Brendan O Sullivan

A Match in Caherciveen

July 11th, 2011
by Brendan O Sullivan

I travelled south-west from Tralee on a sunny summer Sunday in July. Over the mountain to Killorglin, through picturesque Glenbeigh, along the majestic coastline to Cahersiveen. I drove into the town, saw the black and amber colours of the Crokes followers and knew it was time to park the car.

It was my first time at a match in Cahersiveen. The third-round Kerry county championship game between Dr Crokes and South Kerry seemed attractive-the favourites for the title meeting at an early stage. They'd met in the final two years ago, South Kerry victorious, and in the semi-final last year, Dr Crokes winning and going on to beat Austin Stacks in the final.

The Con Keating Park is at the westerly end of the long main street. It commemorates a Cahersiveen footballer who died in the preparations for the 1916 Rising when a car went off the road at Ballykissane pier, near Killorglin. The Park was opened on Sunday August 6, 1950 and featured a game between Kerry and Wexford. The town celebrated for the weekend and, on the Saturday, the CBS band led the Wexford visitors through the town to their hotel. The Kerry team included 7 who had played in the famous Polo Grounds All-Ireland, among them Paddy Bawn Brosnan who travelled by boat from Dingle. Kerry won by 1-8 to 0-7 and local hero Gerald O'Sullivan collected the cup. As I walked into the park, I thought of all the great South Kerry players whom I associated with this venue-- Mick O'Connell, Mick O'Dwyer, Jerome O'Shea, then Jack O'Shea and more recently Maurice Fitzgerald.

Some of the greats of modern Kerry football were on the field-Colm Cooper, Declan O'Sullivan, four other first choice players. The match did not live up to expectations-little flowing football, close marking, a tough, tense championship encounter. South Kerry scored the first two points but Crokes soon equalised and led by three at half-time. The man on the terrace beside me asked "who'd want to be a referee?" His comment, true after an ill-tempered first half, remained true as the game went on. South Kerry struggled to make inroads on the Crokes lead, the red mist descended on Declan O'Sullivan and he was already walking to the sideline when the referee produced the red card. A week can be a long time in football as well as politics because, on the previous Sunday, Declan had produced one of the great displays in a Kerry jersey with his sublime performance against Cork in the Munster final.

Crokes seemed to be always in control but were never in a comfortable lead until the final minutes when late points gave them a flattering 6-point victory.

The crowd moved away, the Kerry championship now suspended, most people hoping that it wouldn't resume until Kerry became All-Ireland champions on the third Sunday in September. News from other third round matches was spread by people who had been listening on their little radios and word also spread of Dublin's rather fortunate victory over Wexford in the Leinster final.

As I left the park, I imagined other days, maybe grey, cold autumn or winter days in the Con Keating Park when men in caps surrounded the field, when there was no colour in the crowd, when there were no red or yellow cards, when the football was tough but skilful, when Mick O'Connell and Mick O'Dwyer were heroes on the field, when there was no Radio Kerry commentary box, or no technology to convey immediate information from other venues, when goalkeepers were fair game for onrushing forwards.

I drove a little further south. To Renard Point, departure place for the Valentia ferry and realised that this was a legendary location in Kerry football. Across the short stretch of sea lay the island and it was to this place and from this place that Mick O'Connell rowed his boat on match days and those days were often the opposite to the glorious weather of that summer Sunday in July. In the words of Brendan Kennelly's poem

He had to reach the island in the winter gale
He pushed the boat
Over the rough stones till she came afloat
You'd swear he could see nothing when he hoisted sail
And cut the dark.

Back to Cahersiveen. The Crokes panel and supporters were enjoying their post-match refreshments in a local hotel. On the TV screen, Tipperary were annihilating Waterford in the Munster Hurling Final.

I drove out of town, happy with my day in the glorious July sunshine. Maybe I hadn't seen a classic football match, but I had attended a match in Cahersiveen, the town which inspired the famous ballad Barr na Sraide, the town that climbs the mountain and looks down on the sea, the town of Daniel O'Connell, Sigerson Clifford, Jack O'Shea and Maurice Fitzgerald.

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom