The Heart and Soul of Kerry Football

January 12th, 2016
by Weeshie Fogarty

It's a near impossible task really, to capture in writing the heart and soul of Kerry football, to write down in black and white what has made Kerry the greatest football county in Ireland. What is it, year after year we see All Ireland titles in some grade come to the county. Minor, junior, under twenty one and senior. We have followed our clubs winning intermediate and junior, colleges, schools, inter-firm, ladies the list goes on and on.  It may now have even reached the stage where all this success is simply taken for granted. Was there ever a year that an All-Ireland in some grade or some age was not won?  What is the secret of Kerry? Why has the county won so much and has been so successful down through the decades.  Well that is the question which was posed to me early last year when renowned Irish publishers The o Brien Press requested me to write a book and attempt, as far as possible, to answer the questions set out above.

The working title of this publication due out sometime  this year might be, but as yet not yet finally decided on, 'The Heart and Soul of Kerry Football'. I was given full latitude to approach this in any way I thought best taking into consideration my own experiences both as a player, official with my club and knowledge gained from my involvement and observations one way or another from 1955 to the present day. So guided in the best possible way by a highly knowledgeable editor some of the chapters have been written and are been scrutinised and corrected as we begin this new year.

Kerry GAA women, rarely if ever written about in publications will feature, three ladies who have played a massive part in in the top echelons of Kerry football will tell their stories and why their sheer love and passion for their county, but most importantly how this all-consuming love for Kerry GAA affairs was passed down to them, from father to daughter. Kerry's first ladies football team, from then to now, the founding of the women's board and Kerry's greatest ever lady footballer. The life and death of Paidi o Se, a man who for me exemplified all that is great and good in Kerry, and Kerry captains, the agony and the ecstasy, the winning and losing. All included.

I take an in depth look at the changing face of Kerry training methods over the decades and the stark lessons learned from those Down defeats in the sixties when this new brilliant northern team completely changed the face of Gaelic football, at Kerry's expense.   Three defeats by Galway in the sixties, trainers coming and going, and the death of catch and kick football which was until than the bed rock of our county teams. Some of Mick o Dwyer great team of the seventies and eighties will tell of their training routines, the savage evenings spent in Fitzgerald Stadium as o Dwyer drove them beyond anything they had ever experienced and how he began his training career with his own beloved Waterville team.  Even to this very day one player told me, so great is his respect for Mick that he still will not smoke a cigarette when in his company.

Then the publishers came up with a request that is completely unique and different. Now it is a recognised fact that in most GAA books published the author will include a chapter or section on what he considers the greatest ever fifteen footballers he has seen, whether this be of his own county or players from all over Ireland.  But my fifteen will be on a completely different level than just my greatest ever Kerry fifteen footballers.   My task has been to choose the most, stylish, classist, elegant, and graceful players who have won senior All Ireland medals with The Kingdom. It has been an difficult, intriguing and fascinating undertaking and not alone was I tasked with naming players but I have also added at least four hundred words profiling each and every one from goalkeeper to corner forward.

Last week we attended the beautiful wedding in Listowel of film producer/director/writer Gerard Barrett and his lovely wife Grainne.  Sitting with Billy Keane we had a long and deep discussion on many subjects. The topic of my forthcoming book and the fifteen classy footballers arose and the Listowel publican and son of the legendary John B demonstrated his deep knowledge of Kerry footballers and its players when he named twelve of the fifteen magnificent players who will be included in this unique and highly distinctive selection. What I will disclose is the fact that there is at least one player included who have played in all decades from the fifties to the present time which proves ,if proof was ever needed that Kerry always produced players of this diversity.  

So how exactly do you define class in a Gaelic footballer and who were the most stylish of all? Who are those that possess that class, style, elegance and pure skill? And what exactly is the definition of a classy footballer? You often come across the term as one describes various players of varying sports. So for this publication I decided to take the bull by the horns and pick the fifteen Kerry footballers whom I myself would consider were the most stylish, classiest, elegant and skilful of all. And of course all these men were blessed with supreme courage and strength; they had to be because without courage and strength then they could never have displayed their wonderful skills.  As in all choices I am fully aware many will disagree with my selection and this is what makes it all worthwhile in many ways.

I first contacted my great friend from Moyvane, Gabriel Fitzmaurice. Gabriel is the author of more than forty books: including many poetry collections and he has edited many collections of essays including the works of the great John B Keane.  So no better man to define the word class. He responded with the following. "A class player is one who deports himself with elegance and grace on the field of play and whose strength and beauty are an integral and effective part of his game". Perfect I thought, and now to attempt the near impossible and choose my fifteen and in doing so I confined myself to all Kerry players I had seen from 1955 to the present day. Finally in another completely different aspect to this forthcoming publication I will invite all our superbly gifted Kerry sports photographers; and we are blessed with the very best if they so wish to include one of their favourite shots, one, that for them epitomizes and typifies and captures in the most beautiful way possible   exactly what is the magic, the beauty, the heart and soul of Kerry football.  So there you have it just a short synopsis on a new book on Kerry football. It promises be another busy year.

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