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The proud history of the East Kerry Board



Ahead of today's county final, Eamonn Fitzgerald charts the long and storied history of the East Kerry Board


East Kerry and Mid Kerry will clash in the Kerry SFC final at Austin Stack Park, Tralee this evening, with very few people there as spectators. I bet Mike Allen will get in to see his club man, Jack Sherwood, play. Mike hasn’t missed a county final for many decades. However, next best thing for most is live streaming.

I expect East Kerry, the reigning champions, to retain their title, but first for the benefit of On the Ball readers let’s take a brief look at the East Kerry Board. It was founded in 1925, long after the founding of the GAA in Thurles 1884.

A report in the Cork Examiner dated April 21, 1874 reported on ‘Killarney Football Sunday Evening’. It was an account of a match between the town side and the country boys from the present Flesk Bridge area on the Muckross side. There were also reports of football being played not alone in Killarney but also in its hinterland, including Kilcummin, Ballyhar, Firies and wherever. No organised clubs, as yet. Dr Crokes were quick off the mark, founded in 1886.

Kilcummin came in 1910 and others followed, such as the Legion in 1929.


The War of Independence up to 1922 and the Civil War of 1922-1923 resulted in nonstop postponements. Young people were starved for action, so the Dr Crokes club decided on October 18, 1924 to initiate an inter-street league tournament for Killarney. The teams were College Street, High Street, New Street (the Boys Below the Bridge) and Main Street. They drew great crowds and rivalry was intense, but what about the players from the surrounding districts?

Enter the East Kerry Board, who held their first meeting in 1925. It was attended by Dr Crokes, Currow, Farranfore, Firies, Headford, Kenmare, Kilcummin and Killorglin.

The first chairman of the EKB was Dick Fitzgerald and the secretary was Paul Russell. This duo, legendary Kerry All-Ireland winners and skilful Dr Crokes players, got the board off to a great start. The EKB has been blessed with high calibre officers through the tears right down to today with Johnny Brosnan (chairman) and Noel Kennedy (secretary). In my view the EKB officers played an essential part in the East Kerry team winning eight Kerry SFC titles to date. (On Sunday I expect them to make it nine.)

East Kerry didn’t win their first title until 1965. Backboned by Kerry stars Tom Long, Johnny Culloty, Mick Gleeson and Donie O’Sullivan, they were captained by Donal Socky Lynch, as good a corner back as any goalkeeper would wish for. Slight in stature, he was as tough as nails and a practitioner of the “thou shalt not pass” doctrine. He had the uncanny knack of defending without fouling.

For good measure, East Kerry won the Kerry Minor Championship in 1965, captained by Tom O'Keeffe of Gneeveguilla. Then came the three in a row of 1968-70, and greater things were to come.

They had great players but they also had the splendid organisational skills of EKB officers Brendan Walshe (chairman) and Denis Fenton (secretary), both now dead, God rest them both. And then there was Donie Sheahan, who trained the three-in-a-row team and the winning All-Ireland Club side in 1971.

No need or indeed hints of having coaches, managers, physios, video analysts and the myriad of overloaded others involved with the modern teams. Donie combined the lot in one. His game plan was simple. Win the ball, kick (not hand pass) the ball to your best placed teammate and make every post a winner. Take the goals and the points will come.

That’s what happened in 1971, when East Kerry led by Mick Gleeson, an inspiring captain, and a team of great players beat Bryansford, the county Down champions. Brendan Walshe and Denis Fenton were happy campers in Croke Park that day. It’s great to see Donie Sheahan still as exuberant as ever in his 94th year. He was born the same day as the Queen of England. Stop there. They never met.


1971 was the first year of the All-Ireland Club competition. East Kerry were so strong that the GAA stopped all divisional board teams from playing in the All-Ireland Club Championship thereafter. That is why the Kerry Club Championship run in recent weeks is so important as the club winners will go on to Munster and hopefully the All-Ireland Club series. COVID -19 will not allow that privilege this year. Thanks to Seán Kelly the intermediate and junior clubs also have their chances of a day of glory in Croke Park.

