A Dream Comes True as I don the Green and Gold 1959

May 1st, 2013
by Weeshie Fogarty

Sunday July 5th 1959 remains indelibly etched in my treasure trove of Kerry football memories because that day on my home pitch of Fitzgerald Stadium Killarney I played for the Kerry minors and donned the famous green and gold jersey for the very first time.  It is the dream of every young boy whoever kicks a football in the Kingdom to play for the county minor side. That is the very first step on a journey one hopes will bring him to Croke Park on All Ireland senior final day. And that day in 1959 I had taken that tenuous first step. I was the goalkeeper when we faced Clare in the Munster semi-final and selection came following a series of trial matches.

I had been playing in goal for my club's senior side for the previous two years and had shown good form and lining out in the Kerry senior county championship with such well known All Ireland medal holders such as Donie Murphy, Gerald o Sullivan , Johnny Culloty and Jackie Lyne had given me great experience and confidence.

I had been bitterly disappointed having been overlooked by my club and not afforded the opportunity to challenge for a place on the minor teams of the two years prior to 1959. Lui Nolan a great friend and club man was nominated for trials on those years even though he rarely played in goal. He was picked as goalkeeper and helped Kerry to two All Ireland semi finals, 1957-58 where they lost to Armagh and Mayo respectively.

The battle for the keeper's jerseys in '59 rested between me and Kenmare's Peter Hanley. On the programme for the Clare game A.N.O. was listed as the Kerry goalkeeper and not until minutes before the game began did I realize I was playing. Gaffney Duggan the genial Kerry bag man threw me the number one jersey; I was about to become a Kerry footballer. The distinctive goalkeeper's jersey had not yet come into being.

 While Peter was bitterly disappointed he later went on to star between the posts for the Kerry under twenty ones, juniors and also lined out for the senior side.  He is now a well know barber in the town of Kenmare and boasts to this day that he is the only Kerryman to have given President De Gaulle of France a haircut.

We beat the Banner boys handy enough, 1-10 to 1-6. John "Thorny" o Shea of Tralee Mitchels scored a memorable goal, soloing half the length of the field selling dummies all over the place to crash the ball to the net under the shadow of St Finans Hospital.  The late "Thorny" had wonderful skills and he wrote himself into the history books seven years later when he and his brother Derry were send off by referee Mick Louftus in the All ireland defeat by Galway in 1965. Alan Conway, Tom o Connor, Seamus Roche, Pat Ahern and Ollie Kerins were also outstanding members of that side. Ollie Kerins son Liam would later play with Kerry and become a very successful manager with the Limerick under twenty and senior football teams.

I must have impressed the selectors as I retained my place for the Munster final against Cork in Killarney three weeks later. There was no collective training or preparation of any description for either the Clare or Cork matches.  The final was an unnerving experience. A boiling hot day, a huge crowd in attendance. Defeat was our lot as Cork proved too good on the score, 2-7 to 0-7. The loss of our star player and centre back Pat Dowling from Castlegregory after just ten minutes was our down fall. He was one of the best young footballers I have ever seen and his fielding of the high ball was superb. The following year he played junior and senior for Kerry, suffered a series of bad injuries and sadly faded from the scene.

Some of the memories from that Munster final day in the dim and distant past have remained etched in the mind. A Cork goal scored in the first half resulted from a high centre into our square. The Cork full fordward fielded high threw himself ball in hand rugby style over the goal line. Two defenders and I finished up with him in a heap on the ground in the back of the net and as the Clare umpire raised the green flag I said to him. "That's a foul; you can't bring the ball over the line and score". He stood over me waving the green flag dramatically and replied. "It might be a foul down here in Kerry but where I come from its perfectly legal".  Some things never change with umpires.

