The County Championship shapes and moulds great Kerry footballers

May 10th, 2016
by Weeshie Fogarty

And so the race for the Bishop Moynihan Cup commences next weekend, who will be the new Kerry county champions, who will succeed Brian Sheehan as captain? And indeed congratulations to Brian and his new bride on their recent marriage, no doubt the towering mid fielder one of the great county championship performers in recent years will have a big say in the title ambitions of the holders South Kerry. While the real drama and excitement will not materialise until the knock out stages are reached this championship second only to Kerry's involvement in the All-Ireland series provokes all sorts of reminiscences, questions, queries and  memories of great games, great players and titles won and lost.

No doubt the great John Mitchels club of Tralee will have a special county championship celebration this year as they will be recalling the men who won their very last title as far back as 1966, fifty long years ago. Yes it's amazing to realise that this great club who probably fielded the best ever side in the competition have not captured the trophy since that day, October 2nd 1966. Four months previously England had beaten Germany in the World Cup final in Wembley and they too have failed to land the big prize since then, so Mitchels and England, one of a kind you might say. Johnny Kelliher their renowned goalkeeper will like that comparison? And when I referred to them as the greatest count y championship side ever how can you argue with a team that won five in a row, 1959 to '63.

Unlike rank outsiders Leicester City and that wonderful Premier League win last week its highly unlikely one of the county's so called smaller clubs will lift the Kerry premier trophy this year, the winners will come out of a smaller group of clubs/divisional sides as has been the case in recent decades. Dr Crokes will in my opinion once again start as favourites and holders South Kerry, Mid Kerry, Austin Stacks, and Kenmare might be the big surprise while Dingle with an abundance of young talent coming through might have to wait a while longer to regain the title. On paper Kerins o Rahillys have a very strong, experienced group of players and really should make a bold bid for honours if they are capable of being more consistent as regards scoring.

It's a rare occurrence to have a completely unfancied side win or even reach the final and over the years only a handful of clubs have beaten the odds. Kilcummin did it in 2002 when they came from nowhere to meet Kerins o Rahillys in the final. Rahillys won, their first victory since 1957, Bomber Liston was their manager as Kilcummin were defeated. With Jack o Connor as manager in 2008 o Rahillys suffered a heart breaking defeat in the final when Mid Kerry's Aidan o Shea, son of Jacko blasted home the winning penalty with the last kick of an absorbing final in Fitzgerald Stadium. An Gaeltaght had a great innings when the o Se brothers Dara, Marc and Thomas, together with Dara o Cinnéide, and Aodan MacGearailt and others reached their peak winning two titles in 2001 and 2003 having lost the final in 2000

The present treasurer of the county board Weeshie Lynch was one of the stars of Annascaul in 1993 when the club played in the  championship for the first time and made it to the final, where shorn of many of their star players due to injury, lost out to Laune Rangers. It was a wonderful voyage and there were some notable wins along the way, including a first round win over then holders Mid Kerry and over locals  West Kerry in the semi-final. And who can forget the massive celebrations when Laune Rangers now going through a re-building process and captained by their goalkeeper Peter Lyons bridged a seventy eight year gap stretching back to 1911 when they beat the afore mentioned Annascaul. Under manager John Evans they captured three more titles, 1993-95-96.

The county championship is special in so many ways, it gives the ordinary club player the great opportunity to have his day in the sun and to play in a county final is an experience you will never forget. The build-up, the morning of the game, the speeches in the dressing room before you race out on to the pitch, marching behind the band, the tension, the roar of the crowd, the scores, the misses, the ebb and flow of the game, the presentation of the cup, if you are lucky enough to win, the return home and the week of celebrations. For the ordinary club player who has never been in wining situations such as this it's unforgettable.

I played my first county championship match with The Legion in Caherceiveen when just seventeen years old, I have experienced the thrill of playing in six finals with East Kerry trained by Donie Sheehan who reached the ripe old age of ninety this year, experienced the emotions of winning and losing and of being presented with the Bishop Moynihan Cup. That good Bishop who died in 1975, was a Rathmore man who I often served as an alter boy in St Marys Cathedral in the fifties. I was in the privileged position of referring six finals and now for the last decade so fortunate to sit in the Radio Kerry broadcast box as we transmit all the county final action to Kerry Gaels at home and around the world.

So the Kerry county championship has been a massive part of my life and indeed the life's of every Kerry GAA supporter from the very first final played in 1887 when Laune Rangers beat Crokes in the final. And then last year my county championship experiences took a very emotional and painful turn when my own club The Legion suffered the agonising heart break of defeat following a thrilling draw and re-play in the final as South Kerry came from seven points down to prevent us capturing our first title since 1946. It was and I am not one bit ashamed to say one of the greatest county championship disappointments of my life.

There is much more to this great competition than just winning and losing, it is part of Kerry, part of our tradition and history, it shapes and moulds great Kerry footballers, it affords men like Seamus Moynihan, Declan o Sullivan, Darren o Sullivan, Ambrose o Donovan and others the wonderful opportunity to captain Kerry to All Ireland victory. It brings happiness and joy to supporters, it brings clubs together as divisional sides, it is the grass roots and heartbeat of Kerry football. Yes indeed as the championship infolds and the Kerryman as they have done from the very first year covers every kick of every match stand back and experience the agony and the ecstasy, its simply great stuff.

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