Legionnaire in Exile

November 2nd, 2015
by Patrick Mannix

Killarney LegionAll roads lead to Fitzgerald Stadium on Sunday for the final of the Kerry Senior County Football Championship. Although the distance is greater for the South Kerry masses travelling to Killarney the journey travelled by the Legionnaires of the Green and White has been one full of twists and turns, trials and disappointments hoping to end their sixty nine year wait to return the Bishop Moynihan cup to Dereen. For many Legionnaires including myself the road to Dereen is a road less travelled as the economic downturn of the last few years necessitated a move away from our home.

Waiting for the Saturday morning bus to collect me from Woodlawn Cross was my first memory and association with the Green and White. My family always had an affiliation with the Green and White jersey but not the Green and White of Legion, but of Listry GAA club. My Dad's home club had a profound connection on my extended family. I grew up listening to stories from my uncles of the success they had with their club as youngsters. I later discovered that Pa had scored 2-1 in their victory over Spa in the final of the East Kerry Football Championship Final in 1970. These stories fuelled my appetite to play football particularly when my brother John Paul was already playing with the club. Nerves and apprehension as the bus first pulled up were quickly forgotten as many lifelong friendships and bonds were made that still continue to this day. The volunteers who looked after us as kids on those numerous Saturday mornings and still continue the good work are what make Legion GAA club like so many others across the fields of Ireland so special. Legion stalwarts such as Denny Murphy, Johnny Culloty, Tommy Regan, Padraig Brosnan, Paudie Breen, Pat Healy, Noellie Kelleher, Pat & Nora Kissane, Mike Murphy, Pat Moynihan and Donal & Seanie Culloty among others were the ones who looked after us in the early days. That tradition is still being maintained today and is growing from strength to strength.

As a youngster I was just happy to be out and about playing the game I loved with my friends. Facilities and club structures mattered little to me. However, as I made my way through the underage system it quickly began to become obvious that we were in the shadow of the other great Killarney club, Dr. Crokes GAA. Our facilities in Dereen were small and outdated in comparison to our rivals. The old clubhouse had served its time and the pitches were not coping well with the Irish summers and the amount of fixtures scheduled. Still the club stalwarts and committee kept their focus on growing and developing the club into the new millennium. As a young eighteen year old I still remember attending my first AGM and hearing about the problems facing the club going forward. At that stage in the early 2000s we were struggling for player numbers and even found it hard to field an U-21 side. The club were forced to join with Listry to field an U-21 team and I still remember attending a training session in Allman Field being the only Legion player present. I began to become disillusioned with the game I loved and recurring injury stopped any long term commitment to playing. Once I left Killarney for college I only fleetingly returned to play Junior and U-21 with the club over the years. It gave me great pleasure to at least get to play side by side with my brother once against Kilcummin in the Green and White jersey.

Emigration has been a major problem for the GAA particularly in the rural communities down in South Kerry. However, it is not only rural communities that have suffered. In a town of Killarney's size of under 15,000 people three main urban teams are competing for the next generation to wear the green and gold of Kerry. Clubs now use every tactic available to them to recruit the next generation and family loyalty is the strongest of these. The recent economic downturn has however, unfortunately broken that loyalty somewhat as the downturn has meant that players in their twenties and thirties find it hard to find employment locally and maintain a commitment to playing their sport. This has seen GAA clubs nationwide lose numerous players over the years.

As I began to spend more and more time away from Killarney my knowledge of club events began to wane but now and again I would meet old teammates and club stalwarts and was soon filled in on the exciting developments at the club. The old clubhouse was demolished and a new state of the art clubhouse has replaced it that has re-energised the club and given it the shock that it needed to compete with the other big clubs in Kerry and Ireland. The old guard steered the club through difficult times and the next generation are beginning to bear fruit with the club's representation on the county and minor panels playing hugely significant roles in recent years. A new seated stand has been built and only recently the Club's Development Committee acquired €50,000 through the Sports Capital Grants Programme to develop an all weather surface for training all year round.

An appearance in a first county final since 1946 beckons and the possibility for the club to select the next Kerry captain. South Kerry stands in their way and will prove an admirable foe with plenty of experience and skill. Back in July 2015 Legion hosted the 2015 GAA All Ireland series launch with a visit from an Uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael Aogán Ó Fearghail. This was a huge day for the club and was almost a celebration of all the hard work Legionnaires past and present had put into helping the club return to the top table of Kerry football. An Léigiún can be used as a benchmark for other clubs both locally and nationally on how to put structures in place to develop and grow your local club. Although now living in Kilkenny I have never forgotten the green and white and now support my local hurling club here O' Loughlin Gaels who ironically also don the green and white. I have no doubt that the voice of that great Legionnaire, Weeshie Fogarty, will travel across the airwaves around the globe on Sunday afternoon on Radio Kerry and be received by many a legionnaire in exile.

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom