Weesh-ful Thinking - Fogarty's Beautiful Obsession

February 12th, 2013
by Paddy Heaney - The Irish News

My Beautiful Obsession - Chasing the Kerry DreamEvery self-respecting GAA fanatic should meet Weeshie Fogarty at least once in their lifetime. The good news for northern Gaels is that they can avail of that opportunity because the Kerryman is coming North. 'An Audience with Weeshie Fogarty' will take place in Quinn's Corner next Thursday at 8pm. I don't go to many functions, but I'll be in Ballygawley next week. Officially, the event is to promote Weeshie's new book, 'My Beautiful Obsession – Chasing the Kerry Dream' which was launched by Maurice Fitzgerald before Christmas. But the main emphasis during the night will centre on yarns and chat. Weeshie is good at that.

I got to know Weeshie in the summer of 2008 when I spent a week in Killarney ahead of that year's All-Ireland final between Kerry and Tyrone. I stayed in the Killarney Court Hotel. It's a stone's throw away from Fitzgerald Stadium, which is another stone's throw (albeit a northerner's stone throw) from Weeshie's home. Weeshie was my contact and advisor. He supplied telephone numbers and suggested ideas. But mostly we talked. We talked about football. We talked about Kerry. We talked about Tyrone. Then we'd talk about Kerry again. Sometimes we met in Jimmy O'Brien's pub which was next door to the hotel. At nearly 80 years of age, Jimmy had attended that year's League final in Parnell Park. Suffice to say, Jimmy liked his football. One morning still stands out. I was walking down the street to buy the papers when I bumped into Jimmy who had left his pub unattended because he was going to the Post Office. As we stood talking, Weeshie drove past. He promptly stopped the car and joined us on the pavement. He left his car engine running. The craic was good. It was so good that Weeshie insisted that Jimmy had to sing me a particular song. Reluctant to perform in the middle of Killarney, we retired to Jimmy's pub where we stayed for about half-an-hour. Jimmy sang a few songs. Weeshie told a few stories. The time flew by. Yet, what really struck me was that Weeshie never once mentioned the fact that his car was sitting on the main street with the keys in the ignition. Because football was being discussed, Weeshie's motor was of no importance to him.

Most of us probably know a man like Weeshie Fogarty. These characters belong to a different Ireland. With men like Weeshie, conversation is king. People come first. Tonics for the soul, they are a dying breed. Extremely amicable and good-natured, Weeshie's personality almost camouflages his unbridled fanaticism. He utterly contradicts that notion that extremism can only be found in stony-faced individuals with tight lips and furrowed brows.

While Weeshie is a zealot, he's a happy one and, as my week in Kerry progressed, the full extent of his obsession with Kerry football became more and more apparent. He has an astonishing catalogue of stories. One of my favourites concerns the selection of the Kerry team that played in the 1953 All-Ireland final. At that time, Kerry teams were picked by a five-man committee. One of the Kerry selectors had a son who was contesting a position in the forward line. It was between the son and one other player. The son had played in the semi-final. When the committee came to debate the position, the father volunteered to leave the room. Weeshie's Kerry accent adds an extra layer of drama to the punchline. "And when the father came back into the room," he said, "his son was no longer on the Kerry team." Weeshie loves that story. Although he would respect the noble gesture of the father, I suspect he fully approved of the committee's ruthlessness. After all, picking the best Kerry team is what matters most.

Another insight into Weeshie's 'beautiful obsession' came one morning when he drove me through Kerry's rolling countryside to a graveyard. He wanted me to see the final resting place of Dr Dick Fitzgerald. Earlier in the week, Weeshie had shown me the upstairs balcony from which the 46-year-old Kerry legend had fallen to his death. It was a beautiful, sunny day and when we arrived at the headstone, Weeshie's reverence for the five-time All-Ireland winning captain was immediately obvious. Suddenly, there was only birdsong as Weeshie stood in silence. After a few moments, he turned to walk away, but before doing so he placed the breadth of his right palm on the headstone where he let it rest for a few seconds. I'll swear he was trying to summon some of Fitzgerald's spirit from the grave.

My Beautiful Obsession is the memoir of a footballer, a referee, an underage coach, a supporter and a journalist. The sub-goalie on the Kerry team which won the All-Ireland in 1969, Weeshie played at minor and U21 level for The Kingdom. He played until a detached retina meant he could play no more. Then he became a referee and started running marathons. When his hip gave out, he got into journalism; writing and broadcasting. His Terrace Talk radio programme will be essential listening tonight as the people of Kerry will gather to listen to the debate that will surround the county's second consecutive League defeat. While Weeshie will relish hosting the discussion, he is no 'shock jock'. As a guest in the studio, I was able to watch him at his work. It was an interesting spectacle. The first thing he does is remove his shoes. For most of the programme, he conducts interviews with his sock-soled feet planted firmly on the desk in front of him. Weeshie doesn't do stress.

More recently he attracted some attention because, when reading a news bulletin, his pronunciation of the American singer 'Beyoncé' wasn't entirely accurate. His effort at saying her name went viral and some urban types found it quite hilarious. But I love the fact that Weeshie wasn't sure how to pronounce BE-YON-CÉ'. Could Beyoncé pronounce 'Dara Ó Cinneide?' We must bear in mind that Beyoncé Knowles has never played Championship football for Kerry. And to be the best of my knowledge, none of the Knowles family has played Championship football for any county team. Therefore, like his car when it was parked on the main street of Killarney, Beyoncé Knowles is a total irrelevance to Weeshie Fogarty. And there's nothing wrong with that.

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