Brendan O Sullivan

1982 All Ireland Final - A Personal Memory

by Brendan O'Sullivan

September 19 1982 - A day of destiny for the great Kerry team. By the end of the afternoon 4-in-a-row would become 5-in-a-row-never achieved since the GAA was founded in 1884 by Michael Cusack. History was about to be made-or so almost all  Kerry followers believed.

I expected a  Kerry win but I had a healthy respect for Offaly. They had been the second-best team in the preceding 2 years. In the 1980 semi-final, Kerry won by 5 points 4-15 to 4-10 with star Offaly forward Matt Connor scoring 2-09. In the 1981 Final Kerry led by 4 points going into the final minutes when a Jack O'Shea goal stretched the margin to a flattering 7. A further year had passed, Offaly had a stronger team, they had experience of the big occasion and a very shrewd manager in Eugene Magee.

Like many people born and based in Dublin I supported my father's county, in my case Kerry and had done so with fervour since he brought me to my first final in 1955. On that September Sunday in 1982, I set off from my Dublin home and linked up with my friend and companion for the day, a young lady from Tralee. We walked along the Royal Canal from Binns Bridge to Jones' Road, a route I had often taken with my father, past the musicians and the people begging for pennies, and took our place on the Canal End terrace, my favourite location for watching matches. Two years later all-ticket finals became the norm, a major change for those of us accustomed to turning up and paying on the day.

Kerry were going for the double but the minors were well beaten by Dublin. By the time the senior teams were parading the Canal End terrace was full but our early arrival and positioning close to a barrier meant that we still had an excellent view. The game started and Offaly showed no sign of believing the general view that they were making up the numbers. They were the better team in the first half and went in leading by 10 points to 9, a score which didn't do justice to their performance.

There had been rain in the morning and while it cleared well before the minor match the skies remained heavy and leaden. They opened again with a vengeance as half-time approached and the rest of the action took place in a downpour of almost biblical proportions. But we were oblivious to the weather as the second half started and Kerry improved. They took the lead but the game remained close, the quality of football exceptional especially in view of what was at stake. A penalty save by the Offaly goalkeeper only seemed to give extra momentum to a Kerry team on the cusp of history and a succession of points left them 4 clear as the action entered its final minutes. Two points from rather dubious frees and the most famous (or in Kerry eyes infamous) goal in GAA history picked Kerry pockets and stunned all supporters as their team was now one point behind.
Some people had left the Canal Terrace as the game approached the end- maybe Offaly followers who thought all was lost, maybe neutrals for whom the continuing downpour finally proved too much.

From a higher vantage point on the terrace my cousin from Kildare, Michael Cusack (a great GAA name and, yes, we are related to the founder) and his wife from Offaly, Rosaleen Lowry, had been watching the match. Naturally they were supporting Offaly but there was an even closer link. Her 3 cousins the Lowry brothers Sean, Mick and Brendan made up one-fifth of the Offaly team. As the terrace emptied they saw us further down the steps and joined us and so 2 Kerry and 2 Offaly supporters watched together as the game reached its climax. The titanic struggle ended with the repelling of a final frantic Kerry attack into the Canal Goal and Sean Lowry emerged with the ball and held it aloft as the whistle sounded. Behind that goal on the terrace we congratulated his elated and almost disbelieving first cousin.

Commiserations were returned. Kerry dreams had been shattered in the cruellest possible manner but all the terrace talkers agreed that it had been an exhilerating and skilful game, despite the deluge.

At least, we had a Dublin house to return to and change clothes. And then, as the rain finally ceased, we picked our way through the pools of water to the post-mortem in a  Drumcondra pub where stunned followers and team members congregated. The atmosphere was subdued, almost like a wake - people communicated in low, nearly inaudible voices. Some players were philosophical; others were inconsolable and became even more heart-broken as the night went on.

Kerry's day of destiny ended in an agonising 1 point defeat. Their followers were devastated but there was also a recognition that this Offaly team deserved an All-Ireland. And the sad accident which, two years later, ended the football career of their most talented player, the unassuming forward genius Matt Connor, put all sporting victories and losses into their proper perspective.

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