Brendan O Sullivan

The Launch of the Captains

December 11th, 2010
by Brendan O'Sullivan

Kerry football and its history permeated the room. The occasion was the Killarney launch of the DVD from Weeshie Fogarty and Christy Riordan entitled "Secrets of Kerry- A Captain's Story". This project, which Weeshie had been telling me about for many months, had finally reached a conclusion and there was a sense of achievement and excitement.  The stories of the 32 men who had captained Kerry to 36 All-Ireland titles were to be told. It had been a mammoth undertaking and the results of all the labour were about to be revealed.

I watched people entering the room. Famous names. Liam Hassett, Donie O'Sullivan, Mick Gleeson, the legendary Johnny Culloty.

The great Paddy Kennedy's son, Paul, handed around a jersey, number 15, which had been worn by Paddy in the famous 1947 final in the Polo Grounds. Weeshie had a 1903 All-Ireland medal in his possession and was delighted to show it to everyone.

For 1903 was the year of the first of 36 football All-Irelands. An average of one every third year –and in 5 of those Kerry hadn't taken part.
Isn't it time for a move  to be made, by some entrepreneur or by the County Board, to set up a Museum to tell the story of GAA in Kerry and to display the mementoes relating to it.

The formalities of the evening began with a few words from Weeshie. He described the genesis of the project –Christy's idea, Weeshie embracing it enthusiastically, almost 3 years work, the travelling, the enjoyment, the pieces of luck along the way, the hours and hours of interviews which had to be edited down to 4. Then the lights were turned down and, as a taster, we were shown the profiles of 4 captains, all from the earlier years.
This was the highlight of the evening. The first story was that of Phil O'Sullivan, captain in 1924. His niece, Annie Hegarty, almost 90 years old, a personality in her own right, told the story- her uncle being cheered shoulder-high around Croke Park after the match –his father, her grandfather, in the crowd, tears rolling down his cheeks with pride. Her dismissal of present day football-basketball only-brought loud laughter from the audience.

Next captain was Con Brosnan 1931. The understated subtle humour of his son and grandson-how everyone expected them to be great footballers but, of course, they weren't-only average, they said. The self-sacrifice of Joe Barrett in giving up the captaincy to Con. The moving poem about Con, written by Dan Keane, read by Gabriel Fitzmaurice.

1946 - the oldest living captain Gus Cremin. Gus had earlier stood tall and erect to accept the acclaim when introduced to the audience-one could imagine how formidable a player he must have been over 60 years ago. Also introduced was his friend and Polo Grounds veteran Mick Finucane, the most sprightly 88-year-old you are likely to meet. But 1946 was Gus' story and he wasn't happy about what had happened . Captain for the drawn final against Roscommon, dropped for the replay-he blamed Dr. Eamonn who had taken over as coach---he came on to score an important point in the second half. But Gus boycotted the celebrations and, well over half a century later, his sense of grievance was still palpable.

The man who took over as captain was Paddy Kennedy. There were interviews with his wife and family, one at Paddy's graveside in Dublin. They were proud of their father, a modest man with nothing to be modest about. It was strange to hear so many pronounced Dublin accents in this piece about a Kerry football legend and Paddy's wife was a Dublin supporter as shown by her annoyance at the Kerry relative who brought her grapes after a Dublin defeat by Kerry in the70s or 80s.

The last captain to be portrayed was Tom Costello from 1909. A man almost forgotten about in Kerry football history but now remembered and brought to life through interviews with his relatives.

The showing of the DVD was greeted by warm and prolonged applause. People wanted more. Then, a presentation to each captain or a close relative. The names were evocative-Thady Gorman, first captain, Austin Stack, Dick Fitzgerald, John Joe Sheehy, Joe Barrett, Miko Doyle-- down to more recent times-John Dowling's daughter, Seanie Walsh's daughter representing  Ogie Moran-a who's who of Kerry football going back over a century. Last but certainly not least, Darran O'Sullivan-most recent winning captain. A handshake and a whispered conversation between Darran and Gus Cremin, oldest living captain. The flame living on.

A few more words from Weeshie, a few words on behalf of Christy, a man who lets his camera do the talking, praise from Jerome Conway, Kerry chairman and Sean Walsh, Munster chairman, a poem, a song, a dance. The formal evening ends.

The informal evening begins. There was a recognition from everyone I talked to that they had just seen a very important contribution to Kerry GAA and its history. People were unanimous in their admiration for the sheer enormity of the task undertaken, the achievement in completing it. The footage and photos from the early years –the matching of these to the script. A labour of love for Weeshie and Christy. A labour for which all Kerry followers should be grateful. A labour to remember past heroes. A labour to inspire the heroes of the future.

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