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What links Olympic gold and the Cathedral spire?

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Eamonn Fitzgerald shares the tale of Johnny Hayes, the Irish-American Olympian who played his part in erecting the spire of Killarney’s iconic Cathedral.

Sport presents a microcosm of life itself. Both swing from highs to lows, or vice versa if one is fortunate.

For the Tokyo Games, Kellie Harrington presented Ireland with a real chance of Olympic gold. She won the gold medal in the lightweight division at the 2018 Women's World Boxing Championships. Skibbereen rowers Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy were also hotly tipped. They have delivered on the promise and hopefully Kellie is still in contention. This column was put to bed before her recent bouts.

She put sport in context with with philosophical clarity in a brilliant one-liner: “The Olympics is a journey, not a destination.”

We all experience the swings and lows of sport and of life. Kellie, the inner-city young lady, is well grounded in the realities of life for an area being in the news for all the wrong reasons. There, the drug barons dictate how the people live and in too many cases so many lives are lost in violent ways. She wasn’t born with a silver spoon, certainly not one of the elite class, but when it comes to boxing she is in the elite class. Now training with her club, St Mary’s BC in Tallaght, she will give it everything and hopefully win a medal, preferably gold. What an uplift that will give the Dublin community she cherishes.

I hope David Kenny from the Farranfore Maine Valley AC walks well in his event during the week. How proud we all were of Gillian O’Sullivan on her wonderful achievements on the world stage in the same sport. She was outstanding yet was denied Olympian glory because of the dreaded curse of all sports people: injuries. Sport is glamorous, but it is also cruel.

ALL WINNERS

The vast majority of the competitors in Tokyo have no chance of winning a medal, whatever the colour.

In my book all the competitors are heroes deserving of our support. Just to make it to Tokyo is fantastic achievement; that’s what it takes to be an Olympian. TV glamorises all the competitions, but rarely shows the huge sacrifices to make it to Tokyo. A rigorous fitness regime for the past four or five years, such as breaking the ice on the waters of Killarney’s lakes on bitterly cold January mornings before entering the water, shows the required discipline. Then there was the added fallout from COVID these past 18 months. Would the Games go ahead? Yes/no depending on the spread of the virus worldwide. How does one curtail a long-term training programme?

Last week I reported on Kerry’s 22-point trouncing of Cork in the Munster senior football final, but the Rebels did not have long to wait for the pendulum to swing in faraway Tokyo, where Skibbereen’s rowing duo Paul O’Donovan and Fintan O’Leary won Olympic gold. Emily Hegarty, another Skib rower, showed them the way earlier by winning a bronze medal, Ireland’s first at Toyko. The Rebels basked in reflected glory. We all did, just like the good old Charlton years. The timing is perfect as Ireland needs a boost after life-changing experiences this past 18 months or so coping with the challenges of COVID.

Three Olympic medals from one small town in West Cork. Is there something in the water of the local River Ilen that keeps providing world class rowers from the club that was only formed in 1970?

KIERAN MCCARTHY

Kieran McCarthy, sports editor of the Southern Star newspaper, is a native of Fossa and is well aware of the long and proud tradition of Fossa RC where Paul Griffin started before moving to Muckross. Paul was an Olympian rower at Athens (2004) and again in Beijing (2008).

When Kieran’s work took him to Skibbereen he witnessed rowing at the highest levels. In 2019 he published Something in the Water, capturing the essence of the local club’s ability. I would recommend that book to anyone.

MARATHON

Kerry and Killarney has produced many fine Olympians including Cathal Moynihan, Seán Casey, Paul Griffin and Gillian O’Sullivan, whom I have covered in previous editions.

Tomorrow one of my favourite events will grab our interest when the marathon, all 26 miles and 385 yards of it, invokes memories of the heroics of John Treacy and Gerry Kiernan. Treacy won silver, but for sheer grit I recall North Kerry’s Kiernan with flowing long black hair sticking with the leaders and finishing a very creditable ninth. God rest poor Gerry.

There is a Killarney connection to a gold medal winner in the 2008 marathon at the London Olympics. The story of Johnny Hayes in the 1908 London Olympics is worth telling.

His parents from Nenagh were Tipperary emigrated to the USA and their son Johnny joined the Irish American athletic club and progressed steadily in the longer races, which brought him to London for the 1908 Games.

Britain had decided again not to allow Ireland to field its own team, imperiously stating that, “Ireland is not a nation.” All Irish athletes would have to compete as members of the British team and Johnny was not allowed to run for Ireland, the land of his parents. Having to represent Britain infuriated the Irish athletes. This ban worked well for Britain in the 1896 Olympics in Athens, where Irish athletes won most of Britain’s medals in track and field. One of them, Peter O’Connor, rushed to the Olympic flagpole after winning the hop, step and jump, and pulled down the Union Jack, which had been raised in honour of his victory. In its place he flew a green flag for Ireland.

In steps Johnny Hayes, who is remembered for three things in particular. Firstly, he was the first man to win a marathon at the now official standard distance of 26 miles 385 yards, when Olympic officials lengthened the distance to put the finish line in front of the Royal Box. The previous Olympic marathons had been less than 25 miles long.

Secondly, he was not first over the line in London 1908, coming in behind Dorado Pietri of Italy. At the 24-mile mark, it was a three-man race. Charles Hefferon, an Irishman from South Africa, was in the lead, and Pietri was second. Hefferon cramped and was overcome by sickness, so now it was down to two.

As the Olympic stadium at Shepherd’s Bush came into view, 22-year-old Hayes, the youngest man in the race, closed the gap to 50 seconds behind Pietri. He could not shake off Hayes, the proverbial hare and the tortoise syndrome. Then the drama unfolded. As Pietri turned into the stadium with only 385 yards to go, he staggered and suddenly appeared delirious. He ‘hit the wall’ and anyone who ever ran a marathon will empathise with that moment. He wobbled off in the wrong direction but British officials turned him around. He took a few steps and collapsed. The officials then lifted him to his feet, and helped him on his way. Again he collapsed and again he was lifted to his feet. Just short of the finish, Pietri started to collapse for the fifth time. Jack Andrews, the chief British official, grabbed him and carried him across the line, 30 seconds ahead of Hayes.

The assistance the officials gave to Pietri was a clear violation of the rules. Nevertheless, the British immediately raised the Italian flag and announced Pietri the victor. Pietri didn’t know or care. He was carried away on a stretcher, delirious and out of it.

Meanwhile, Hayes finished strongly, the heat and humidity not seeming to affect him. “Heat never bothers me,” said Hayes later. “My grandfather and father were bakers, and I worked in the bakery as a boy. I was used to the heat.” Nor did the sight of the Italian flag disturb him. They had to disqualify Pietri but they tried not to. It took several hours and a formal protest from the United States before the British admitted that Pietri had been illegally aided and was, therefore, disqualified.

Johnny Hayes was declared the winner.

Thirdly, back in Killarney, some entrepreneurs got the bright idea to invite the gold medallist to come here on his way home from London and help raise funds for the Cathedral spire.

Bishop Egan and Lord Kenmare were the prime movers in building St Mary’s Cathedral in the early 1840s. The church had been designed by Pugin in the Gothic style we know it today. Fr Thomas Joseph O’Sullivan was put in charge of the building committee on the site known as Falvey’s Inch, and construction started in 1842. The building was stalled for the Famine years, especially the years 1847 to 1852, and in its unfinished state it was used as a mass centre during those awful years - not as an auxiliary workhouse for Famine victims, as many people think.

The cillín near the present main door was used to bury the Famine children. You can see the sign beside the massive tree that is used to hang the Christmas lights. Sadly, Pugin died in 1852 at the age of 40. Work on the cathedral recommenced in 1853 and was consecrated in 1855, but it lacked the spire so prominent in photographs.

