Brendan O Sullivan

A Kerry Dub

November 16th, 2011
by Brendan O Sullivan

It is 2011 and the Dubs are back. The recent All-Ireland final sent me down the lane of memories, leading me to reflect upon my passion for Kerry football. Although I am a Dubliner by birth, by residence and by accent, I was supporting Kerry in that final as I have supported them at all times since my first Final in 1955.

Kerry played in 3 All-Ireland Finals between 1953 and 1955 but the only one I remember is 1955. Dublin emerged in that year as a major force and annihilated champions Meath in the League Final and repeated the massacre in the Leinster Final. Their roving full-forward, Kevin Heffernan, was regarded as unstoppable and Dublin were strong favourites for the final against Kerry. But Dr Eamonn O'Sullivan, the Kerry trainer, ordered his team to stick to their positions on the field and to their traditional catch and kick style. And catch and kick prevailed as catches under the crossbar by Jerome O'Shea and wonderful kicked points by Tadhgie Lyne contributed to a famous victory.

This was my first final and I remember being lifted over the turnstile into the Cusack Stand by my father. He watched the match from the terraces but 3 people-my mother, my cousin from Dingle, Mossie O'Connor and myself, shared 2 seats on the stand.

For my father was a Kerryman and his team was my team. Although I lived in Dublin, I felt no loyalty to the Dublin team. Even when Dublin won the 1958 Final, I was pleased to get a half-day when the cup was brought to the school but don't remember any feeling of satisfaction-I was a Kerry supporter and delighted when Kerry won again in the following year. Kerry-Dublin rivalry had been renewed in the semi-final and that match confirmed the arrival on the scene of Mick O'Connell, who displayed all his skills and did so again in the 1962 semi-final against Dublin. For Mick liked playing against Dublin, their team didn't use the negative tactics which other counties employed against him.

The emergence of Mick O'Connell confirmed my admiration for Kerry football. A superb athlete, fielder, distributor, scorer, above all, a sportsman, Mick was my hero for the decade and a half of his intercounty career. A flawed hero at times, especially in his earlier years, at his best he was the greatest player I have seen.

As Mick retired from the intercounty scene, the great team arrived and Kerry-Dublin rivalry reached its peak. Between 1975 and 1985, they met in 6 finals and 1 semi final, Kerry victorious in 5 of those matches. Arguably the golden era for the GAA, it was certainly the golden era for Kerry football. I watched all the games from the old terrace at the Canal End, no longer with us. There are many memories from those years-Kerry outplayed in the first 25 minutes of the 78 final, John Egan's handpass over Paddy Cullen's head coming towards me and taking an agonising age to reach the net, Mike Sheehy's audacious chip into the same goal some minutes later; at the far end, the blitz finish by Dublin in 1977 when late goals by David Hickey and Bernard Brogan torpedoed the Kingdom.

Memories from different years, satisfaction when Kerry won, disappointment when they lost. Defeating Dublin in 1985, Tyrone in 1986, then the 11-year famine. Dublin had some good years in the first half of the nineties and I was pleased when they won in '95. But, when Kerry-Dublin championship rivalry resumed in 2001, I was among the Kerry supporters on the terrace behind the goal in Thurles watching the famous Maurice Fitzgerald free heading initially for the corner flag and curling in a glorious arc to land straight between the posts.

Quarter finals in '04 and '09, a semi final in '07, at last a final between Dublin and Kerry in 2011. I spent some time in Kerry before the match and was questioned closely by my newer Kerry friends. They knew I was a Kerry supporter but assumed I would have divided loyalties, that I would be in some way conflicted. But I assured them that there was no conflict. And the last seven minutes left me as shellshocked as any other Kerry supporter. A magnificent occasion, ending in bitter disappointment. Before the match, there was goodwill towards Dublin from Kerry people I talked to-and, though  disappointed, that goodwill remained after the match. There can be no doubt that the Brogans, Cluxton, Cahill, Cullen, those long-serving members of the team, deserve their All-Ireland medals. And, since the final, I have met and congratulated my former student, second half Dublin substitute, Philly McMahon.

But there is no divided loyalty, no conflict within me. I look forward to 2012-hopefully another Kerry-Dublin final, hopefully a different ending.

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