Weeshie's Week

Roads, Roundabouts and a Football Sculpture

August 10th, 2012
by Brendan O Sullivan

As you drive into Tralee, at the Clashlehane roundabout, an unusual sculpture meets the eye-men leaping for a football. This is Kerry, this is a Gaelic football scene. Four figures, two on the alert as two others go high into the sky;  one, undoubtedly a Kerryman, grasping the ball, maybe Mick O'Connell, maybe Dara O'Se, or Tralee's own Sean Walsh in a duel with Dublin's Brian Mullins. This sculpture, by Mark Rode, is your introduction to Tralee, it defines the county and the town, a county which has won 36 All-Ireland football titles, a town which holds more All-Ireland medals than any other Irish town.

The medals first came when Kerry, captained by Tralee corner forward Thady Gorman, won the 1903 All-Ireland and have accumulated with every victory up to 2009 when another Tralee corner forward Tommy Walsh scored four crucial points in the win over Cork.

As you move into the town and turn for the station, you drive along the John Joe Sheehy Road. An icon of Kerry football, a forward with speed, skill and accuracy, John Joe captained Kerry to success in 1926 and 1930. In 1924 while he still was on the run after the Civil War, a safe passage to enable him to play in matches was arranged by Con Brosnan, midfielder and Free State army captain. John Joe retired suddenly in the summer of 1931 when he felt that his speed was deserting him. He remained active in Kerry GAA as a selector and was President of the County Board when he died. He created a football dynasty as three of his sons also won All-Ireland medals. It is fitting that the road named after him passes the clubhouse of his old team, John Mitchels and runs up to Austin Stack Park, headquarters of Kerry GAA.

En route to the John Joe Sheehy Road, you pass the Joe Keohane roundabout. Joe, another John Mitchels hero, and an uncompromising full back, was part of the 3-in a row team from 1939 to 1941, won a total of 5 All-Ireland medals and played in the Polo Grounds All-Ireland. Joe remained a part of Kerry football for many decades and was one of Mick O'Dwyer's right-hand men behind the great team of the 70s.

Near the centre of town is the Jackie Power roundabout. Jackie, a Limerick man who won 2 All-Ireland hurling medals with his own county, settled in Tralee in the early 1950s. He trained the Kerry hurlers to win the 1961 Junior All-Ireland and in 1973 achieved an extraordinary training double, Limerick to win the hurling All-Ireland and Austin Stacks to win the Kerry football championship. His son Ger won 8 All-Ireland medals.

On the western side of Tralee is the Dan Spring Road, called after the O'Rahillys man who played for Kerry from 1934 till 1940. He starred in the 1939 win over Meath, scoring 2-2 out of Kerry's total of 2-5. Dan captained Kerry to win the 1940 All-Ireland, the first Strand Road man to do so. He was injured early in the second half of that game and it was his last match for Kerry. Some years later, he was elected to the Dail as a Labour Party TD and enjoyed a long and successful political career.

Near the racecourse is the Bill Kinnerk Road. Bill was a John Mitchels clubman who played mainly at corner back for Kerry, won an All-Ireland medal in 1937, was captain in 1938 when Kerry lost the final to Galway in a replay and later became a local councillor.

The most recent road to be called after a footballer is the Bracker O'Regan Road. This honours Austin Stacks' Martin O'Regan, called the Bracker by all. An active, lively man into his nineties he was a regular in the bookies offices and at Tralee greyhound track having his daily bet. It was Bracker who replaced John Joe Sheehy when he retired suddenly in the summer of 1931. He scored three goals in that first game, a Munster final against Tipperary, went on to win an All-Ireland and was the oldest medallist in Kerry at the time of his death in 2005 aged 95.

At either end of the Bracker O'Regan Road, two great Kerry footballers are commemorated. The Mounthawk roundabout is dedicated to Joe Barrett, from Austin Stacks, holder of six All-Ireland medals. One of the great Kerry full backs, he captained Kerry in 1929 and 1932 and famously, in a magnanimous gesture handed over his right to the captaincy in 1931 to Con Brosnan who had served Kerry football so well but whose club was unlikely to ever win the county championship. The Monavalley roundabout is dedicated to another Austin Stacks player from a famous footballing family, John Joe "Purty" Landers, a forward who was part of the four-in-a-row team and later won another medal in 1937.

And others are remembered too. The P.P.Fitzgerald roundabout at one end of the Dan Spring Road commemorates one of the founding fathers of the Strand Road club, Kerins O'Rahillys and the Kevin Barry roundabout at the top of Rock St honours a former Austin Stacks and Kerry footballer.
And so, Tralee honours its GAA players in a way unique to an Irish town. And there is room for more. With a ring road being constructed, the councillors of the county have an opportunity to honour additional players. Perhaps John Dowling, captain of the 1955 team, maybe Dan O'Keeffe, long-serving goalkeeper and holder of 7 All-Ireland medals, or some of those happily still with us, John O'Keeffe, stylish fullback or Mike Sheehy, scorer extraordinaire.

It is right and fitting that these GAA heroes are remembered in their home place. And in Tralee, the great players from the past won't be forgotten.

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