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Kerry’s Golden Years (Part 5): How the GOAT rebuilt Kerry after the heartbreak of ’82

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In the fifth and final part of our Golden Years series, Adam Moynihan reflects on Kerry’s infamous defeat to Offaly in 1982 and how their leader stayed on to build a new team of champions

I know. I don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to read about. Let’s just get it out of the way.

Losing to Offaly in the All-Ireland football final of 1982 will (hopefully) always be the most heartbreaking moment in the history of Kerry football. Whether you were there or not, losing an unprecedented five-in-a-row in such traumatic circumstances still stings 38 years later, and will likely sting forevermore.

“I think of it at least once a week,” Mick O’Dwyer admitted in recent years. “It’s still implanted in my mind.”

Kerry’s manager was distraught at the final whistle and the loss sent him into a state of depression. He agonised over the outcome for months, spending his days rewatching the tape and forensically analysing what had gone wrong.

“One could not help but notice how badly he looked, his face drawn and haggard, his voice trailing away at the end of sentences that were left unfinished,” his biographer, Owen McCrohan, recalls. “To all outward manifestations, here was a broken man.”

In the winter of 1982, O’Dwyer decided privately that his time at the helm was up. He would step down in the New Year. The Kerry Dynasty, already reeling, was now on the brink of collapse.

ONE MORE SHOT

Fortunately for Kerry, Micko’s ambition and love for the game gradually returned and by the springtime he had resolved to give it one more shot. Unfortunately for Kerry, more despair was to follow.

In the Munster final of 1983, The Kingdom were gunning for an unprecedented ninth provincial title in a row. Incredibly, just like the Offaly game, a last-minute goal by Cork’s Tadhg Murphy snatched a historic victory from Kerry’s clutches. The Rebels won by a single point.

Now the knives were really out for O’Dwyer, but more concerning for Micko was the fact that some of his players appeared to be totally burned out. “Ger Power, Mikey Sheehy and John Egan were completely out of it when Cork beat us in ’83,” O’Dwyer later said. “Ogie Moran was going through a bad patch. John O’Keeffe, Tim Kennelly, Ger O’Keeffe and Paudie Lynch were coming to the end of the road. We needed replacements and we needed them quickly.”

Ger Lynch, Ambrose O’Donovan, Timmy O’Dowd, Willie Maher and John Kennedy were duly drafted in and the return from serious injury of key forward Pat Spillane was a massive boost.

After the disappointment of 1982 and 1983, O’Dwyer worked wonders in lighting a fire under his key players for the 1984 season and the results were immediate. Kerry won the National League by defeating Galway in Limerick and they made light work of the Munster Championship as they hammered Tipperary before beating Cork by seven points in the final.

A handy victory over Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final followed and now the old foe, Dublin, stood between O’Dwyer’s charges and a return to the mountain top.

Writing in The RTÉ Guide in the days leading up to the centenary final, Paul Desmond questioned Kerry’s chances: “Their current team is neither a settled side nor one full of potential – it is a cowardly blend of experienced players, has-beens and a few newcomers.”

On the train up to Dublin, County Board Treasurer Murt Galvin pulled out the article in question. The players were not one bit amused and were determined to show their detractors what they were made of.

In his pre-game speech, O’Dwyer called on his players to do it for a fallen comrade. “I want ye to win this one for Kerry and for me and for Mikey Sheehy!” Kerry’s star forward had gone down with a bad injury eight days before the final and was unavailable for selection.

With their trainer’s words ringing in their ears, Kerry flew out of the traps and after a dominant display they emerged victorious with plenty to spare (0-14 to 1-6). After a brief hiatus, the kings were back.

SPONSORSHIP

And O’Dwyer wasn’t finished yet. The Waterville maestro led Kerry back to the All-Ireland again in 1985 where once again Dublin were the opposition.

The latest instalment of the game’s greatest rivalry should have been enough to keep everyone entertained but, remarkably, all the talk the morning of the final was about a washing machine.

Kerry had struck a sponsorship deal with washing machine manufacturer Bendix in the run-up to the decider. On All-Ireland final day, Bendix published a full-page ad in the national papers that caused quite a stir. Micko explains:

“They arrived into Tralee from Dublin with a van with a washing machine in it. They brought it into the dressing room and when we finished training, players put their jerseys into the washing machine and that was the photograph that was in the paper the following day. They were all standing around half-clothed.

“We got something in the region of €15,000. That was the start of sponsorship by the counties. Croke Park were going on over that as well but I didn’t give a damn.”

Unperturbed by the furore their bare chests and controversial deal had caused, Kerry powered to a memorable 2-12 to 2-8 win.

BORROWED TIME

Speculation about O’Dwyer’s imminent retirement was widespread but ultimately unfounded. “I knew most of us were living on borrowed time but the experience of coming back with a blend of old and new players brought a marvelous feeling of fulfillment. It was like a drug. Once we had put Dublin behind us in ’85, I think everyone decided to keep at it. Winning three-in-a-row became the new target.”

