Eamonn Fitzgerald trawls through the history books and speaks to key players as he traces the origins Killarney’s thriving soccer scene.
The GAA games are the most widely played sports in Ireland,reaching into every parish. But what some readers may not know is that soccer was played in Ireland since the 1870s, some years before the GAA was founded in Thurles in 1884.
Soccer in particular was seen as the ‘foreign game’. Irish nationalism grew from 1905 onwards with the founding of Sinn Féin. A new ban was enacted that forbade any member of the GAA from participating in or even watching ‘foreign’ games. Of course, the foreign games being referred to weren’t all foreign games. In reality, the ban imposed on the GAA membership was explicitly about them playing cricket, hockey, rugby or soccer.
The first big name casualty was Douglas Hyde, who was removed as a patron of the GAA in 1938 following his attendance at an Irish international fixture between Poland and Ireland in Dalymount Park.
The man who led the campaign to remove Rule 27 (aka ‘The Ban’) was Tom Woulfe, a native of Ballybunion. I met him on many occasions in Dublin in the sixties and he convinced me that should be removed. I could see good reasons for the Ban in the early 1900s but, just like Rule 42 which I wrote about some weeks ago, it had outlived its raison d’etre. That was especially so after the 1966 World Cup and TV beaming soccer into Irish homes.
In the early sixties, Killarney man Paul Russell, holder of six All-Ireland medals, argued cogently that the Ban should go. His great friend and club mate Dr Eamonn O’Sullivan was equally strong calling for the retention of the Ban. Eventually the Ban was lifted at the 1971 GAA Congress, a very welcome move for players such as Moss Keane and Kevin Moran, who had memorable careers thereafter as Irish internationals.
In the past I have written of the great progress made by local clubs rugby and soccer clubs. Killarney RFC (founded 1928), Killarney Athletic (1965), Liebherr (1970), Ballyhar Dynamos (1975), Killarney Celtic (1976), Fossa FC (1977), Mastergeeha Rangers (1979), Mastergeeha FC (1999), and MEK Galaxy (2019).
For this week’s column I did some research on Killarney GAA players who defied the Ban. For some it led to suspensions and that scenario lasted for quite a few years after 1971. Officially, the GAA Vigilantes were redundant, but some die-hards still reported GAA players for dabbling in rugby, cricket, hockey and soccer in particular.
In the late fifties one could not get Match of the Day on TV in Killarney, so the schoolboys had to rely on the print media and BBC radio to follow the soccer scene in England for the most part. When they grew older some of them went to Cork or Limerick, where the TV signals could pick up Match of the Day.
It wasn’t a full half day as at that time, as the Sem day-boys had to return to school for study at 5.15pm. Lunch was hurried and eaten on the hoof. At max there was a four-hour window of opportunity to live boyhood soccer dreams, emulating superstars such as Pelé, Puskas, Matthews, the Charlton brothers, and Duncan Edwards. The Busby Babes were much-loved and then came that terrible Munich tragedy on February 6, 1958. Out of the ashes, Busby created the great Man Utd team, which to this day has so many followers in Killarney. The late great Weeshie Fogarty was an avid Man U admirer and he also had a small soccer group.
No goalposts, just discarded jackets for goalposts and no pitches available. Regulation football, how are you? Lucky to have any ball provided by whomsoever. The usual venues were The Market, The Fairfield opposite the Friary (no fairs on Thursdays), The Sandpit (now High Street car park), Cronin’s field in Tiernaboul, Doyle’s field (a large back garden) in Woodlawn, Park Road, and White Bridge when the Flesk hadn’t overflowed.
Mike Looney (College Street), Richard (Dicko) Clifford, Billy Doyle and others relived those early days with me. Memories are limited and fading. We are conscious of fallibility and will lose out on the names of some. Apologies for soccer rebels we omit. We dug deep for the list of the early soccer players in Killarney.
The Fairfield group included John Doyle (Kilcoolaght, not Celtic), Brian Mulcahy, Greg Collins, Donie Kelly, Donagh Gleeson, Podge Moriarty, Noel Moran, Philip Brady, and others. Joe Grant (Park Road) seemed to be the main organiser, but he did play a little bit as well, as did his brother, Mike.
Some of them also played at The Sandpit in the Oranges v Bananas challenges. There they linked up with Don O’Donoghue, Big Jim O’Sullivan, Donagh Gleeson, Kierney O’Brien, and twinkle toes himself: Sossy (Tom Mullins). His real claim to fame was the day he played with Killarney Athletic and kept a tearaway Rockmount Cork midfield-player scoreless. That boy grew into a man, the famous Roy Keane.)
Also there were Seán Dorgan, Ger Galbraith, Donal Casey, Timmy Kelliher, Tony Fleming and Donie Doyle, who also played on the New Street team, as did his brother, Pat. That was the genesis for the founding of Killarney Athletic in 1965. Dan Harrington, the young Cork guard in town, was the catalyst for founding Killarney Athletic, even if it very nearly caused his transfer to a North Kerry Garda station.
Supt. Batt Harte yielded to pressure from some local diehard GAA stalwarts, who genuinely believed that an official upholder of keeping the peace should not be permitted to promote one of the foreign games where the traditional Irish games would suffer. Fortunately, a local broadminded sportsman interceded successfully, pointing out that this young volunteer was providing a great new community service for youths in Killarney and should be supported.
Incidentally, I recall that one of Barry’s (RIP) own sons preferred rugby to GAA. He was a classmate of mine and practiced penalty-kicking with that trusted ciotóg, while most of us were happier playing traditional football. Diversity, even before it became a buzzword. Sport has room for all.
Happily, Dan Harrington is still alive and ended his working life as a policeman in Manchester, ironically trying to keep the peace with a small number of Man U supporters outside Old Trafford on big match days. I met Dan both in Manchester and in Killarney and he verified the above scenario that enfolded in Killarney in the early sixties. At that time, training for the gardaí lasted only a short few weeks and as he pointed out to me he was a 19-year-old, barely older than the young boys he ‘inspected’ at The Sandpit and elsewhere.
The Park Road group had players such as the Grants (Joe and Mike), Seán O’Donoghue, Gerry Cronin (a great goalscorer), John Sparling, Donal O’Donoghue, Andrew McCarthy and DD McCarthy.
There was also a small group in the Spa/Tiernaboul area where Michael O’Donoghue (now Fr Michael in the Nottingham diocese) recalled how they played very impromptu five/six-a-side games while they were waiting for the football to start, but it was only a temporary diversion. There was never any doubt about their sporting allegiance when Tadhg O’Sullivan, the revered master in Lissivigeen NS, came along to do trojan work in revitalising the Spa GAA club. Then it was all football. Billy Morris from the same area later came to star with Killarney Celtic.
Woodlawn Rovers was a closely knit community of brothers, who played right up to the seventies. Billy Doyle was the main man here. He remembered playing literally in their big back garden along with his brothers (Gerry and Frank) and the O’Mahonys (Paudie, John and Derry). Paudie went on to win the first of his All-Ireland medals as Kerry goalkeeper from 1975 onwards. Other Woodlawn players were the Aherne brothers, Noel Dillon, Tedso and James O’Connor, Batt O’Connor (who became a well-known soccer referee), Tim Coffey, Jim Ryan, Conor O’Mahony and goalkeeper Gerard Looney, one of the people who got MEK Galaxy underway two years ago. They cater for the Fossa/Mid & East Kerry area and for all age groups, male and female. Tom O ‘Shea (later Killarney Celtic & FAI) also played with Woodlawn. Ger O’Shea and Aidan Kiely came later, when Woodlawn moved to the pitches beside St Finan’s Hospital.
LIEBHERR & FOSSA
Liebherr had very good soccer and football teams in the factory. While the other local soccer teams contained mostly GAA players at the start, Liebherr had some real soccer stars in Aidan McDonald (a Scotsman), Alex Rintoul, and John Beatie. I remember Aidan McDonald as the most skilful soccer player of that era. His playing pedigree was very good, operating at a high level with Pegasus during his college days in UCD. Kevin Moran of Dublin GAA, Man Utd and Ireland was another great Pegasus player. Aidan qualified as an engineer, came to Liebherr, married Margaret Brady and was the key player for Liebherr (later Fossa AFC). He was the man who demonstrated to the GAA/aspiring and perspiring soccer players the basic skills, such as how to trap a ball with either foot, time the run and meet the volley or head it home. With the forehead, as distinct from the head. Surely, a ‘header’ is a misnomer.
