist in Dublin and was given the all clear but, unfortunately, the knee swelled up again the morning of the game. After trying it out on the hotel lawn, it was clear that it wasn’t right. Tommy Doyle, for the second consecutive year, came in as a last-minute replacement for a key forward.

Offaly also suffered a late injury blow when Johnny Mooney hurt himself in a tractor accident at work.

Both players were a loss but, as it turned out, Kerry’s strength in depth was a crucial factor once again.

After a tetchy opening half, the sides were level at five points apiece and The Kingdom’s plans were thrown into disarray when Mikey Sheehy asked to be taken off at the break. Sheehy had been receiving painkilling injections for a foot injury but the effects of his pre-match dose had worn off. Micko pleaded with his top-scorer to return to the field with his teammates and, after taking another injection from Dr Con Murphy, Sheehy made it out for the second half.

Kerry had a narrow escape in the opening moments of the second period when Gerry Carroll’s shot ricocheted to safety via Charlie Nelligan’s crossbar. Four straight points by Seán Walsh, John Egan, Sheehy (a free) and Ogie Moran gave them a 9-5 lead before Seán Lowry pulled one back in the 59th minute.

Now it was a one-score game and with capable forwards like Matt Connor floating around, anything was possible.

Thankfully for holders, points by Sheehy (two) and Tommy Doyle steadied the ship and when marauding midfielder Jack O’Shea scored a spectacular goal with just three minutes to play, Kerry were home and dry.

Pat Spillane was summoned from the bench to join the action – to rapturous applause from the travelling Kerry support – and O’Dwyer’s soldiers sauntered home to a well-deserved seven-point win. The match itself wasn’t much of a spectacle but Micko didn’t give a damn. “It is better to win a bad one than lose a good one,” he told the media in the winning dressing room.

Following in the footsteps of Wexford (1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918) and Kerry (1929, 1930, 1931 and 1932), this great panel of players had become just the third team ever to win the coveted four-in-a-row. They were now, without question, a major part of Kerry GAA history.

“I’ve been around over 80 years now and I’ve seen a lot of players in my time,” O’Dwyer later reflected in the RTÉ documentary ‘Micko’, “but the 15 of those men that were on the field together – I don’t believe you could get better at any period at any time.

“It isn’t because I was managing them or anything. It’s because they were the best.”

 

1981

All-Ireland Football Final

Kerry 1-12 Offaly 0-8

HT: Kerry 0-5 Offaly 0-5

Referee: Paddy Collins
Venue: Croke Park
Attendance: 61,489

KEY MOMENT Kerry never appeared to be in too much danger in this particular final but it took a late goal by talismanic midfielder Jack O’Shea to really copperfasten the victory. A sweeping move which started with captain Jimmy Deenihan in his own full back line and involved Tim Kennelly, Tommy Doyle, John Egan and Eoin Liston eventually made its way to Mikey Sheehy around 30 metres out from goal. Sheehy popped a neat handpass into O’Shea and the Mary’s man fired a beautiful strike to the top corner to give Kerry an unassailable eight-point lead.

KERRY SCORERS M Sheehy 0-5 (2f), J O’Shea 1-0, D Moran 0-2, G Power 0-1, P Ó Sé 0-1, S Walsh 0-1, J Egan 0-1, T Doyle 0-1.

OFFALY SCORERS M Connor 0-4 (3f), S Lowry 0-2, B Lowry 0-1, T Connor 0-1.

KERRY C Nelligan; J Deenihan, J O’Keeffe, P Lynch; P Ó Sé, T Kennelly, M Spillane; J O’Shea, S Walsh; G Power (c), D Moran, T Doyle; M Sheehy, E Liston, J Egan. Sub: P Spillane for Egan (67), G O’Keeffe for M Spillane (69).

OFFALY M Furlong; M Fitzgerald, L Connor, C Conroy; P Fitzgerald, R Connor, L Currams; T Connor, P Dunne; V Henry, G Carroll, A O’Halloran; M Connor, S Lowry, B Lowry. Subs: J Mooney for T Connor (47), J Moran for Henry (59).

 

Pic: Ray McManus/Sportsfile.

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Glorious weather for Kerry County Coastal Rowing championships

It was a day of glorious sunshine yesterday (Sunday) as Flesk Valley Rowing Club hosted the 2022 Kerry County Coastal Rowing championships for the very first time in beautiful Castlelough […]

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It was a day of glorious sunshine yesterday (Sunday) as Flesk Valley Rowing Club hosted the 2022 Kerry County Coastal Rowing championships for the very first time in beautiful Castlelough Bay on Lough Lein.

