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The Golden Years (Part 5): How Micko 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.

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 the terrific RTÉ documentary 'Micko', which charmed viewers in 2018. “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, recalled. “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 told McCrohan. “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.

“They arrived into Tralee from Dublin with a van with a washing machine in it," O'Dwyer explained.

"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

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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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