It was a target they would reach by beating Tyrone in 1986 and although dreams of another four-in-a-row, and possibly the elusive five, kept O’Dwyer motivated thereafter, it would prove a bridge too far for his ageing stars.

Three successive defeats to Cork in the Munster final followed before the great man stepped aside. In the end, he readily admitted that he should have done so after ’86, but a few bad defeats could not detract from his legacy.

He took over for a year in 1975 and ended up putting together the greatest team in the history of the GAA. Micko, more than anyone, was responsible for Kerry’s Golden Years, and for that we owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

 

Mick O'Dwyer's Record as Kerry Manager

Years in charge 15 (1975-1989)

Games 55 (Won 43, Lost 7, Drew 5)

Win Percentage 78%

League Titles 3

Munster Titles 11

All-Ireland Finals 10

All-Ireland Titles 8

 

Pic: Ray McManus/Sportsfile.

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Crokes hurlers set for senior championship bow

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Sunday will be a momentous day for Dr Crokes GAA as the club’s hurlers are set to participate in the Kerry Senior Hurling Championship for the first time.

The Crokes famously won the Intermediate in 2020 and after exercising their right to graduate to the top level, they now face into the daunting task of negotiating the rough and tumble of the top tier.

The Killarney club will take on four-time champions Abbeydorney in their first Group 1 pool game, with throw-in at Austin Stack Park at 1.30pm. O’Dorney are sure to provide a stern test; they reached the last four of last year’s competition before exiting at the hands of eventual winners Kilmoyley.

Two teams from each of the three groups of three will progress to the knockout phase.

Crokes will be hoping that the likes of Kerry senior Michael Lenihan and his brother Jack can lead the way on Sunday, while Kerry U20 footballer and accomplished soccer player Tom Doyle is also considered to be a real talent.

Elsewhere in the Kerry SHC, champions Kilmoyley will get the defence of their title up and running against Ballyheigue tonight at 7.30pm, and last year’s beaten finalists Causeway will do battle with St Brendan’s on Saturday at 7pm.

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Neighbours Spa and Crokes vying for Division 1 final

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Killarney rivals Spa and Dr Crokes will face off in Round 5 of the Kerry Senior Football League on Saturday with the winners advancing to the Division 1 league final. The match will take place in Lewis Road at 5pm.

Crokes currently lead the way in Division 1A with seven points from four matches, with Spa one point behind having won two, drawn one and lost one of their four fixtures to date. The new competition structure, which was devised to reduce the amount of games and travel required for all teams involved, sees the top team from each pool (1A and 1B) meet in the decider.

In the other pot, Kerin’s O’Rahilly’s are favourites to finish first as they currently sit on top of the pile with seven points. The Killarney Legion are still in contention – they find themselves just one point behind in second – but Rahilly’s will fancy themselves to win their final group phase match against bottom-of-the-table Beaufort. Legion travel back west to play An Ghaeltacht in Gallarus.

Beaufort have already been relegated to Division 2 for 2022 on the back of four consecutive defeats and they will be joined in D2 by the bottom-placed team in Division 1A. Kilcummin currently occupy that position but they can claw their way out of danger with a final day victory over Austin Stacks.

The second-from-bottom team in each pool will also meet in a playoff to decide the third and final team to be relegated to Division 2. These places will go down to the wire with John Mitchels and Stacks in the firing line in 1A and Rathmore, Kenmare Shamrocks and An Ghaeltacht all potential candidates in 1B.

DIVISION 2

In the second division, Castleisland Desmonds can secure their promotion back to the top table by defeating Na Gaeil in their final fixture, thereby securing top spot in Division 2A. It’s all to play for in 2B as Templenoe, Gneeveguilla and Ballymacelligott are joint top on six points apiece.

The runners-up in both pools will also play each other to decide the third team to be promoted with Glenbeigh-Glencar and St Mary’s in contention in 2A. They will duke it out for that final spot when they meet in Glenbeigh on Saturday; in fact, the winners will secure automatic promotion if Desmonds lose to Na Gaeil in Tralee.

The Dr Crokes B team are currently facing the chop as they sit bottom of 2A on zero points, but they can avoid automatic relegation by beating the team directly above them (Ballydonoghue) away from home on Sunday. Listry can do likewise in 2B if they can get the better of Dromid Pearses in Listry. If Crokes and Listry do the needful, they will meet in a relegation playoff to see who will retain their Division 2 status.

Churchill and Listowel lead the way in Division 3A with Laune Rangers, Milltown/Castlemaine and Brosna in the running in 3B. Glenflesk are safe but the same cannot be said of Currow, who will need to defeat St Senan’s to have any hope of avoiding the drop.

Firies are in pole position in Division 4A with Renard and then Fossa gunning for top spot in 4B. Stacks B and Cordal are in pole position in Divisions 5A and 5B, and it’s all to play for in Division 6 as the B teams of Dingle, Firies, Fossa, Kenmare, Glenflesk and Rathmore, as well as the Dr Crokes C team and Tuosist, are all still in the mix for promotion.

Full fixture list and tables can be found on the Kerry GAA website and across the Kerry GAA social media channels.

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