The New Street team was backboned by the Culligan brothers (Brendan, Seán and Philip). Ex-sergeant Culligan, their father, was well in with McShain. In his retirement he was a supervisor there so they got permission to play on ‘the farm’ section of the McShain Estate. This paved the way some years later for Killarney Athletic to have the Half Moon as their home venue before moving to their present home in Woodlawn on the banks of the Flesk.
The Ban was still in vogue up until 1971 and for years later some dual-code players were not picked on GAA teams, because they played the foreign games. I interviewed Tom O’Shea for On the Ball on March 5, 2012. A brilliant speedy half forward with Dr Crokes, he was on the Kerry minor football team and won an All-Ireland U21 medal in 1977. On that team with him were captain Ogie Moran, Jack O’Shea, Charlie Nelligan and Bomber Liston.
“I was eligible for the next two years and was again selected in 1978 for the first round game against Tipperary,” Tom said in 2012. “However, following this match the chairman of the East Kerry Board at the time brought it to the attention of the County Board that a player on the U21 squad ‘did not owe his full allegiance to the game’ – I have never forgotten those words. This was a reference to the fact that I was also playing soccer.
“The result of this is that I ended up suspended for a month and dropped from the panel and although I continued playing with the Crokes for another five or six years (winning three O’Donoghue Cups and two U21 County Championships), I was never again selected for a Kerry squad.”
That U21 team was the basis of the subsequent Golden Years of Mick O ’Dwyer’s all-conquering era. Could O’Shea have been one of that all-conquering Kerry team?
Read Part 2 of Eamonn Fitzgerald’s deep-dive into the early days of Killarney soccer in next week’s Killarney Advertiser.
Almost impossible to look beyond East Kerry but Dingle are best placed to challenge
Adam Moynihan breaks down the groups and likely contenders in the 2023 Kerry Senior Football Championship
Group 1: East Kerry, South Kerry, West Kerry, Templenoe
Defending champions East Kerry are on the hunt for their fourth county title in five years and with a talented squad that’s looking as stacked as ever, only the brave would back against them.
Rathmore’s promotion back to senior level means that Kerry players Shane Ryan and Paul Murphy are missing from last year’s nine-point final victory over Mid Kerry but East Kerry’s strength in depth in all sectors means that no individual player is irreplaceable – excepting the obvious.
David Clifford’s performance for the ages in Fossa’s landmark intermediate semi-final win over Stacks provided a stark reminder of his awe-inspiring talents. Paudie Clifford was excellent too and this year the Two Mile brothers are joined on the panel by four clubmates – another glaring indicator of how far Fossa have come.
James O’Donoghue must be considered an injury doubt after only managing a cameo in Legion’s last outing but his clubmates Brian Kelly, Jonathan Lyne, Darragh Lyne and Cian Gammell are all likely to feature. Current Kerry senior panelists Chris O’Donoghue and Darragh Roche (Glenflesk), Ronan Buckley and Ruairí Murphy (Listry), and Donal O’Sullivan (Kilgarvan) would also be expected to play their part, with plenty of young talent from all seven clubs hoping to break into the starting line-up.
Realistically, the holders should navigate Group 1 with little fuss with South Kerry, West Kerry and Templenoe battling it out for second.
South Kerry and Templenoe played out a draw in the group stage of last year’s championship so there might not be much between them this year either.
West Kerry will be aiming to pick up at least one result after losing all three of their fixtures in 2022.
VERDICT: East Kerry and Templenoe
GROUP 2: Kenmare Shamrocks, Rathmore, St Kieran’s, Feale Rangers
Kenmare came mightily close in the Senior Club final and they should be able to carry that momentum through to the County Championship. Seánie O’Shea is obviously their one bona fide match winner but they’re also strong around the middle third where James McCarthy, David Hallissey and Kevin O’Sullivan put in the hard yards.
The fact that Feale Rangers reached last year’s semi-final indicates that they’re on an upward trajectory. The question now is can they repeat the trick? In 2022 the team was backboned by Listowel Emmets players (seven started that defeat to Mid Kerry) and those lads are coming into this competition in confident form having secured a spot in the still-to-be-played Junior Premier final.
Rathmore are always a tough championship team and the Ryans (Cathal and Mark at midfield and Shane at full forward) are sure to be a handful for any opposition.
St Kieran’s have troubled decent teams in the not-too-distant past – although they lost all three group games (including one against Kenmare) a year ago.
VERDICT: Kenmare and Feale Rangers
GROUP 3: Mid Kerry, Spa, Kerins O’Rahillys, Shannon Rangers
In 2022, Spa found the going tough in a Group of Death that included East Kerry and Dingle. The draw has been kinder to them this time around and they would probably expect to beat Rahillys and Shannon Rangers.
The wheels came off against Dingle in this year’s Senior Club Championship but they impressed the week before against Kenmare. Dara Moynihan, Evan Cronin and Cian Tobin will be important players in attack, with Dan O’Donoghue manning the midfield and Shane Cronin protecting their defensive third from number 6.
Mid Kerry, runners-up last season, will provide their sternest test in this pool. A lot of eyes (including those of Jack O’Connor) will be on Cillian Burke after his heroics for Milltown/Castlemaine in the semi-final of the Intermediate Club Championship. His clubmate Éanna O’Connor (son of the Kerry bainisteoir) will also play a crucial role at centre forward.
Rahillys are facing a relegation playoff if they fail to reach the final of the Kerry SFC and their form in recent weeks would suggest that making it that far is a long shot.
VERDICT: Mid Kerry and Spa
GROUP 4: Dingle, Dr Crokes, St Brendan’s, Na Gaeil
Breaking free of East Kerry’s stranglehold will not be easy but crafty Senior Club champions Dingle are surely best placed to wriggle loose. With four in-form Geaneys in the forwards – Paul, Mikey, Conor and Dylan – they have the tools to trouble any defence, and the return of their established AFL player Mark O’Connor adds solidity going the other way. They also have the incomparable Tom O’Sullivan pulling the strings. As things stand, they are easily the standout club team in the county.
Their Group 4 opponents Dr Crokes will be aiming to improve upon their showing in 2022 when they bowed out at the quarter-final stage. Naturally much will depend on the availability or otherwise of star players Gavin White and Tony Brosnan. White missed the recent Senior Club semi-final defeat to Kenmare with a hamstring injury. Encouragingly, Brosnan (who has been sidelined with a recurrence of a lung problem) was togged for that match, though he did not play.
The Killarney club will be fancied to qualify from their group alongside Dingle, although St Brendan’s – strengthened by the addition of an unknown number of Austin Stacks players to their ranks – could be dangerous.
The other team in the pool, Na Gaeil, are facing a relegation playoff against Rahillys once both sides are finished with the Kerry SFC. Reaching the final of this competition would spare them but Na Gaeil can count themselves unlucky to have been handed a difficult draw for the second year in a row.
VERDICT: Dingle and Dr Crokes
All things considered East Kerry and Dingle appear to be the frontrunners to capture the Bishop Moynihan trophy but there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way, starting this weekend with a full round of fixtures.
All eight matches will be either televised or streamed online. Dingle v Dr Crokes is on TG4. The remaining seven matches are on Clubber.
Friday 8pm Na Gaeil v St Brendan’s (Austin Stack Park)
Saturday 3pm Templenoe v West Kerry (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Saturday 5.30pm Rahillys v Shannon Rangers (Austin Stack Park)
Saturday 7.30pm East Kerry v South Kerry (Austin Stack Park)
Sunday 1.30pm Rathmore v St Kieran’s (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Sunday 2.15pm Dingle v Dr Crokes (Austin Stack Park)
Sunday 3.30pm Feale Rangers v Kenmare Shamrocks (Fitzgerald Stadium)
Sunday 4.15pm Mid Kerry v Spa (Austin Stack Park)
Kerry’s old dogs ready for Tyrone challenge in All-Ireland final
Adam Moynihan chats to Kerry Masters goalkeeper Tony Lyons ahead of the over 40 All-Ireland football final
Hi Tony. Thanks for speaking to me.
No problem, Adam.
Can you tell me about the Kerry Masters’ season to date?
We played six round robin games in the league phase to see which competition we would be in at the end. There are five championships in all with the senior championship being for teams that finish 1st to 4th in the league, the plate for 5th to 8th and so on. There were 23 counties involved in total this year with new entrants like Armagh, Derry and Limerick.
We won five of our six league games against Limerick, Cork, Waterford, London and Clare. Unfortunately we were well beaten by Dublin during the league phase but that served us well because we knuckled down after that and upped the training to twice a week.
We also got a physical trainer on board from Keel, David Clifford, and he has had a huge influence on our development the last couple of months, allied to Adam and Gary O’Reilly from Glenflesk, and Jason Foley from Keel.
We then beat Derry in the All-Ireland quarter-final by a point, setting up a semi-final against Galway in Limerick which we won by 12 points to 7 a couple of weeks back. it That quarter-final win against Derry was our most pleasing result of the season because we were down a few bodies.
What’s the standard like?
The standard is actually very good. While we don’t have a lot of former Kerry players with us – aside from William Kirby and Aidan O’Mahony – we do have a very good calibre of club player with us, the likes of John O’Connor from Kerins O’Rahillys and John Paul Leahy from Ballyduff for example. We’ve come across some big names in some of the games. Limerick had Ciarán Carey, Dublin had Denis Bastick, Cork had Nicholas Murphy and John Miskella, and Derry had Paddy Bradley.
The first halves of the games are really competitive with the second halves probably becoming more of a war of attrition. The key is having depth in your squad and being able to bring players in and out at the right time as players tire, and I think Adam and his management team have mastered that at this stage.
Would a number of the players have represented Kerry at some level in the past?
We haven’t a huge amount of former Kerry seniors but some of the guys would have represented Kerry at junior and underage level at various stages. What the management team focused on when it became apparent some of the former players weren’t joining was getting good quality club players who could commit and make most of the trainings, and I think that has worked well for them.
What’s key as well is that a lot of the players have been playing very recently for their clubs either at senior or junior level. That’s a huge help.
How are the fitness levels?
Depends on what time of the season you’re talking about! The first few weeks is all about trying to knock off the pounds and get to a certain level of fitness. In fairness to Adam O’Reilly, he places a big focus on the warm-up which is important for players of all ages but especially for those of us over 40.
Very few of the starting 15 would last the 60 or 65 minutes so it’s important that the replacements coming in can add an impetus and build on what the guys before them have done. Last year our panel was probably a little light but we have added well with the likes of Kevin Lynch (Castleisland Desmonds), Mark Crowley (Kenmare) and James Nagle (Keel) – all strong and very fit guys – coming in.
Tell me more about your management team.
Adam O’Reilly is the manager. He came on board this year and brought Gary O’Reilly and Jason Foley with him. Gary looks after the statistics, gear and so on and Jason is a selector as well as taking parts of training at various times. David Clifford came on board about two months ago as physical trainer and he has added greatly to the set-up, improving our fitness levels and tackling in particular.
What’s the most enjoyable part of playing with the Kerry Masters?
A huge part of it, Adam, is playing with guys who you would have tried to knock lumps out of at club level over the years! There’s a big social part to it also with us meeting for a pint or two after games and, as well as that, guys getting back into a dressing room environment and having the craic at training.
For some guys who were never lucky enough to wear the Kerry jersey, there’s a huge sense of pride to put it on at this stage. It’s a real an honour. To be fair to the other teams we played, they have treated us with a lot of respect because they know Kerry teams will play football first and foremost.
Also it’s nice to involve our families, kids, partners, and wives and for them to come to the games. We have noticed a lot more people coming to our matches this season.
Which of your teammates are the best craic?
There are a few fellas like Tim O’Donoghue who thinks he’s hilarious but the jury’s out on that one. I suppose the goalies, myself and Niall Hobbert, would be jokers but then the rest of the panel would tell you the jury is out on us too! Kirby is good craic, as is the former Spa man Brian O’Sullivan Darcy. It’s great fun. I would thoroughly recommend it to any guy 40 or over who wants to play a bit of competitive football and also continue training in what is almost like a club environment.
How would you rate your chances in the final on Saturday? Are you expecting a difficult challenge from Tyrone?
Look, it’s going to be very tough. Tyrone have won the last two All-Ireland finals at Masters level and they have the experience, whereas this is our first go, as it were. They have a solid team built with the likes of Seán Cavanagh, Conor Gormley and Stephen O’Neill in their ranks.
It will be a tall order for sure but we’ll give it our all and the whole panel are chomping at the bit and ready for action.
Kerry v Tyrone takes place on Saturday at 4pm in Roscommon. Follow @KerryMastersGAA on Twitter for more information.
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