Half time in the game, the water bottles were passed around as we all gathered in the middle of Fitzgerald Stadium. One of Kerry's legendary footballers and Republican activists John Joe Sheehy was a selector. There was no appointed trainer back then and John Joe took it on himself to give the half time talk. And this was my first interduction to the history of Kerry football as the great John Mitchels man in a passionate speech evoked the names of all the past Kerry greats and the honour we should feel wearing the green and gold.

It was stirring stuff with a bit of the political back ground of the county also thrown in. I can still see John Joe now in the minds eye surrounded by an over awed bunch of young Kerry footballers. He with his dainty cap cocked jauntily at an angle, beautifully navy suit, shirt and tie and immaculately polished Sunday shoes, his soft mesmerizing voice urging us on to greater efforts. However on this occasion even this wonderful orator could not inspire another Kerry victory. That year of 1959 saw a "Blackie" Coen led Dublin beat Cavan in the All ireland minor final.

My dream of playing in Croke Park would wait for another day.  I can say with hand the words of John Joe Sheehy listened to with rapt attention in the middle of Fitzgerald Stadium in 1959 left a lasting imprint on my thinking and set me on the road of life which also immersed me in secrets and mysteries of Kerry football.

In later years I became a huge admirer of Sheehy as I attended Kerry county board meetings and got to know him on speaking terms when I lined out for a number of Kerry teams both junior and senior following my minor days. Born in 1887 Sheehy became the spearhead of Republicanism in Kerry following the Civil War. In the GAA he was to be instrumental in heading off proposals for the removal of the Ban on the playing of foreign games. This obnoxious ban was eventually removed from the Rule Book of the GAA at the Belfast Congress in 1971. John Joe was deeply involved in all affairs of Kerry football right up the time of his death in 1980 at the age of eighty three when he was still President of the Kerry County Board.

One of those wonderful enduring stories of Kerry football Involves Sheehy and his Kerry team mate the great midfielder from Moyvane Con Brosnan, a man who I also got to know on a personal basis in my life as a nursing officer. Brosnan was a hightly respected Kerry Free State Officer during the Civil War which put himself and Sheehy on opposite sides of the conflict. On the occasion of the Munster Final of 1924 between Kerry and Clare John Joe Sheehy was still on the run, it fell to Con Brosnan to get a guarantee of safe passage from the authorities for the John Mitchels man. Kerry won the game 3-7 to 2-2, Sheehy vanished unhindered into the country side following the victory and Kerry went on to win the All Ireland.

In 1962 while a selector on the Kerry team John Joe saw his youngest son Sean Og follow in his footsteps and captain The Kingdom to All ireland victory over Roscommon. Niall and Paudie, two other sons were also on that triumphant side.  In fact between father and sons the tally of All ireland senior medals following that 1962 win was now eleven.  Another son Brian also represented his county both at junior and senior grades.

There was high drama on the run up to the 1953 All Ireland final and John Joe was involved. On the Monday prior to the final the Kerry selectors met in The Park Place Hotel Killarney following a trial game to pick the team to play Armagh.

When it came to pick the wing forward position John Joe excused himself and left the room as his son Paudie appeared to be the man for that right forward spot. He had played there in the three previous matches against Clare, Cork and Louth scoring a total of 3-6. And he was also captain of the team. When his father returned five minutes later he discovered that Paudie had lost his place, John Joe Sheehan and Dermot Hannifin were now on the starting fifteen and Bobby Buckley had also been left out. It caused a sensation, Jas Murphy the Kerins o Rahillys man was handed the captaincy, and Kerry won the final.

Jackie Lyne a member of that 1953 side told me in later years that John Joe was the person instrumental in appointing Jas as captain. The fact that he was a member of the opposing Tralee side Kerins o Rahillys and John Joe a member of John Mitchels, deadly rivals was in many ways a wonderful gesture and displayed again Sheehy's great love for his county as he put football politics before all else.  

John Joe the staunch Republican was full aware that Jas Murphy's father had been an RIC man in Tralee and he also knew that Jas's father was one of the two policemen who had brought Rodger Casement from Ardfert to Tralee barracks on the Good Friday in 1916.

That dramatic final of 1953 in which of Armagh missed second half penalty was also the first time a team from the Six Counties qualified for an All ireland senior final. And the question still being asked to this day, "why was John Joe Sheehan behind the selection of Jas as captain when his own son was dropped from the starting fifteen"? The late Republican Dan Keane who lived to be 105 years old told me in an interview when I posed the question that in his opinion the Tralee man was remembering and re-paying the gesture Joe Barrett displayed when he handed over the captaincy to Con Brosnan in 1931. When Jas was presented with the Sam Maguire Cup it was in many ways another step in healing the divisions that still lingered within Kerry.

Joe Joe Barrett in his superb publication "In the Name of the Game "summed up John Joe as follows. " He reared a fine family, though widowed with six children in 1948. It was he who organized the funding for the Ballyseedy Monument outside Tralee. Indeed in all that time he was totally immersed in Kerry's football story with his inspiring contribution. He never deviated from his National ideals and when he did relent to those opposing beliefs it was for the good of Gaelic games and his county".

The road which runs by the Kerry GAA grounds at Austin Stack Park Tralee is officially named John Joe Sheehy Road in a fitting tribute to an outstanding Irishman". John Joe Sheehy was the very first Kerry footballer I heard speak about Kerry's traditions and history.

Togging off for that minor final of 1959 Munster final was something very special in itself.  At that time there was just one dressing room or should I say an old shed available under the score board in the Stadium so the Cork minor and senior teams were given the use of this. Kerry would tog out in the mental hospital. This facility was provided curtsy of Dr Eamonn o Sullivan the senior trainer and RMS in the hospital. We had gathered at 1 pm in the ward which I later learned was the secure night dormitory where up the seventy patients slept under the surveillance of a night nurse.

Now in preparation for the Kerry teams the beds had been put to the side and piled one on top of the other and the dormitory would for that day serve as a dressing room. When the stadium had been built with the magnificent help of the hospital patients in the thirties Dr Eamon being the far seeing person he was had made provisions in the form of a little gate built into the wall which would allow entry to patients and staff of the hospital in the following years. However some time in the seventies this gate was removed and sealed up thus preventing any future entry as had been intended by Dr Eamonn.

So back then it was a case of changing in the hospital entering through this little gate, walk down the terrace through the massed supporters and on the playing field. When I joined the nursing staff of the hospital three years later and played with St Finans in league and championship this was the normal procedure for all games.

And so that day in 1959 following our minor defeat we returned to the dormitory and there before us was the Kerry senior players getting ready for their Munster final against Cork.  My memories of the occasion are crystal clear. It was my first time being close to these legends of the game and we watched in admiration. Mick o Dwyer, Seamus Murphy, Sean Murphy, John Dowling Paudie Sheehy, Jim Brosnan, Johnny Culloty and others prepared to face Cork.

Tim "Tiger" Lyons was changing very close to me as was the legendary Mick o Connell. I have vivid memories of Tiger having one of his thighs massaged by the team masseur with huge hands whom I would years later learn was Killarney man "Dadeso" Hurley. Tiger's thigh was black and blue from the knee up having being injured some weeks previously and to this day I still wonder how he was fit to play and mark the great Cork player Mick Gould.  Other Cork players I recall in action that day were Liam Power, Paddy o Driscoll, Sean Moore, Eric Ryan, Niall Fitzgerald, Paddy Harrington, and Dan Murray.

1959 was indeed a very special year in my sporting life. I had been introduced to the passion and traditions of Kerry football something that would remain and grow within me during the rest of my life. The sixties were around the corner and little did I think that I was to go on and play in six Kerry county finals, win an All ireland medal, run out in Croke Park behind the legendary Mick o Connell as a substitute in an All ireland final and earn a dream holiday around the world.

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom