Kerry Captains

Tom Costello - The Man Who Captained Kerry to Victory 100 Years Ago in 1909

by Weeshie Fogarty

I find it quite amazing with all the talk and hullabaloo in relation to the year that's in it, the 125th anniversary of the GAA, not one mention (to my knowledge) has been given to a man who 100 years ago this year led Kerry to their third All Ireland victory. The name Tom Costello has always held a great fascination for me when ever the names of renowned dual legendary players come up for discussion. Sadly here is one man whose memory seems to have been completely forgotten and neglected despite the fact that only for his likes the great Kerry tradition we know today probably would not exist. So let's take a nostalgic trip back in time. Let's peer back through the mists of all those decades, back through the vista of all those years long since passed and recall the deeds of the great Tom Costello who led the Kingdom to their third All Ireland title in 1909. To me what the "Mile Height Boy" achieved is just as relevant as and probably more so to day than away back then.  

Tom Costello was born just one mile from Tralee on the Killarney side hence the nick name "The Mile Height Boy" The house and surrounds where he kicked his first football are still there. His club was Tralee Mitchell's and he achieved remarkable success with them winning four football county championship medals and three hurling medals. The football wins were achieved in the years 1907-08-10-17 and the hurling successes came in 1908-11-12. He also had the distinction of captaining the Mitchel's to both a hurling and football title. He first came into football prominence when he came on as a substitute as a young boy for "Long Tom Sullivan" against Tipperary in the early summer of 1903. He was now becoming one of the best left full backs in the country and while he was on the losing side against Kildare in the 1905 final his greatest day was just around the corner.

Tralee Mitchel's won the Kerry county championship in 1908 defeating the Dingle Gascons in the final and at a subsequent meeting of the club Tom was unionanamously proposed as the next Kerry captain. And so on December 5th 1909 in Jones Road Dublin Tom Costello led The Kingdom to glory against Louth as they triumphed 1-9 to 0-6. Years later he spoke about that historic day. "It was a year of strange happenings. Cork beat us in the Market Field Limerick in the Munster final. We objected to Derry Beckett who played with Cork and were awarded the game, Beckett was declared illegal but we refused to accept the match. We won the second day after a great tussle and it was the first time our great forward Jack Skinner lined out with Kerry. Louth were our opponents in the final, their first, and their lively ground football puzzled us at the beginning.

"A great goal from Skinner and points from Dick Fitzgerald saw us ahead at the short whistle. We proved far too good for them in the second half and ran out easy winners 1-9 to 0-6. What I remember most about the game was a magnificent point scored by Dick Fitzgerald. He got a free out near the corner at the canal end of the ground and swerved the ball beautifully over the bar. I believe this was the first time spectators had seen a screw kick as it was Dicks first time playing in Dublin. After all those years I can still see in my minds eye the ball going between the posts because I had a great view from my position in the full back line. To lead all those great men in an All Ireland final was the proudest moment of my life and that of all my family at home in Tralee".

Tom Costello went on to win two more All Ireland medals in 1913-14 and also added a Croke Cup medal to his collection. Unlike most of the old time players, subsequent to retirement he maintained a very keen interest in the affairs of the Association. He was elected chairman of the Kerry selection committee, a position he held up to the date of his untimely death in September 1934. He operated his own lime kill business from his home at The Mile Height and it was his lorries which were placed at the disposal of the county board when improvements were undertaken at the Austin Stack Park. And it should also be added that Tom Costello's lorry was the first to bear the victorious Kerry teams through the streets of Tralee when they returned in victory.  

Tom had three sons and one daughter as a result of his marriage to Mary Minnie Brosnan. Sadly Mary died a young woman and Tom remarried to Ellen McCarthy who was a brother to the renowned Maurice McCarthy who helped Kerry to All Ireland victories. The forgotten greatness of Tom Costello has come to light following a fascinating evening Christy Riordan C/R videos Caherceiveen and I spend with Toms two grand sons last week. Michael and Tom Costello have wonderful and vivid memories and photographic history of their great relation all of which they so kindly shared with us. We also interviewed Toms great grand son Patrick Kearney who is one of John Mitchells rising young stars and is well aware of his Kerry football breeding. Also a noted and highly respected referee Tom officiated at many Kerry and Munster games both at football and hurling. 

Tom Costello played 50 championship games for his county and never sought the limelight. A man of few words I am reliably informed that when he spoke his opinion carried great weight. When he died at the young age of 46 in 1934 a massive crowd assembled for his funeral to Rath Cemetery. His old colleagues of many a hard fought field assembled in great strength. Members of successive Kerry teams from 1903 to that date formed a guard of honor and the Kerry and Mitchell's jerseys and the Tricolor were placed on the coffin. The GAA was just 25 years in existence when Tom Costello captained Kerry to victory in 1909. That is now 100 years ago. The man richly deserved to be remembered and honored in some small way.

Fogra; "Secrets of Kerry, The Captains Story" A personal portrait of Kerry's All Ireland winning captains will have its first viewing in London next March at the invitation of the Kerry London Association. Work on the project is ongoing. It includes interviews with all living winning Kerry captains and close relations of all those who have answered the final whistle.

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