Eamonn Fitzgerald tells the unusual tale of Paul Russell, the Killarney man who won six All-Irelands and played for eight clubs in eight different counties
Dick Fitzgerald, Johnny Culloty and Colm Cooper were outstanding Kerry football stars, all winning five All-Ireland medals wearing the green and gold, but there was another Killarney man who went one better. A man about whom little enough is known. His achievements deserve recognition.
Paul Russell (1906-1965) was born in Mangerton View on July 2, 1906, the second youngster of a family of six (four girls and two boys). His only brother joined the Franciscan Order.
His near neighbour was Hugh O’Flaherty, who was eight years older than him. I don’t know if Hugh ever played football. I must ask his sister Pearl (Dineen) in Cahersiveen to clarify that, but he was an amateur golf champion and that was no surprise. His father Jim, whom I knew, was a steward in Killarney Golf & Fishing Club. Hugh became famous in another sphere, saving the lives of 6,500 Allies in Rome during World War II.
KICKING THE BALL
Now for some meat to flesh out Russell’s achievements. Most of our readers will not remember him, but quite a few knew Kathy, one of his sisters. Niall Keogh, the former Crokes player, interviewed her for ‘Dr Crokes Gaelic Century 1886-1986’. She said Paul’s first love was football and not “the books” because he spent endless hours kicking the ball around Mangerton View. There he perfected the drop-kick, a huge feature of football at that time, but now effectively gone out of the modern game as retaining possession at all times is the mantra.
The street had few cars then and Fitzgerald Stadium wasn’t built. Juvenile football wasn’t organised at that time, but the Street Leagues were hugely popular.
First off let’s look at Paul Russell’s stats: 6 x All-Ireland Senior Football medals (1924, 1926, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932), 3 x Railway Cups, 1 x Dublin Senior Football Championship.
He was a student in St Brendan’s College, Killarney and the 17-year-old had to get special permission to play in the 1923 final v Dublin, his first All-Ireland. He had never played for any Kerry team before this and hadn’t even got a trial. He had been playing for College Street in the Killarney Town Leagues and was a new lad on the Crokes senior team, but that was all.
It was enough for Dick Fitzgerald, the organiser (no such person as a manager that time) who knew that this fellow would make it. He convinced his fellow Kerry selectors to gamble on this strapping young Killarney man and put him in directly at wing back for the 1923 final. That was of a Tuesday. The first he heard of his Kerry selection was on his way to school in the Sem on the following morning (Wednesday). Frank O’Shea (the local blacksmith obviously being Twitter before its time) delivered the hot news.
The Sem boss at the time was Canon John Breen and he was overjoyed, declaring that the college would celebrate this distinction with a holiday to mark Paul’s amazing achievement. He didn’t bother contacting the Department of Education to pass it by them. He ruled and no one objected.
On Saturday Dick Fitzgerald took Russell up to the train and introduced him to his teammates. Russell said he was very nervous as they booked into Barry’s Hotel.
In the dressing room Jack Prendergast (‘Pendy the Jersey Man’) was a key figure. God knows Kerry have had some great bagmen down through the years, all great characters. I think fondly of the great Gaffney (Duggan) who made sure that the perk would stay in Tralee when he got too old to lift the bag of jerseys. He coached Leo (Griffin) to take over from him many years later. The power struggle switched to Killarney and up popped Niall Botty O’Callaghan to give out those precious geansaís. Who has that job now?
Prendy threw Russell the number five geansaí and Paul didn’t leave the Kerry side down with a fine display. They were just edged out by Dublin, 1-5 to 1-3. No medal at the first attempt.
Paul Russell brought something new to the game, perfecting the drop-kick. In the words of Michael O’Hehir, “he sends a long relieving clearance down the field turning defence into attack”.
At that time players were never allowed to stray out of their zones of play. A half back was not allowed to come up beyond midfield, but that did not deter Russell, who was a man before his time, an attacking half-back soloing up the field into enemy territory. That was strange in that era, as Dr Eamonn masterminded Kerry’s All-Ireland victories by promoting own zone play and he drew out that plan for the players on a blackboard. That was the secret to success in 1955, over the hitherto dominant Dublin machine.