Back to East Kerry and after the great day in Croker they made little progress until 1997, 1998 and 1999, another three-in-a-row, powered by county stars such as Séamus Moynihan, John Crowley and Donal Daly. Nothing then until last year when they beat Dr Crokes in the final.

That makes it eight and I expect them to make it nine this evening. Throw-in is at 7pm.

If East Kerry are allowed the same composition of clubs next year they will be even stronger still, with Kilcummin joining them as they were relegated recently when they lost to Templenoe. Imagine Jerry O’Sullivan spoiled for choice. Go no further than your No. 1. Who will be chosen as goalkeeper 2021, Shane Ryan the present Kerry senior netminder, or Brendan Kealy, the former Kerry goalie? That’s a nice dilemma for any manager. Of course, you could pick Shane Ryan in a variety of positions outfield, but…

I believe East Kerry will win today, mainly because they have the best set of forwards in the county. In the semi-final versus St Brendan’s they had to go without David Clifford, their talisman, who was out on suspension. Dara Moynihan, Darragh Roche and Evan Cronin stepped into the breach to show that this is not a one-man team. Full credit must go to East Kerry’s midfield, where Kerry players Jack Barry and Diarmuid O’Connor were expected to rule the roost. They didn’t and with Liam Kearney expected to be back i lár an ghoirt for East Kerry, there will be more ball going in directly to the full forward line, or else worked in by Paudie Clifford,who will be wearing the No. 11 geansaí. When he drives forward at pace Mid Kerry will need to stop him early on.


Mid Kerry have a good half back line with Mike Breen and Pa Kilkenny very prominent against Dr Cokes. They can also break forward and hit Mid Kerry’s ace forward Gavan O’Grady. He is their chief scorer, but I’ve no doubt Jerry O’Sullivan will have a tactic to negative this proficient scorer. Will he sacrifice Jack Sherwood to do the marking job on O’Grady, at the expense of playing his own game? Sherwood has been outstanding in this campaign. Putting Kerry star Paul Murphy on him would be counterproductive. It would stifle his own game and those piercing runs in to attack.

I don’t underestimate Mid Kerry. In their semi-final they rattled in two goals within 90 seconds, had to overcome a four-point deficit in extra time and came back from the brink of defeat at the death with an opportunist goal from who else but Gavan O’Grady.

Take note of Mid Kerry’s Jackie Brosnan. He had a great semi-final versus Dr Crokes and there is a Killarney connection. His father Donal was a nippy forward with the Legion for many years. Donal’s father was Jackie from New Street, hence the promising grandchild Jackie.


No doubt local man Teddy Bowler will be hoping for a Mid Kerry win. He was a sterling full back in 1967 when they first won it, defeating West Kerry 0-12 to 2-4. They were beaten by East Kerry in 1965, 0-10 to 0-4 after a replay. Their last win came in 2008 so it has been a long wait for Mid Kerry, but I feel they will have to wait another year. I predict an East Kerry win by five points or so.


Above: Kerry and Dr Crokes legend Dick Fitzgerald was the first chairman of the East Kerry Board / Current star Paudie Clifford (Pic: Sportsfile).

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No reform for football championship as Plan B falls short



by Adam Moynihan

There will be no radical change for the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship in 2022 after a motion to restructure the format of the competition failed at GAA Special Congress on Saturday afternoon.

Motion 19 (also referred to as ‘Proposal B’ or ‘Plan B’) proposed that the National League and All-Ireland Championship should become one competition, with the provincial championships being separated from the All-Ireland series for the first time ever.

The motion needed support from 60% of delegates but, contrary to projections, it fell well short of that majority. In the end, after an hour-and-a-quarter of debate, just 50.6% of voters opted for Plan B.

Plan A – four groups of eight “provinces” plus an All-Ireland series – garnered far less support. 90% of those present voted against that particular proposal, which was down as Motion 18 on the agenda.

The end result of the two failed motions is that intercounty football will revert to the status quo as it was before the Super 8s were introduced in 2018, with a qualifier or “back door” system in place. A second tier competition known as the Tailteann Cup will also be staged.


Introducing Motion 19 to delegates at Croke Park, former GAA President John Horan described the proposal as a starting point.

“If we feel we need to improve it, that opportunity would be there,” he said. “This proposal will mean more matches for our players and a better playing to training ratio.”

CEO of the Gaelic Players Association Tom Parsons said the ‘league as championship’ model would spark life into Gaelic football, before reading the testimonies of some intercounty players who supported Plan B. Among them was current Kerry captain Paul Murphy, who was quoted as saying: “The time has come to try a new structure for our football championship.”

Parsons added that some players are being “laughed at” while wearing county tracksuits after suffering heavy defeats.

Former GAA President and ex-Kerry GAA Chairman Seán Kelly also spoke out in favour of Proposal B, suggesting that it should be trialled for a period of three years.

“If you stand still, you go backwards,” the Kilcummin native said. “This motion should be trialled for a maximum of three years and then reviewed. To turn our backs on the voice of the players does not make sense to me.”

Michael Duignan from Offaly, Colm Collins from Clare, Seán Carroll from Sligo, Kevin O’Donovan from Cork and Declan Bohan from Leitrim all backed the proposal.

Representatives from Mayo, Donegal, Antrim, Cavan, Derry, Monaghan and Armagh argued against.

Mayo GAA Chairman Liam Moffatt raised concerns about the sixth place team in Division 1 not qualifying for the All-Ireland series while teams from lower divisions would.

Tiernach Mahon of Fermanagh GAA said that “this motion has the potential to destroy the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of Fermanagh people”.

Meanwhile, Kerry GAA chair Tim Murphy called for Motion 19 to be voted on at Congress 2022 instead.

“It’s a really strong motion with really good attributes and something we should really consider. But I would caveat that by saying it would be a travesty today if the motion is put to the floor and defeated. All the work of the committee would go to waste.

“The sense I get from the floor is that everybody is for change and for us to grow and evolve as an Association we have to accept that. I do feel the motion has huge attributes, but maybe we should go around to the provinces and invite in county officers and players to have their view. If we come back in 12 or 13 weeks with the same motion, then no-one can say we haven’t discussed it properly.

“Perhaps bringing this motion to Congress 2022 is the best solution to the situation we find ourselves in.”

Bringing the debate to a close, Horan again urged delegates to back the proposal.

His pleas fell on deaf ears, however – at least for 83 of the 168 people in attendance. 100 ‘yes’ votes were needed for change, but Motion 19 received just 85.

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A lover of music and song: Jimmy O’Brien RIP



Eamonn Fitzgerald remembers the late Jimmy O’Brien, the eminently popular bar owner, singer and GAA fan who left an indelible mark on the town of Killarney.

Publican Jimmy O’Brien was laid to rest at sunny Aghadoe on Monday last. He wouldn’t want any fuss, but he got his promise from his lifelong friend, Jimmy Doyle. Jimmy was on the button accordion playing ‘Mary from Bonane’, a firm favourite, and even more so in recent weeks when Bonane native Seán O’Shea was kicking points from all angles.

After his love for his family, nothing meant more to Jimmy O’Brien than football, music and song.

Born in the town land of Lyreatough, Kilcummin in 1932, he attended the local Anabla NS and was well inducted in the various stages of getting the turf from sleán to the reek in the haggard. He was of the bog and proud of it. But he knew it was very hard work and headed for town, specifically Culloty’s Garage at Fair Hill (now Killarney Hardware). There he learned his trade as a mechanic. He didn’t boast about it but was very proud of the papers he received to certify him as fully qualified.

Like so many more people of that time, he was taken to America by Patrick Cronin in 1956 and was home for good in 1961. He must have collected a fair fistful of dollars and held on to them because, when Conno Healy’s pub came up for sale in 1959 (across the road from Culloty’s), he bought it. He returned home to open up Jimmy O’Brien’s pub along with his wife, Mary.

The family came along in due course – Siobhán, Ann and Jim – and the business grew. All went well until September 29, 1994, when his beloved Mary passed away aged 61. Too young to die and it hit him hard. No wonder; wasn’t she his life and soul?

His three children, the bar and his twin loves of football and song kept him going. He had no time for soccer, recounting times he would go up to the Friary, say the rosary, and still no score when he returned.