Hundreds flocked to the Valley shore to see the coastal clubs of Kerry race in crews from Under 12 to Masters. As well as clubs from around the Ring of Kerry, there was a strong representation from the Killarney clubs with the Workmen, Commercials and Fossa wearing their colours with pride. The atmosphere, colour, fun and fierce competition produced a spectacular day that will live long in the memory.

The event was opened by the Councillor John O’Donoghue, vice chair of the Killarney Municipal District who congratulated Flesk Valley on their centenary, which occurred during 1920, and wished all of the clubs a successful day’s racing.

The first race was preceded by a special blessing of the boats by Fr Eugene McGillycuddy, who also remembered Brendan Teahan of Cromane Rowing Club in his prayers.

Afterwards John Fleming, chair of Flesk Valley, expressed his immense pride and satisfaction with the success of the regatta.

“It’s our first time ever hosting a regatta, but we wanted to do something special to mark our 102 years in existence,” he said.

“It was a lot of work, but we have a fantastic hard-working committee in Flesk Valley who really pulled out all the stops to make it happen, and we received fantastic support from our members, parents, other clubs and local businesses.”

John also thanked the Kerry Coastal Rowing Association, in particular Mary B Teahan and Andrew Wharton, and the staff of the Killarney National Park for all their support and encouragement in hosting this event.

This was a qualifying event and the Kerry clubs will be heading to Wexford next weekend to complete for honours at the All-Ireland Coastal Rowing Championships.

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Live referee mics should be the norm – swearing concerns be damned

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by Adam Moynihan

I was disappointed to learn that the GAA are preventing TG4 from using their live referee mic in this Sunday’s Wexford hurling final.

(And not just because I had already written an article saying how great live referee mics are and how they are sure to be implemented across the board. Ctrl + A. Delete.)

TG4’s GAA coverage is superb and they raised the bar once again when they mic’d up referee John O’Halloran for the Kerry hurling final between Causeway and Ballyduff.

Pinning a microphone on the referee is standard practice in televised rugby and judging by the positive response to Gaelic games’ first foray into this territory, I was expecting it to become the norm.

It still might but, explaining their decision to The 42, the GAA said that they were not aware beforehand of the ref mic being trialled in Stack Park on Sunday.

“They believe such a development will require more discussion and education if it is to be implemented on a more regular basis in live TV coverage and could possibly need a policy change,” Fintan O’Toole reported.

The image of the Association is surely the primary concern here.

Players and managers – usually the worst behaved participants when it comes to things like swearing – will be among those who get “educated” on the subject. Some verbal abuse that might otherwise be muted for television viewers will, in all likelihood, be picked up by the referee’s microphone. You would imagine that the teams involved will be reminded of this the week of a televised game.

It also makes sense from Croke Park’s point of view to speak to referees and give them guidance on how to conduct themselves when the mic is on.

In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if senior GAA figures are currently fretting over the possibility of an agitated ref making headlines for something they say in the heat of the moment. And make no mistake about it, some match officials can eff and jeff with the best of them.

A friend of mine (a Wexford man, funnily enough) recalls an incident when a teammate was unceremoniously taken out of it by an opponent.

“Ah ref, for f***’s sake!” the victim complained.

“I gave you the f***ing free,” the referee replied. “What do you want me to do, slap him in the face with a wet fish?!”

The GAA might think that a referee swearing like that would leave all of us red-faced. In reality the clip would be a viral sensation and the general public would probably call for the official in question to run for Áras an Uachtárain. (He’d get my ****ing vote.)

The odd swear word from someone involved is bound to sneak through every now and then but you’d hear the same – and plenty more – at any match you attend from Cahersiveen to County Antrim.

Implementing the referee mic on a wider scale is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t appear to take a huge amount of effort or expense for the broadcaster to set it up and, more importantly, it offers a wonderful insight into the unknown.

Listening to referees explain their decisions in real time will clear a lot of things up for commentators, analysts and the media. We will no longer have to speculate about what they did or did not see, or what specific rule is being cited, or why.

Viewers, especially those who might be casual followers of the sport, will appreciate it too and become more educated; I know that’s how I feel when I watch rugby, for example.

It just leads to greater transparency and understanding.

Well done to TG4 and the Kerry County Board for being the pioneers. I’m sure others will follow their lead – as soon as the GAA allow them to do so.

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