The Secret of Kerry and the Keepers of the Flame

September 30th, 2014
by Weeshie Fogarty

All our imaginations were vividly captured in the run up to the 1953 final against Armagh. The Kerryman, a broadsheet back then gave the impending match great coverage. A special supplement was produced in the weeks leading up to the game. Players were interviewed at length. Of course there was no television or local radio back then. The Kerryman was and still is the bible of Kerry football and their GAA journalist Paddy Foley who wrote under the initials PF was one of the best in the country. For us Killarney boys our heroes on that magnificent team were Jackie Lyne, Tadghie Lyne, and Donie Murphy all from the town.

Mulcahy's boot and shoe shop was situated at the top of our street, New St. In the weeks preceding the final the shop windows were bedecked with a green and gold flag, big pictures of the local players, old blackthorn football boots and socks and right in the center was a silver cup which I later learned was the prize for the winners of the old Killarney Street League. And there nestling right on top of that cup was the wondrous sight of a beautiful white pig skin football with the words  o Neills printed boldly in black lettering. It was the first time I had seen a pig skin football and I was dazzled by it pure newness and whiteness, this I remember best of all. We would gatherer every day after school and gaze at the wonders in this window and most of all our eyes feasted on the football.

Danno Keeffe (not the legendary Kerry goalkeeper), was the man in charge of the sports section of the shop. In later life both of us became great friends, as he and I were members of the Killarney Legion Club and played East Kerry and county championship football and basketball together. Danno had a great sports back ground, he was a member of the Kerry junior football panel and also played a few games with the Kerry seniors. Also an accomplished basketball player he was one of the stars of the Kerry basketball team that won the county's first ever All Ireland title in 1957. One day a few of us summed up the courage to enter the shop and ask Danno the price of the football. His answer. "Well boys" he replied. "Its five pounds, five shillings and sixpence, but if ye come in with the five pounds ye can have it, is that fair"?

We were determined to have that football and so we set about raising the money. Just outside the town on the Killorglin road was the Killarney dump pit where all the refuse from the town was disposed of. It covered a huge area, wide open to the elements the smell emanating from the decaying refuse was horrible. But it was here the secret of raising funds to purchase the ball lay. We became known as "the New Street picaroons". We began collecting jam jars from the dump. Every day after school in the Monastery we would gather at Christy Healy's shop on our street and run the two miles to the dump. With the sea gulls and crows swooping and screeching over head, furious at being disturbed we scoured the vast area ignoring the horrible smell. My brother Geni had salvaged an old canvas potato bag from our fathers shed and this would be quickly filled with dirty filthy two pound jam jars.

Our next stop on the way home was the Denaght River running parallel with the Port road and just across from the St Mary's Cathedral. Off with the shoes, into the river and the washing and cleaning the jam jars commenced. T.T. o Connors shop in High Street (now Penny's) was the next stop; they had stores at the back where we sold the jars to the man in charge. Two pennies for each jar, I was appointed the keeper of the money and it was an excited group of young picaroons who landed the five pounds on the counter to Danno. We watched in glorious anticipation as he retrieved the ball from the window. He then proceeded to pump it with a special valve attached to a bicycle pump and then with deft experienced fingers he laced the opening with a leather thong and giant needle. The ball was ours, it was handed around from one another and I will never forget the soft feel and beautiful leather smell from that first ever football. Until then Geni and I had made our own ball, a bundle of pages from the Kerryman or Cork Examiner tied together with some of my mothers knitting wool.

During one of those days scavenging in the Killarney dump pit I had uncovered an old large silver plated oil lamp. I brought it home and watched enthralled as my late mother washed and shined what was to be our Sam Maguire Cup. Plenty elbow grease and a fair spread of Brasso had transformed this old dirty lamp into a beautiful shinning spectacle. And so that day in the dim and distance past when the full time whistle had sounded in Croke Park and Armagh had been defeated a crowd of young New Street boys raced to the St Brendan's Seminary field situated in the New Road not far from our homes. And it was there in that field now the site of Killarney Community College that our All Ireland final was played. Two teams of twelve a-sides battled it out until darkness descended. Michael Clifford was the winning captain and Brother Philip from our Monastery school who had refereed the contest presented the "Cup" to the captain.

Michael later immigrated to England where he began a very successful construction firm. Sadly however he died in a tragic accident when a trench he was inspecting caved in on top of him. He is buried in Adhadoe.  Michael daughter is the renowned and highly talented Sky News world reporter Micheal Clifford. Micheal was invited to Killarney a few years ago to lead the Saint Patrick's Day parade, I met up with her and conduced a long and in dept interview where I informed her of that "All Ireland Final" her dad had played in back in 1953.

The seeds had been well and truly sown. Six years later 1959 I would don the green and gold for the first time, play for the Kerry minor footballers and suffer a heart breaking defeat in that Munster final.  A love and appreciation for Kerry football had well and truly been laid and as I watched the thousands and thousands of young boys and girls including my own two little grand daughters welcome the victorious Kerry team's home last week I continued to marvel at the Secret of Kerry. It's a handing down of tradition, passed on through decades of victories and home comings, a nurturing of skills and true Kerry style by people like Eamon Fitzmaurice and Jack o Connor.  The present heroes are just the keepers of the flame. So really when you sit down and ponder on it all, it's really no secret at all.

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