He was an ardent supporter of the Kerry football teams, but even more passionate about club football. Which was his club?


Set the scene in the Fair Hill bar, with a nice crowd inside. That’s the way he liked it – he got a bit flustered if it became jam-packed. It’s summer time and the O’Donoghue Cup draw has been published.

Johnny Batt (Cronin) was the instigator, and his Spa club mates the Herlihy brothers (Dave and William) stirred it further. Who was Jimmy going to support in the forthcoming matches, in which the rivalry would be intense? Mick Gleeson was as philosophical as ever; he knew better than to try and win this one.

The McCarthy brothers from Gneeveguilla, Thado, Joe and Billy, were in fast to lay claim to the boss of the house. After all, wasn’t he reared in the traditions of Sliabh Luachra and one of its finest sean-nós singers? Rosy was far more definite. Gneeveguilla, of course, I have to say.

Kilcummin’s Dermot Moynihan was in no doubt about how the allegiance would stand. After all, Jimmy was born in the parish, went to school in the parish and the parish rule was, and still is, sacrosanct in Kerry football.

The odds favoured the country clubs and were stacked against the townies. Weeshie Fogarty was a regular and he had lined Jimmy up for Terrace Talk.

His daughter, Ann, married Harry O’Neill (Dr Crokes), Tom Long was his gun club friend traipsing around Cock Hill and not a word out of him, but beside him supping porter and watching the scene develop was Mike Cooper, the man who was born just inside the county bounds and was now living in Killarney. The Crokes are the team, said Mike, his chest swelling with pride. He had just returned from Cahersiveen where Dr Crokes had defied the odds to beat the Maurice Fitzgerald-led South Kerry team in the Kerry County Championship. Five of his sons played the full match to secure victory. But I thought there were only four?

“No, I have five, all good, but the youngest is only a slip of a lad. You’d think you’d blow him over, but the foxy boy will be the best of all of them.” How right he was. The boy became a man and won five All-Irelands with Kerry. Crokes went on to win the 2000 Kerry SFC, managed by Harry O’Neill, Jimmy’s son-in-law.

How was the proprietor going to get out of this one before the gallery of rogues? Sure, he was the greatest rogue of all himself, but we loved him for it.

Everyone looked to Jimmy for an answer, but he turned to another regular, the independent voice of Bracker, from the Rock.

Plenty of grimacing and carry on, but no answer to Johnny Batt’s question. Jimmy O’Brien had the knack of not falling out with anyone and he couldn’t win this one, so he carried confirmation of club allegiance with him to his grave.

I’m pretty sure it is Gneeveguilla, in the heart of Sliabh Luachra, which made Jimmy O’Brien a household name in traditional music, especially with his lifelong ‘brother’ Jimmy Doyle. He embraced the greatness of Julia Clifford, Denis Murphy, Johnny O’Leary, the Doyle brothers and many more.


What’s more, he enhanced that marvellous tradition, not in playing, but in singing. I asked Jimmy Doyle at the graveside about Jimmy on the melodeon. “Oh, he could play… But he was only alright! But for singing he was tops, pure and just outstanding. He could interpret a song so well. You wouldn’t hear a pin drop when he sang unaccompanied.”

Is it any wonder that his pub in Fair Hill was a mecca for traditional singers and musicians? They came to the master’s pub for a session.

Paddy Moloney, chief of The Chieftains, was a regular caller; as were The Dubliners; and the Kelly brothers, Luke of ‘Raglan Road’ and Paddy, who was also a beautiful singer. When Paddy was head of the Trade Unions, they held their conferences in Killarney’s Great Southern Hotel. Business over, they trooped down to O’Brien’s. The pint was much cheaper there and they would have a right session singing, and what are you having yourself, sir?

Dolly McMahon, The Wolfe Tones, and the Begley’s all came to sing and play.

There were so many impromptu sessions and you’d get the discreet phone call that the session had already started. “Come, you’ll enjoy it, but ná h-abair focal to anyone.” What an invitation to listen to musical greats from the list above.

“Johnny O’Leary and the Doyles will be here around 10. We have Seán Ó Sé (Poc ar Buile), Johnny Lehane and Diarmaidín Ó Súillabháin will be here from Cúl Aodh. He’ll have the recorder for Radio na Gaeltachta.”

Regular visitors were Mick O’Connell, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, Donncha Ó Dulaing and Cíarán Mac Mathúna. Thankfully, Ciarán recorded so many of Jimmy’s songs, preserving this priceless legacy for the Irish oral tradition.

And then there were the American tourists drawn to a real Irish pub. They wanted ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Galway Bay’. They also wanted to know what music college from which the vintner graduated. The prime boys from UCC provided him with the answer for the Yanks question. The University of Sliabh Luachra, with its constituent college in Lyreatough. “Wow, fancy that. Must Google that when we get back to the States.”


My friendship with Jimmy O’Brien goes back a long ways, but specifically to November 1969, when East Kerry won the second of their Kerry SFC titles and the Bishop Moynihan Cup had pride of place.

He introduced me to so many people, including Con Houlihan, sitting in the high seat inside the door, hair well down his back, no pigtail and his hand cupped to his nose. This genius of a wordsmith was a shy man that I met many times later in Dublin.

Just like Paddy Moloney, Jimmy shared his talents with so many young up and coming singers who went on to great things in life. I recall one such case. A very young nervous girl was preparing for her first time on stage, a recitation in Scór. Would he help her out?

Would he what? Bring her along. To this day the now adult woman recalls sitting up on that seat inside the door and this gentle, loving man encouraging her with great tips.

That seat is long gone, but not the bar stand. He splashed out on a magnificent mahogany piece, surplus to the requirements of the Great Southern. “That’s not like you,” says Johnny Batt. “What’ll you use it for?”

“It’ll be a fine bar counter,” Jimmy replied. “And what’s more, when its job is done, won’t it make a fine coffin?”

He was a great Friary man and the highlight of St Patrick’s Day was the singing of the Ár nAthair. Father and daughter, Jimmy and Siobhán, the All-Ireland champion singer unaccompanied in touching harmony. Flawless. Enchanting.

His relationship with his son Jim was more like that of brothers, looking after each other. They got great joy out of travelling to matches in the ageless red Mercedes, certainly the only one in Killarney, if not in Europe. He never got a parking ticket and definitely was never caught for speeding. I’m convinced that the former mechanic set cruise control at 40km and away she went with co-pilot Jim Bob. No need for GPS, Jim Bob in control. God help the poor motorist trying to pass out on the rural roads.

July was his favourite month to live his passions. The Munster final in Killarney on the first Sunday of July was the occasion to meet so many of his friends from afar. It was also the first day of the Willie Clancy festival at Miltown–Malbay and that ran for a week. He never missed it, linking up with Galway hurlers Joe McDonagh and the Connolly brothers and especially their aunts and uncles, the Jimmy O’Brien cultivators of traditional singing and music in Connemara. It was his spiritual retreat. Sustenance for another year.

His nephew, Fr Liam O’Brien, celebrated the touching funeral mass, enhanced by the singing of Maura Reen.

I had the good fortune to spend an hour with Jimmy less than a fortnight before he died. He wanted to know the inside story on Jack O’Connor’s return and then sang ‘The Boys of Bárr na Sráide’ and Garry McMahon’s ‘Kerry’s Green and Gold’.

Pitch perfect. Word perfect. Never a faltering note.

“Not bad for an ould fella,” were his parting words. He knew he could still do it and I was so happy to video live the Master of Songs, treasured recordings for the memory bank.

I wonder if St Peter will listen in on the hop balls between new neighbours, Johnny Batt and Jimmy O’Brien?

To Siobhán, Ann, Jim and extended families, as well as friends from far and near, comhbhrón ó chroí.

Traditional cultural Ireland has lost some great people in recent weeks: Tony Loughnane, Paddy Moloney, Máire Mac an tSaoí, Brendan Kennelly and Jimmy O’Brien. Class acts.

And Jimmy, go gcloisfidh tú na h-aingil ag déanamh ceoil leat ar Neamh.

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