Failure again in 1948 and I meet Timmy O Leary - Star of the Thirties.

May 1st, 2014
by Weeshie Fogarty

Chapter which didn't make it for final inclusion in my book - My Beautiful Obsession.

Little did I think that when I took up employment in the Kerry Mineral factory on the Muckross Road Killarney early in 1960 that I would befriend the man who scored two goals for Kerry in the dramatic re-play of the 1937 All Ireland final when Kerry overcame Cavan. It was a Friday evening and I approached the factory office to collect my weekly wages in a little brown envelope following a week delivering drink to the hotels and public houses around Kerry, I was the "helper" on the lorry with the driver a great character and GAA enthusiast the late Mike Kiely. I spent two very happy years in the employment of Tadge "Kerry" o Sullivan before I entered the nursing profession in St Finan's Psychiatric Killarney where I would spend the rest of my working life. Thirty eight years to be precise.   That fore mentioned Friday my pay packet was handed to me by a low sized dark skinned man, of about five feet six inches in height impeccably dressed in a Persil white shirt and tie and a lovely sharp dark navy double breasted suit. No words were passed between us but for some reason or another I was greatly impressed by this individual.
The following Monday as we faced our delivery lorry for North Kerry I mentioned my meeting to Mike and immediately he responded. "That my good friend is the great Kerry footballer Timmy O Leary, one of the greatest small men ever to wear the green and gold of the Kingdom". I quickly became friends with Timmy and the fact that he was a member of my own club Killarney Legion made it very easy for me to engage in conversation this very quite, unassuming and indeed very private person. Slow to discuss his career this was a reticence born out of shyness and a feeling that he had not done enough to be talking about. A trait I should add that is common to most Kerry greats.  Many years later in my re-search for the history of my club, a publication entitled "A Legion Of Memories" which won a McNamee award as best club history in 1979 I had the privilege and good fortune to meet with Timmy o Leary and recount his life and times.
His was a short but magnificent football career largely forgotten and untold in a county where football legends appear on the horizon decade after decade. Four All Ireland minor appearances in a row, winning three 1931-32-33-34 began his glittering career. In 1933 he had the distinction of captaining the winning side. That winning team became the first to receive All Ireland medals, a new innovation at the time. Timmy grew up in the town of Killarney. Mangerton View is situated just off Lewis Road and just a good drop kick from Fitzgerald stadium. Football was his life and he had as a next door neighbor one of the greatest Kerry footballers of all, Paul Russell. Paul had won six All Ireland senior medals, his first in 1923 when only eighteen years of age and amazingly it was his first time lining out for his county. He was a student at St Brendan's College at the time and it is said that the great Dick Fitzgerald had to get special permission from the college to release the student for the final.  Russell had a huge influence on the young Timmy o Leary as he recalled for me in that interview a year before his death. "Paul was finishing up at about the time I was beginning to play" he recalled. "He spend a lot of time training us and we picked up so many skills from him kicking around the terrace in front of our houses and also in the Cricket Field". The Cricket field is situated on the Muckross Road Killarney and the river Flesk runs along beside it. In the early twenties and thirties all local and inter county games were played there. The young Timmy o Leary admitted at being overawed at times by the great Russell who later went on to train winning Kerry sides with his friend Dr Eamonn o Sullivan.
Football was the only sport in the town as Timmy grew up and he was surrounded by legends as he explained to me, "I knew the great Dick Fitzgerald and remember him kicking around in the Cricket field and indeed it was he who advised me to move from the wing forward position to the corner". He went to school in the local Presentation Monastery and here he really began to blossom. "I captained the Mon to win the Dunloe Cup which included all the Kerry Colleges. This has never been achieved since and a young teacher, brother Avaloin was the man responsible for that historic win. Recalling his first All Ireland final in 1937 he spoke of the great Purty Landers a team mate and what he said to him as he ran on to Croke Park. "It's just another match Tim and when you get the first ball you will think that you are back in Killarney with all your young friends". Then he added. "How right he was and I was fortunate to score two goals in that game". Timmy played again in 1938 when Galway were the victors.3-3 to 2-6. He captured his second Celtic Cross the following year as a sub when Meath were defeated 2-5 to 2-3. Sadly ill health was beginning to blight his wonderful goal scoring skills.
His traveled to America in 1939 with the Kerry team unable to play due to that illness and he told me of his great joy when they visited Michigan and he was reunited with his cousins Liam and "Congo" o Leary and his sister, uncles and aunts. "Only for football I would never have traveled and met my family I loved so much", he continued. He was one of The Legions greatest ever players and one of their top goal scoring forwards of all time. He also played in an All Ireland Junior final in 1934 and in a league game against Offaly in 1937 when at the height of his powers he scored four goals from play. Timmy o Leary is seldom mentioned in the great pantheon of Kerry footballers nevertheless his record and goal scoring abilities can stand with many of his Kerry peers. When he answered that final whistle in 1978 a massive crowd attended his funeral and two of Kerry greatest sons Joe Keohane and Jackie Lyne led the guard of honor as he was brought to his final resting place. I feel greatly privileged to have known this superb footballer and it is he and many like him whose legacy continue to inspire generations of young Kerry footballers. He was a wonderful footballer but above all I will forever remember Timmy o Leary as a true gentleman. 
It was now very evident to the knowledgeable Kerry follower that as 1948 dawned that many of the legendary men who had brought such honor and glory to the county since the thirties including the great three in a row, 1939-40-41 and contested the All Ireland finals 1944-46-47 were coming to the end of their illustrious careers It is also clearly evident that this great era of Kerry football ran parallel with the emergence in the county of the all conquering Dingle team that won six glorious Kerry county championships, 1938-40-41-43-44-48. These West Kerry men had played a huge part in the Kerry story of that time and now such house hold names as Paddy "Ban" Brosnan, Bill Dillon, Bill Casey; Tom "Gega" o Connor, and Batt Garvey had retired or were entering the autumn of their honour laden careers careers.
It certainly did not look that way when Kerry hammered Clare, 6-6 to 1-8 in the first round of the Munster Championship in Ballylongford on July 10th when the campaign of 1948 began. Many of the old stalwarts were still there. Danno Keeffe, Denny and Jackie Lyne, Bill Casey, Eddie Dowling, Gus Cremin, Batt Garvey and Dan Kavanagh. Gerald o Sullivan, a sub in the Polo grounds scored two goals against Clare while a young twenty year old named Donie Murphy from Muckross in Killarney made his debut at corner back when Paddy "Bawn" the Dingle fisherman failed to reach port due to stormy weather. Both Gerald and Donie were from my own Killarney Legion club and I would later play with both men in club and county colors.
The Munster Final played in Killarney attracted a crowd in access of 40,000. The ball was thrown in to begin the game by Monsignor Hugh o Flaherty who is better known for his exploits in Rome during the Second World War when he defied the entire German espionage service and saved the lives of hundreds of refugees. A Killarney man, his name was commemorated in the town when a road was named in his honour in 2008. A film of his life was also shot; Gregory Peck played the part of the Monsignor. The same Gregory Peck was a relation to the Kerry footballers Tom Ash of Dingle one of the stars of Kerrys 1953 win over Armagh.  Kerry retained the Munster title defeating old rivals Cork 2-9 to 2-6. An early second half goal from Gegga o Connor was decisive. The tem did not train for the match. Many played in the county championship the previous Sunday as Dingle beat Killarney. Paddy "Bawn" had traveled eight hours in a fishing boat from Galway to Dingle on the Saturday to play with his home town and had not docked until mid-night on the Saturday.
A meeting with Mayo awaited Kerry in the All Ireland semi-final and the Connacht men literally trounced the Kingdom, 0-13 to 0-3. It was the county's worst defeat since Dublin had been victorious in the semi –final of 1934 in Tralee. 3-8 to 0-6. The side had not trained for the game and had scored just one point from play in the entire hour. Full back for Mayo that day was the legendary Paddy Prendergast. Paddy later came to work and live in Tralee and I often had the pleasure of chatting with him and he would speak highly of his team mates such as Sean Flanagan, Eamon Mongey, Paddy Carney, Gilvarry and Tom Langan. Mayo lost to Cavan in the final but went on to become champions in 1950-51.
Kerry team: Danno Keeffe, Denny Lyne, Joe Keohane (captain), Paddy "Bawn" Brosnan, Eddie Dowling, Jackie Lyne, Eamon o Connor, Gus Cremin, Tom Spillane, Gerald o Sullivan, Bruddy o Donnell, Batt Garvey, Dan Kavanagh, Martin McCarthy, Teddy o Connor. Subs: Teddy o Sullivan, Gegga o Connor, Derry Burke, Frank o Keeffe, Brendie Kelleher, Donie Murphy, Brian o Sullivan (Castlemaine). Bill Casey was injured and missed the game. 

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