Jerry Collins - Kerry's Forgotten Winning Trainer 1913-1914
by Weeshie Fogarty
At the latter end of last year on the run up to Christmas I was privileged to be involved in the launch of a superb GAA publication entitled All Ireland Glory - A Pictorial History of the Senior Football Championship-1887-2005. My good friend one Frank Burke a former All Ireland Hurling medal winner himself with Galway was the man responsible for this mammoth production which includes a photograph of every winning All Ireland senior football team. There are many more priceless and previously unpublished photographs also included in this superb 320 page glossy GAA collector's item.
So at any time when the mood takes you one can sit down and browse through this beautiful production and ponder over the vast amount of GAA information contained between its covers, and every time you do so you are sure to come across a statistic or a picture which throws up a thousand questions. So you may well say, surly that is a complete exaggeration. Well one of the oldest of all adages, "a picture speaks a thousand words" was never truer than in Frank's book. And of course Kerry the leaders in titles won is featured prominently in the book and here we come to the nub of my column this week. Every one of Kerrys winning teams is included in either superb black and white or stunning color. And it was two of these pictures that sparked off to-days column.
On the morning of the recent Kerry/Dublin national league match three great Dublin football mad friends called to have a cup of tea to my home in o Sullivan's Place and "The Book" was taken out and it was then my troubles began. The questions in relation to great Kerry players, who were the best, who was the greatest ever, who was the top scorer etc., began to be thrown around like snuff at a wake. Sure isn't this the great thing about Kerry football. The history, the arguments, the debates. (Last week I got an e-mail from a lady in Limerick, her boss had got involved in an argument in a pub with some friends recently and the source of the disagreement was the question, "when did Mick o Connell play his very last championship game for Kerry"). I was delighted to be in a position to solve her problem. So this instance alone bears out what I say about the endless questions in relation to Kerry football.
So back to Frank's book, on pages 73 and 75 are two lovely photographs of the winning Kerry teams of 1913-14. Quick as a flash I was asked, "Who is the Jerry Collins with the white polo neck sweater standing at the back left of the photo? I looked and sure enough there was this fine handsome young man hands folded across his chest, black hair parted in the middle standing along side Paddy Healy of Headford who ironically I wrote about here last week. Despite having seen this picture a thousand times over the past decades, I didn't' have a clue who Jerry Collins was and to my shame I had never even questioned his appearance in these All Ireland winning photographs No let me add have I ever heard any of the Kerry officials down the decades mention his name. And then to cap it all my three visitors then added that he was included also togged out with the team of the following year, 1914. I vowed there and then before they left for the Fitzgerald Stadium that I would do my level best to solve the mystery. Sadly it is one of the failures of this county that we quickly forget and make little effort to preserve and document the memories of those men who laid the foundations for the Kerry traditions we know to-day. So a visit to my local Library was my first stop, what a great service those people lay on for one and all in the branches around the county. (Eamon Brown of the Tralee branch, a true friend, is a God sent to anyone seeking long lost information as are all those working in these departments) Only for what we can find there we would be helpless in retracing our great sporting past.
So with the information I gleamed in the Library and a number of phone calls to the informed GAA activists I believe I can send on a copy of this column to my Dublin friends and hope we have answered their questions to some extend.
Jerry Collins was born in Currans, Farranfore, Co. Kerry sometime in the late eighteen hundreds. A big, quietly spoken man Jerry had a passionate love for sports and has the previously unknown distinction of being the first man to bring the much discussed and often maligned and then and later highly controversial collective training system into Gaelic football in 1913. He also has the distinction of having a one hundred success when training Kerry teams for All Irelands and also in an action packed career he was an outstanding sprinter and long jumper. In his young days Jerry was a first class all round athlete, he specialized in the 100 nad 200 sprints together with the long jump. He won his first open race at the Queens College sports in Cork in 1898 and for years was the top sprinter here in his native Kerry.
Shortly after the turn of the century Jerry left for England where he founded the Irish Athletic club and he competed with great success over there. It was this spell in England and what he did there that was responsible for him being invited by Austin Stack to train the Kerry senior team for the replay of the Croke Memorial final against Louth in 1913. Kerry then learned that Louth had called on the services of two Belfast Celtic soccer men. George Blessington and old Scottish International soccer player and James Booth, both of Belfast Association Club and they accepted an invitation the train the Louth team for the re-play. The Kerry backroom team felt strongly that they too should have someone with expert professional knowledge and in Jerry Collins they certainly had their man. Austin Stack had learned that Collins had spend much of his ten years in England training with Tottenham Hotspur the English first divisiion side at White Hart Lane and felt the Currans man was well equipped to lead the Kingdom into battle. No word here about foreign games or anything of that nature. It was a case of doing what was best for Kerry, nothing else mattered, and rightly so.
Collins immediately set about planning the teams three weeks campaign for this Croke Memorial final and here he introduced the revolutionary idea that the whole team train together in Tralee and Killarney. (Once again here we see where Kerry thinking was ahead of the chasing pack, forever introducing new ideas). The players had a walk in the morning and at noon to be followed by an hour of special exercises. The afternoon saw them at Fenit harbor for a dip and a further series of exercises. Remember this swim in the Atlantic was in the depths of winter, nowadays we read about revolutionary ideas of players talking dips in tubs of ice cold water following training sessions. Well now we know that Jerry Collins had this part of his training routine away back in 1913. The players took to new system like ducks to water; discipline was strict but maintained and when the day came for the final the team was brought directly from Kingsbridge to Dunboyne in Co. Meath where they stayed at the home of the great Kerry supporter Jack McCarthy and his wife. Both of these people appear in the afore mentioned superb photograph taken at Dunboyne House. Indeed it is the only time I can recall that a lady who has no input into the team appears in an All Ireland winning picture with a Kerry side.
By virtue of the fact that the team stayed in Dunboyne showed another side of Collin's professional approach to the match, he was breaking new ground here. It was the very first time that the team was kept away from people and supporters who might have upset them in some way and contribute to a defeat. Now days of course this is the norm and Kerry teams are closeted well away fro the madding crowds before all big matches.
It's history now that Kerry beat Louth in that Croke Memorial final following a re-play, 2-4 to 0-5. Record crowds attended the two games, and the gate money went towards the purchase of Jones Road, now Croke Park. Jerry Collins was hailed a hero in his native county, he then Kerry to win the Junior All Ireland Final of that year1913, And the following year 1914 he completed a magnificent hat-trick of senior final wins. Interestingly he was referred to in programme and news accounts as the Kerry coach and the trainer was Tralee man Billy "Boxer" o Connor. (Can anyone enlighten us on this man?)
The story of Jerry Collins is one of the most fascinating, unrecognized and forgotten of all Kerry GAA historical events, and let me add I am only scratching the surface of this amazing mans sporting life, because a far bigger story awaits. Jerry Collins was in fact one of the men who pioneered greyhound racing in Ireland and this is a story for another day. It was this remarkable man from Currans with a few others who are responsible for the thriving million pound greyhound business we know to-day. It is safe to say that Jerry Collins was light years ahead of his time and should be remembered fondly by all GAA activists in this county as a creator, visionary, pioneer, administrator, trainer and a man who help forge the traditions we enjoy to-day.
Fogra: A very happy retirement to Donal Murphy Glasheen Rd, Cork following a lifetime's work with the Examiner Group in Cork. He and his friends are regular readers of this little column and his lovely letter was much appreciated.
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