In 1908 the building of the spire commenced, but where was the money to come from? Killarney is known worldwide to have people with vision and determination to progress. Why not invite Johnny Hayes, the Irish-American, to visit Killarney and have the sports star heading up a fundraiser for the emerging spire.

I still haven’t found out who these sports visionaries were, but they organised a monster athletic meeting and top of the bill was the new golden boy, Johnny Hayes.

HALF MOON

Spectators were delighted to pay in to see the wonder boy and Johnny delivered. He ran in a race in the Demesne, not a marathon but a long distance race nevertheless. That part of the Demesne was then and still known as the Half Moon, home for Killarney Athletic AFC. for many years before they moved to their splendid grounds in Woodlawn on the banks of the Flesk. The Cathedral was completed, spire and all, in 1912 and remained thus until the 1970s when Bishop Eamonn Casey spearheaded internal renovations to facilitate the new liturgies.

Move on to 1962, when Johnny Hayes and his daughter returned for a holiday, staying in the Great Southern Hotel. No fanfare, but some locals who were keen promoters of athletics in Killarney went to visit him and welcome him back. These included Dr Eamonn O’Sullivan, trainer of the Kerry teams for eight All-Irelands and a man who was equally passionate about athletics. His father was the legendary JP O’Sullivan. Also there was Tadhg Crowley (who owned a shop where Fairview Hotel now stands), Martin Cleary (father of Órna from the Killarney Musical Society and Fergal), Seán Russell (Headmaster of Killarney Technical School), and Maurice F O’Leary (Kerryman journalist, ‘Echoes from East Kerry’).

Tom Looney, then a young seminarian working on a summer job with Denis Moriarty Photography (New Street) realised the significance of the return of the gold medallist. He  photographed the special moment on the steps of the GSH.

I spoke to Canon Tom about that visit and of his memories. “I had the camera and it isn’t every day you see an Olympian gold medallist coming to Killarney. He was a very small man (5 foot 4 inches) and slim. (He was just 125 lbs when he won the marathon.) He was a very modest man even though he was a celebrity. His daughter was also very quiet. There was no fuss.”

Imagine Hayes standing beside Martin Cleary and Tadhg Crowley.

AFTER 1908

What ever happened to Hayes after 1908?

He trained the US 1912 Olympic team and he later taught physical education. Three years after he came to Killarney in 1962, he died in Englewood, New Jersey at the age of 79.

The Shore Athletic Club of New Jersey holds his 1908 Olympic gold medal for the marathon, the first Olympic gold medal to be won at the modern marathon distance of 26 miles, 385 yards.

The next time you are in Nenagh, take time to view the three three statues honouring Olympic champions with links to Nenagh: Matt McGrath, Johnny Hayes and Bob Tindall. They were unveiled in front of the Nenagh Courthouse in 2002.

Maybe it’s time to put up a little plaque in Killarney. Yes, a small one to honour the diminutive little man with the big heart, who helped raise money for the Cathedral spire. Or some enterprising Killarney person will think of inviting a big sports personality to publicise the town?

At 11pm tomorrow (Saturday), the runners will start out on the marathon odyssey. Look out for Kipchoge, Desisa, Kitata or Lemma. It will make for great live viewing going into Sunday morning.

AGUISÍN BREISE

Tokyo (meaning ‘capital city’) is a long ways from Olympia, Greece and 776 BC. The modern Olympics started in Athens in 1896 and the first Irishman to win an Olympic title (tennis) was John Pius Boland, a Dub. Mrs Crowley, Fianna Fáil TD for South Kerry, was related to him through marriage.

Olympics back then was celebrated amateur sport, alas a long way from the sham amateurism and professionalism of the modern Olympics, which still enthrals, entertains and inspires.

While every sane person is fast asleep, why would someone go down to a lake in the dark of an early January morning to break the overnight ice and push out into the water? Brrr… Olympic spirit. Ard –fhir is mná. Gaisce gan teorainn.

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Almost impossible to look beyond East Kerry but Dingle are best placed to challenge

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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.

Fixtures

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)

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Kerry’s old dogs ready for Tyrone challenge in All-Ireland final

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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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