North Kerry Championship Final ends in a draw

January 1st, 2013
by Weeshie Fogarty

If you are a lover of football played in the dark dreary month of December, deep in the depths of winter then Listowel was the place to be last Sunday as Beale and Duagh fought out a thrilling draw in the North Kerry final. And indeed there must have been around three thousand fans there which proves that winter football has its die hard, passionate, dyed-in-the-wool supporters. This was North Kerry Championship fare at its legendary best. While the football was not of the free flowing, beautiful style and there was a free for all in the second half, which was as far as I could see was of the "let me at him, hold me back" variety, for the neutral it was great stuff. The game was dominated by the gale which helped Beale in the first half. They began by far the better team and three lovely pointed frees from Ian Blake and a cracking goal from corner forward Tom Joy saw them ahead at the short whistle 1-4 to 0-3. However they would fail to score for the remainder of the game. The flood lights were switched on at half time, the field was in excellent condition following the recent heavy rain and the members of the local Emmett's club led by cycling supremo Tadge Moriarty had everything organized to the proverbial tee.

However my abiding memory of this thrill packed decider were the two magnificent pointed frees kicked in the second half by Kerry star Anthony Maher. Not very prominent in the first half he literally dragged Duagh back into the game and those two points from the middle of the field were simply, and this is the highest praise I can bestow on them were of the Maurice Fitzgerald variety. Massive high kicks, brilliantly judged into the swirling wind, kicked from the outside of the right foot, wonderful skill, bringing gasps and roars of appreciation from supporters. So it's back for part two next Sunday and I believe and hope it will go right down to the proverbial wire. Well done to one and all, and as the late great former Kerry star Eddie Dowling said to me at one St Stephens day final in Ballybunnion, "isn't it great Weeshie to be here to day and only for this I would be at home asleep by the fire". Long live the North Kerry Championship final even if it's in the deep, dark, depths of winter. 

The date remains etched in the memory, July 7th 1956. I am sitting high up on the boundary wall of Fitzgerald Stadium Killarney. I am just sixteen years old. It's the re-play of the Munster senior football final, Kerry had snatched a sensational draw with Cork two weeks previously in the old Athletic Ground when Jim Brosnan goaled in the last minute of that game. Now they were back in Killarney and little did I realize that I was to see a Kerry team beaten for the first time in my life and the man who kicked that winning point that day all those years ago would befriend me thirty five years later? Niall Fitzgerald the renowned Cork forward who scored that point died just before Christmas on December 20th in St Finbarr's Hospital Cork. Thirty five years after that 1956 match I was a patient in the Bons Secours Hospital Cork following a first hip operation and Niall was also recovering from the very same complaint. We shared a ward together and football talk dominated the conversation as one would expect. Invariably I questioned him about that sensational day in Killarney and of course his match winning point was high on our agenda.

Niall admitted to me that he wasn't the best finisher, recalling that there were several Kerry backs 'hanging' off him as he went through for the winning score - and somebody joked that if they had left him alone he would have kicked it wide! It happened at the entrance goal in Fitzgerald Stadium and the final whistle was blown on the kick out, that game marked Mick o Connells first final for Kerry. Cork were defeated that year  in the All Ireland final by Galway and the following year 1957, Niall won his second Munster medal as Cork defeated Waterford in the final but defeat was again his lot when Cork lost the decider to Louth. Niall also played on three losing Railway Cup finals with Munster.

A former Army Colonel, he won the first of two county championship medals in 1953 with Collins. The other came nine years later - with Macroom - in what was the last of their ten title victories. While he operated at midfield in the two finals, he was chiefly regarded as a leading centre-forward, also excelling at full-forward. He enjoyed a lengthy inter-county career with Cork at senior level, beginning in the early '50s. He won a National League medal in 1956 and played his last game for Cork when he came on as a substitute against in the All Ireland semi-final of 1966. Cork lost to Galway that year 1-11 to 1-9.

Those weeks I spend in hospital with Niall cemented a great friendship and while we rarely met I had the privilege of interviewing him a few times on my Radio Kerry program Terrace Talk and we also met on a number of occasions at Munster finals. A lovely courteous and gentle person, quietly spoken, he loved talking football and this retired Army Colonel is one of those names from my youth that for one reason or another remained ingrained in my memory. One of the photographs published in my recent memoir My Beautiful Obsession-Chasing the Kerry Dream sees Niall accompanied by two Kerry nurses, Geraldine Broderick, and Siobhan Burke standing at my bedside hospital in Cork. Niall lived in Ardfallen Road, Douglas, in Cork and to his wife Thelma, eight children, Michael, Regina, Ger, Peter, Niall, Thelma, Susan and Ruth, brothers John and Myles (Australia), and extended family we extend our deepest sympathies on behalf of all those great Kerry players he opposed on the field of play away back in the fifties and sixties.

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