Brendan O Sullivan

The 1958 County Championship - A Cavan man in Kerry

by Brendan O'Sullivan

My friend Al O'Donoghue is one of a rare breed-a Cavanman with a Kerry senior county championship medal in the proverbial back pocket. Al came to Kerry to work as a teacher in the CBS Cahersiveen in September 1957.He was young and enthusiastic and soon loved everything  about  Kerry-the slow pace, the long walks, the magnificent scenery, the teaching and above all, the football. For life revolved around football in Kerry and Al was, and still is, a football fanatic.

He played for St Mary's Cahersiveen and earned his place on the South Kerry team for the 1958 county championship. It was a glory period for South Kerry with a star studded team including Jerome O'Shea, veteran Gerald O'Sullivan, emerging stars Mick O'Connell and Mick O'Dwyer, and county players Marcus O'Neill and Ned Fitzgerald. Al was a half-back, who occasionally slotted in at centre-field or half-forward.
The other outstanding team in the county at the time was Kerins O'Rahillys from Tralee. They too had famous names, most notably the iconic John Dowling, 1955 Kerry captain, his teammates from that famous victory, Dinny O'Shea and Mick Murphy, and newer county players Pop Fitzgerald and Micheal Kerins.

The previous 5 county titles had been shared between the two- 53, 54 O'Rahillys, - 55, 56 South Kerry,-57 O'Rahillys . They'd met in the 1956 final and in the 1957 semi-final which went to a replay before O'Rahillys won after extra time. So, when they were scheduled to meet in the 1958 semi-final on September 28 , there was a lot at stake.

Unfortunately, the game is remembered not for the 60 minutes of activity on the field but for the controversy off the field before and after the match. O'Rahilly's star forward, Padraigh "Pop" Fitzgerald, had moved to America where he played for the New York Kerry team. He returned to play in the semi-final. South Kerry stated clearly that they regarded Fitzgerald as an illegal player and they would object if he lined out. O'Rahillys were determined to play him, he was a key member of their successful closely-knit team, they felt he was not illegal and supporters had contributed generously to finance his return at a time when money was scarce.

A further issue arose over Mick Murphy, another county player, who had been sent off in O'Rahilly's quarter final. This sending off was deleted from the referee's report and Mick was cleared to play in the semi-final.

The match went ahead, controversial before the ball was thrown in. O'Rahillys won comfortably by 3-5 to 1-4, Pop Fitzgerald scoring 2-2.  The Kerryman's match preview stated "his selection has been the cause of lively discussions" and its report on the match states O'Rahillys " were well rewarded for their costly decision to bring Pop home for the game". My friend Al played at left- back for South Kerry  and remembers selector Fr Doherty, in the dressing room before the match saying that they would object, win, lose or draw.

And object they did. The County Board's meeting on Oct 13 ruled South Kerry's objections to the legality of Pop Fitzgerald and Mick Murphy out of order. South Kerry brought the issue to the Munster Council and it then came back to the Kerry Co Board. A special meeting was called for Oct 30. Requests from neutral delegates for a replay were not accepted and, this time, the objection to Pop Fitzgerald was upheld. The O'Rahillys delegates, John Dowling , John Kissane and P.P.Fitzgerald walked out.

The matter went back to Munster and then to another Kerry Co Board meeting held at the Grand Hotel, Tralee on Nov. 24. This lasted 4 ½ hours and only ended when the chairman announced that the hotel management wanted the meeting to terminate.

In a letter from America, printed in the "Kerryman" on Dec 20, Pop Fitzgerald protested about the County Board declaring him illegal and awarding the match to South Kerry. He hadn't played championship football in New York. "I gave my word of honour to the lads that I was free and legal to play with them and I wouldn't have deceived them."He concludes "my playing on the team was as legal as any of the other players on either side and time will prove it so."

The debate continued into 1959 but the decisions stood. The final of the 1958 county championship took place on April 26 1959, South Kerry easily defeating St Brendans by 1-13 to 1-5, Cavanman Al O'Donoghue playing at left-half-forward. Al doesn't even remember the fact that there was no Bishop Moynihan Cup to present to captain Des Burke from Valentia as it hadn't been returned by O'Rahillys, showing that feelings still ran high. It was not the only time in 1959 that a Valentia captain returned without a cup.

Al spent 2 years in Cahersiveen and reluctantly left to work nearer home. He went on to play for Cavan along with his brother Hugh Barney. He left with fond memories of the Kingdom but has kept in touch with former team mates and recently spent a pleasant afternoon in the company of Ned Fitzgerald and Mick O'Connell.

Pop Fitzgerald was a high profile player, Al O'Donoghue was not. Pop's activities in New York were monitored; maybe, if Kerins O'Rahillys had been able to monitor Al's activities, on his occasional trips home to Cavan, the 1958 championship might have ended in a different way. But it's all history now and the result won't change, 52 years later.

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