The Sheehys - brothers with a football pedigree belonging to the purebred class

May 19th, 2015
by Weeshie Fogarty

When Sean Og Sheehy climbed the steps of the old Hogan stand in 1962 to accept the Sam Maguire Cup he was walking into history.  Sean Og was emulating his legendary father John Joe who had captained Kerry on two occasions, 1926 and 1930, to All Ireland victory.  It was a momentous day for the Sheehy family as Sean Og's two brothers Niall and Paudie were also on the starting fifteen that afternoon.  A fourth brother Brian who had also played with the seniors won an All Ireland junior medal the following year 1963.

They were brothers with a football pedigree which could only belong to the purebred class. And it's not difficult to understand how these three brothers in 1962 reached such a high standard of football when one considers that they had as a father the great John Joe. The Sheehy's and the Tralee John Mitchels club are synonymous. That's where the brothers studied and perfected the craft and they soon graduated up the line - full recognition came when the trio lined out at Croke Park.

John Joe Sheehy was an unwavering Republican all his life and it's worth rembering that a brother of his named Jimmy was killed fighting for Britain at the Somme in World War One.  No wonder the four Sheehy brothers grew up with the staunchest of Kerry GAA beliefs coursing through their veins and their father's political and sporting career makes fascination reading. He played a major part in Kerry's great success on the field. He won four All Ireland medals the last as Kerry captain in 1930, and he shocked the county that very same year when he retired from the game.  He died in 1980 at the age of eighty three when he was still President of the Kerry County Board

I have vivid memories as a Kerry minor footballer in 1959 when John Joe was a selector on that team. We had togged out for the Munster final against Cork in St Finans Psychiatric Hospital which overlooks Fitzgerald Stadium Killarney and made our way to the playing field through the crowds on the terrace. And then before the game commenced we all gathered around John Joe at the half way line where he proceeded to deliver a rousing pep talk reminding us in no uncertain terms of our history, what we stood for, what the green and gold jerseys represented and he even recalled names of legendary Kerry footballers who had passed on to their eternal reward.

Sean Og assumed the mantle of Kerry captain in 1962 due to the fact that his club had won the Kerry county championship the previous year, a hat trick of wins, And in fact powered by the four Sheehy brothers they would go o to complete a historic record of five-in-a-row Kerry county championships, a record which stands to this very day and is unlikely ever to be equaled. Brothers Niall (1964) and Paudie (1953) also captained Kerry in the championship.

Sean Og began that 1962 campaign at right half back and Waterford were defeated in the first round after a hard struggle, 2-18 to 2-6. For the Munster final against Cork he was selected at wing forward as Donie o Sullivan came into the defence. A disappointing hour's football saw Cork slump to a 4-8 to 0-4 defeat. The goals came from Gene o Driscoll, Tom Long, Dan McAuliffe and mid fielder Mick o Connell. It was Kerry's fifth Munster crown in a row.

The captain returned to his more customary position at half back for the glamour clash against Dublin in the semi-final and he led his men to a decisive 2-12 to 0-10 victory over the Dubs. Tom Long with 1-3 and Garry McMahon 1-1 send The Kingdom on their winning way. Sean Og was lavish in his praise for Mick o Connell that day. "He was brilliant, it was his day. His fielding was magnificent and his kicking with both feet has not been surpassed. He is undoubtedly the greatest exponent of Gaelic football I have seen".

Roscommon now stood between the Tralee man and history and in what was one of the most disappointing finals I have ever seen. Kerry easily over came they opponents, 1-12 to 1-6. In an interview years later Sean Og made no secret of the fact that it was a very poor game.  "Meeting my father afterwards was very special and he was delighted we won but I found it difficult to be too excited because the game was so bad. Terrible is the only word to describe it".

It was the first final ever televised live and a record was set that day which still exists. The late Garry McMahon corner forward in that 1962 triumph and I when we met often discussed what happened thirty two seconds into the game.  Garry's description of events remains forever etched in the memory.

"Before the game Jim Brosnan told me that the Roscommon corner back had a habit of attacking every ball that came in to the square. And sure enough just after the start Mick o Connell floated a lovely free from the Cusack stand side in to the canal goal, my man went for it full blooded, missed it and I flicked it with my fist to the net. I had been a very good handballer in my youth and I scored most of my goals for Kerry with my fist".

It was the dream start for Kerry and they never looked back, Mick o Connell again was brilliant kicking eight points from play and frees, he actually finished that year of 1962 as Kerry's top scorer with 1-16 to his name. An amazing achievement for a mid field player. Garry McMahon in later years loved to tell the following story about the day in '62. "Every year I would go to the All Ireland final with my family I would check my watch as the referee threw in the ball and as the minute hand passed the thirty two second mark I would tell them; my record is safe for another year".

Sean Og admits to being very nervous coming out for that final but recalled, " once I got a few kicks I settled down very well but I get more enjoyment now in later life out of being captain than I did back then.". He had a relatively short career with Kerry, having his first game in the league in 1961 and told me, "I was dropped for the All Ireland semi-final against Galway in 1963, Bernie o Callaghan replaced me. I played my last game with the county against Mayo in 1964".

For that final Kerry were forced to make one change from the Dublin game and would be classed as laughable today as to why this change was needed. Donie o Sullivan who had played at corner back in the Munster final and All Ireland semi-final was a student in Maynooth College at the time and he told me.

"We had been allowed to play during the holidays but we were not allowed out of the college to play. It was of course very disappointing as a young man especially after helping the side reach the final. Noel Lucy came in instead of me. "We had been allowed to play during the holidays but we were not allowed out of the college to play. It was of course very disappointing as young men especially after helping the side reach the final".

That 1962 win for Kerry came really as a major surprise to many as the county had been humiliated in the two previous years by a brilliant emerging Down side. The face of gaelic football was changing dramatically. In the 1960 final and the semi-final the following year Kerry followers were stunned as Down brought a whole new style to the game. They played a direct opposite approach to the traditional catch and kick which Kerry trainor Dr Eamon o Sullivan had espoused since the twenties.

The good doctor had trained eight All Ireland winning Kerry sides from 1924 to that year of '62. It should be pointed out that he did not train the side every year but intermittently. When Kery were in trouble they would send for Eamon.  A truly remarkable achievement to train eight winning sides.  But now Down with their fast low style football, using the wings to great effect and breaking the ball from the Kerry midfielders tolled the death of The Kingdom old outdated playing style.

Brillant and hungry for success players such as Kevin Mussen, Sean o Neill, Jim McCartan, Tony Haddon, Joe Lennon and Leo Murphy were inspirational. I was at both of those games and in my opinion Down were the first side to drag the game kicking and screaming into a modern era.  They were after Mick o Dwyer's legendary side of the seventies and eighties the greatest side I have ever seen. 

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