Russell went home on the train after the match and was up early for school the following morning. He didn’t have his Greek homework done for obvious reasons, and the heroics of the previous day in Croke Park were not an acceptable excuse. No mercy, no cop-on. Sín amach do lámh and the priest/teacher gave him the customary six ruts. Ouch.
No bother for Russell to take it, as it hardened him for a glorious future to win six All-Irelands. Champions Dublin hoped to retain their title, but not this time. Hard to believe it but the score in the 1924 All-Ireland final was four points to three. Paul Russell won the first of his medals and he was still only 26 years old when he earned his sixth within eight years.
He played on the first Kerry team to win four-in-a-row (1929-1932). He won three Railway Cup medals, two with Munster and he also won one with Leinster. In fact, he was picked to play for both Munster and Leinster in the same year in the same competition and the GAA had to step in to decree that he must play with Leinster, which he did. Strange to relate that he played for Dublin in 1927, but reverted to Kerry for the four-in-a-row.
8 CLUBS, 8 COUNTIES
He is the only player I know of who played with eight different GAA clubs and in eight different counties. What’s more he was legal in all cases. Even Dan Dwyer would be stumped by that remarkable feat. Russell was a member of the Garda Síochána, so he was stationed all over the country.
His winning clubs and their respective counties were Dr Crokes (Kerry), Garda (Dublin), Dungarvan (Waterford), Kilconnell (Galway), Killevin (Monaghan), Smithboro (Cavan), Oldcastle (Meath), and Rockfordsfordbridge (Wexford).
Some strange names in that eight. I wonder how many of these clubs still exist?
Russell was also a fine sprinter, taking on the best in the All-Ireland athletics, often held in the Garda Sportsground.
He was just 19 years old when he became the first secretary of the newly formed East Kerry Board as we know it today. Dick Fitzgerald was the organiser and its first Chairman in 1925.
THE TWO PAULS
In 1925, Kerry beat Cavan 1-7 to 2-3 in the All-Ireland semi-final played in Tralee, but were subsequently disqualified for using an illegal player.
Russell had some great duels with Paul Doyle, the prolific Kildare half-forward in that age of the great Kerry v Kildare rivalry, 1926-1931. Kerry’s four-in-a-row depended on Russell keeping Doyle, Kildare’s most dangerous forward, to a minimum of points. It went into folklore as the Battle of the Two Pauls. The late Paddy Kiely from Woodlawn wrote these lines:
And wherever Doyle (Kildare) did roam,
His star was always clouded,
By the boy (Russell) from Beauty’s Home.
In 1926 they beat Kildare after a replay 1-4 to 0-4. In 1929 Kerry just edged out Kildare 1-8 to 1-5 and seal the first of the four-in–a-row for Kerry and for Paul Russell. In 1930 they had a big win over Monaghan 3-11 to 0-2. Kildare were back in 1931, but Paul Russell stemmed the tide once more to keep the winning Kerry momentum going, 1-11 to 0-8. He won his sixth medal in 1932 when they beat Mayo 2-7 to 2-4.
He ended his intercounty care in style in ‘32. There were just four minutes left in the semi-final game and Dublin were leading by a goal. Paul Russell gained possession from a Paddy Whitty free and sent one of his trademark drop-kicks into the Dublin goal. The ball hit the ground in the middle of the square and careered off the mud into the net. Half-back Russell was credited with the goal. Kerry added a point in time added on for a 1-3 to 1-1 victory and so to a win over Mayo in the final 2-7 to 2-4. Six All-Ireland medals and Paul Russell was still just 26 years old.
Paul Russell continued to play club football all over the country and again he made his mark.
When he was stationed in Dublin, his Garda boss was Eoin Duffy, who became the second Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, the police force of the new Irish Free State,. Later Duffy led The Blueshirts. Duffy saw the opportunity to build an All-Ireland team of gardaí and got Russell to play for the Garda club, and switch his allegiance to play for Dublin. Russell was very reluctant to turn his back on Kerry, but in those days the Commissioner gave you no choice if you wanted promotion.
He thought very seriously about leaving the gardaí, but Dr Éamonn advised him to stick it out. He also won a Dublin County Championship with Garda.
Russell was the hero of club teams he played with when he was stationed in 8 different counties. He switched to hurling in 1938 and trained the Wexford hurlers to win that All-Ireland. He also played for the football team.
He was revered in Meath and as Paddy O’Brien, that great Meath full back, was quoted so often: “We would have won no All-Ireland only for Paul Russell; being around the team had a huge effect on us. He knew about winning All-Irelands and letting him train the team was very important. He brought something new to the county”.
When he went to Oldcastle as a Garda sergeant he was the catalyst for success. Meath nearly did it in 1939 and had to wait until 1949 to win their first All-Ireland with Paul Russell still their guiding force. To this day they talk about the Kerryman who showed them how to win All-Irelands.
He was assistant trainer to Dr Éamonn in 1953 when Kerry won 0-13 to 1-6 v Armagh. Many contend that Kerry should have won in 1950 and in 1951.
Strangely enough although he was great friends with Dr Eamonn, the two fellow Croke club members took opposite sides in the public debate on the Ban, which came before GAA Congress in 1962. Since they were well known public figures in the GAA they made headlines in The Kerryman. That was prior to the founding of the Killarney Advertiser. Such was his high profile that when he finished playing he became a Gaelic games writer for his weekly column in the Sunday Review and also wrote for The Kerryman newspaper. He was a controversial writer and won no favours with the top brass in the GAA while arguing his viewpoint that Rule 27 (the controversial ban) should be abolished. He stood out on a limb in that controversy aided by Tom Woulfe, a fellow Kerryman, whom I knew in Dublin.
In 1965, although he was gravely ill, he asked to be taken to the National League final to see his beloved Kerry play Galway.
He died shortly afterwards and was buried in Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin on June 9, not far away from the grave of Éamonn Mac Gearailt, a former Kerry All-Ireland winning teammate of his in 1931. The latter went on to represent Ireland in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, just edged out of a bronze medal by one inch. Gold medallist Dr Pat O’Callaghan, who worked in St Finan’s Hospital, said that the Castlecove man would surely have won gold only for his injured ankle. A cortisone injection brought him so close.
Éamonn was the forgotten Olympian until the late Weeshie Fogarty got the Kerrymen’s Association in Dublin to erect a monument to a great Kerry and Irish
Paul Russell’s achievements are well known throughout Ireland, but I often wonder have we forgotten about Paul Russell, the Mangerton View garsún, the high achieving football star and sports writer?
Tobin hails Spa teammates following ‘fairytale’ final
by Adam Moynihan
Spa have been desperate to win Kerry’s Intermediate Club Championship, and earn promotion back to senior level, since 2010 when they were demoted at the first time of asking following their Intermediate final victory the year before.
With the other clubs in the parish (Dr Crokes and the Killarney Legion) operating at senior, and with a strong batch of young players coming through in recent years, returning to the top table as quickly as possible has been the club’s primary target. They came close on a number of occasions in the intervening years, losing three finals between 2012 and 2015.
They finally managed to reach the mountain top on Sunday last and there was one remarkable link between 2009 and their latest triumph. Cian Tobin’s last full season with Spa was in 2009. He then emigrated to London and later Abu Dhabi, before returning to Killarney this year and linking up with his club.
Tobin played a key role for Spa as they broke their hoodoo by defeating Beaufort in last Sunday’s decider at the Fitzgerald Stadium. The skilful corner forward bagged 3-1 in the 4-18 to 1-19 win, a tally which earned him the sponsor’s Man of the Match award.
As far as comebacks go, this one is fairly special. However, amidst all the celebrations, the fact that Tobin missed out on a decade of hard graft and tough losses has not been lost on his colleagues.
“The lads have been giving me an awful slagging this week,” the 30-year-old says with a smile. “They’ve been saying, ‘you are so jammy, you’ve been away for years and you come back and we win it straight away!’
“I missed a lot of the hard work in those winter months. I was joking with them that I was doing the warm weather training for the last 10 years while they were up in Spa in the rain.
“To be fair, I found it easy to fit in when I came back because the young fellas and the management team are outstanding to work with it.”
Beaufort, who are relative newcomers to intermediate having won the Junior Premier Championship in 2018, gave as good as they got in the first half of Sunday’s final, but Tobin’s opening goal in the 25th minute came at just the right time for Spa.
“I thought Beaufort were excellent,” Tobin reflects. “I went with Shane Cronin to watch their semi-final (versus Na Gaeil) and I was very impressed. Some of their kicking the last day was outstanding too. There was great forward play. Liam Carey got a point that was an absolutely scandalous score.
“It was tight in the first half until the first goal came. It just fell to me in the right position. I got lucky. Until then it was very close.”
Goals two and three followed in the second half. They were neatly tucked away by Spa’s No. 15, but, to his mind, the credit goes to his teammates for teeing him up.
“Shane Cronin is a machine when he gets going, he’s very hard to stop. He put [the second goal] on a plate for me. I didn’t really have much to do again. But yeah, once that went in there was a bit of daylight. In all our matches we have been pushing on in that third quarter, and that’s when we kind of pulled away again on Sunday.
“The third one was a great turnover by Ciarán Spillane and, again, he put it on a plate for me. It was one of them days… I know someone has to score them but the work was done out the field really.”
Guided by the management team of Ivor Flynn, Kieran Herlihy, Brian Gleeson, Neily Kerins and Arthur Fitzgerald, Spa powered to an eight-point win. Does the manner of their performance perhaps underline the fact that they deserve a crack at senior?
“I think so,” Tobin nods. “Everyone from No. 5 up, bar one, scored. That’s a massive spread of scorers. And then we have the full back line of Brian Lynch, Shane Lynch and Eoin Fitzgerald… In years past maybe we would have had a few weaker spots in the team but I think we’re strong all over the field now.”
The effect COVID-19 has had on the 2020 and 2021 GAA calendars means that the 2020 Intermediate champs now have a rapid turnaround ahead of their long-awaited senior bow. First up is a group phase match against their neighbours and fierce rivals, Dr Crokes, on Sunday.
“Nice introduction, isn’t it?!” Tobin jokes. “That’s where you want to be, though. Playing in those kinds of games in the Fitzgerald Stadium against the club kingpins in Kerry. Now that we’re there, hopefully we can do ourselves justice.
“It means a lot [to be a senior club]. We thought ourselves that we deserved to be there, and we’ve put in the work to be there, we just haven’t always got the rub of the green in recent years. It felt like, ‘are we ever going to get over the line?’
“The feeling at the final whistle on Sunday was just relief more than anything, I think, because we’ve been there so many times.
“Maybe not so much me because I’ve been away, but I think it was three finals we lost, and we lost some close games against Templenoe recently. We always thought we were good enough to get over the line but we just hadn’t been doing it.
“To be honest, it was fairytale stuff for me.”
Late drama at exciting Celtic Golf Classic
The last team out at the Killarney Celtic Golf Classic carded 106 points to overtake all who went before at an entertaining fundraiser staged over two days at the pristine Beaufort Golf Club. From Friday to late Saturday afternoon, the imposing tally of 101 points registered by the O’Donoghue Ring Hotel Group team of James […]
The last team out at the Killarney Celtic Golf Classic carded 106 points to overtake all who went before at an entertaining fundraiser staged over two days at the pristine Beaufort Golf Club.
From Friday to late Saturday afternoon, the imposing tally of 101 points registered by the O’Donoghue Ring Hotel Group team of James McCarthy, Brian McCarthy, Cian Harte and Gavin Murray looked like being a winning one. The got a scare when the Spa GAA team almost caught them; Seánie Kelliher, Donal Cronin, John Cahill and Seán Devane ultimately carded a great score of 100 points to go second.
With the O’Donoghue Ring Hotel Group quartet hanging on for victory, it was all down to Kissane Meats and Pat O’Neill, John England, Tony Sugrue and Donie Brosnan snatched first place by hitting a weekend high of 106 points.
The Nearest to the Pin was won by Aaron Jones of the Dawn Meats team while the Longest Drive came from the club of Mark O’Shea who was representing Tom Meehan’s team.
Speaking at the prizegiving, Killarney Celtic Vice Chairman Paul Sherry thanked all involved for contributing to another hugely successful fundraising day for the club.
“Killarney Celtic is indebted to its members who volunteered over the two days,” he said, “to those who sponsored the prizes, entered teams, took signs, provided the fruit and chocolate and of course, most importantly, played on Friday and Saturday.
“We also must thank the staff at Beaufort, both working on the course and those in the clubhouse.
“A sign of a good golf classic is the number of returning teams and sponsors and already a number have committed to join us again in August/September 2022.”
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