Kerry Footballers

Dan Keating talks about Great Kerry Midfielders

by Weeshie Fogarty


What is it with Kerry and legendary mid-fielders/high fielders? Since the earliest days of the association the Kingdom have dominated the aerial battles around Croke Park on most occasion when they won the All Ireland. Looking back through the mists of time and discussing these great fielders with Kerry supporters who have followed the green and gold all their lives it is my belief that no other county have produced such high fielders decade after decade as have our county. My own memories of this aspect of Kerry football goes back to 1955 when John Dowling was in his prime. Gentleman John gave a majestic display that day as he captained his men to victory over Dublin in a classic final. Five years ago I visited that wonderful centenarian Dan Keating at his home in Ballygamboon just outside Castlemaine where I spent a captivating afternoon in his company discussing Kerry football and other subjects. Now in his 105th year Dan is in hospital in Tralee General and through this Kerryman column we send this exemplary person our best wishes and God grant him a speedy recovery.

During the course of our interview I quizzed Dan on the great midfielders he had seen in action. Now what was most remarkable was the fact that he had seen every Kerry footballer from Dick Fitzgerald back in 1903 to Maurice Fitzgerald of this present generation. His memory of all the legendary players was extraordinary and he could recall minute details of players long gone to their eternal reward. 1913 was as if only yesterday. Kerry beat Louth in the Croke Memorial Final that year and in the middle of the field was Con Murphy of Listry and Pat o Shea from Castlegregory. Con Murphy the Listry farmer-ploughman started to play football at an age when most men think of hanging up their boots. He soon won great fame and had the knack of bobbing up all over the field. He was recalled Dan,"playing then as many players do to day. Back in defense or helping up front with the attackers". Pat "Airplane" o Shea was christened "The Castlegregory Airplane". The name it self conjunctures up wonderful visions of a man literally soaring into the clouds. "A lot of great fielders have come out of the West" recalled Dan, "but until then he was considered the best of all. His dark head of hair could be easily distinguished high above all others when he leaped for a ball in a crowd of players". For some unknown reason Pat retired from the game at an early age when he was still playing great football.

Two more men whom I learned were Dan's all time favorites were Bob Stack and Con Brosnan.  They dominated Croke Park mid field for over ten years. He remembered them as two giants of men when both were at their prime Con never touched twelve stone and Bob was a stone lighter. He made a very relevant point in relation to mid fielders. "Being together for so long they understood each others play perfectly. At times we might over look the fact that it takes years for mid field partners to understand each others play so well. Con Brosnan was deadly accurate from play and placed balls and raised many a white flag for his county. This partnership might claim to be the greatest and longest mid field partnership that ever left the Kingdom".

Others who come to mind who starred at mid field include, Paddy Kennedy, Johnny Walsh, Eddie Dowling, Sean Brosnan, Jimmy Lucy, Ger D.o Connor, Mick Fleming, Paudie Lynch, Pat McCarthy, Jack o Shea, Seanie Walsh, Ambrose o Donovan. And of course of the present generation Donal Daly and William Kirby gave tremendous displays in league and championship in the middle of the field. And Darragh o Se can in my opinion be rated with any of the men mentioned here. His displays of high fielding. pin point passing and high work rate are well known to one and all.
And yes I hear you say, I forgot one. One who reined supreme over friend and foe during many a Croke Park battle from 1958 until the early seventies. One man who on his best days can be rated as one of the greatest and most stylish of all mid fielders. Mick o Connell the man from Valentia. His story is one of the secrets of Kerry and one chapter of that surrounds the All Ireland semi final of 1962 when Kerry turned in a magical display to beat Dublin and went on to capture the Sam Maguire. This is the forgotten Kerry victory over Dublin and was most historic in another area. It was the very first GAA match televised live. One half was broadcast in English ant the second half in Irish.   Already I here the grape vine humming all over the place in relation to that wonderful 1977 semi final when the Dubs had a rare championship victory over the Kingdom. Memories, tradition, great scores, legendary players from the past all combine to send the temperature soaring in the run up to next Sunday clash of the city versus the country.

So let add to the atmosphere as we await the throw in. Staying with 1962 Kerry had hammered Cork in the Munster final, 4-8 to 0-4. That was the day that all hell broke lose in a tempestuous game at the old Athletic Grounds. As a Kerry player was walking to the side line after being send off I saw sods, stones, and bottles being thrown in his direction. Things were getting out of hand on the embankment and believe it or not I have vivid memories of a Friar dressed in habit, skull cap and sandals remonstrating with the crowd as he endeavored to prevent the trouble. Years later while in hospital in Cork I learned from the chaplain there that this good man was in fact a Rev. Fr Nessan who had been for many years been a member of the Cork football committee. It was one of the most remarkable sights I have ever witnessed. I don't know if this man is still alive.

Three weeks later on August 5th Kerry faced raging hot favorites Dublin in the All Ireland semi final in Croke Park. The following Thursday the Kerryman headlines screamed out the message. "In a Blaze of Glory Kerry won Through to the Final-Greatly overrated Dublin team were Crushed". Dublin 0-10, Kerry 2-12. Other banner headlines delivered the wonderful message for Kerry readers. "Dublin Outfetched, Outsped, Outgeneralled and Outfoxed".   They had trained all winter while Kerry had only a hand full of sessions under Dr Eamonn o Sullivan before the Munster final. Eamonn had once again been recalled to drag the Kingdom out of the doldrums. Mick o Connell had one of his greatest hours in the green and gold.  The scribes were gushing in their praise, one wrote. "In more than two score years of watching Gaelic Football I cannot recall a greater exhibition of the games skills than Mick o Connell gave yesterday. The famed light house beacon on his native Valentia has never lit the storm tossed Atlantic more vividly than did o Connell's brilliance light the scene at Croke Park in this game. His two points from sideline kicks, one in each half were inspirational to his colleges and we my never see their likes again".

Tom Long (1-3), Niall Sheehy, Donie o Sullivan and Tim "Tiger" Lyons, Timmy o Sullivan, and Dan McAuliffe were others to shine in what was acknowledged as magnificent team victory. Dave Geaney came on in the second half, he kicked the last Kerry point and now as selector is the only link from that day 45 long years ago with next Sundays team. In his wonderful book "A Kerry Footballer" published in 1974, (now a collectors item) Mick o Connell was high in his praise of his opponent that day Cathal o Leary and also gave an insight of what this particular 1962 game meant to himself. "The very agile o Leary was unequalled for speed and the leap for the ball in my time", he wrote. "Why Dublin played him for so long at half back and other positions seemed incomprehensible. That day too was personally a very successful one for me; at vital times I pointed two sideline balls and caught a couple in the air that qualifies for the best-in-a-lifetime label. If for nothing else that day our individual contest showed that at mid field and in direct opposition two men can come off the field with a job well done".

That winning Kerry side was. Johnny Culloty, Donie o Sullivan, Niall Sheehy, Tim "Tiger" Lyons, Sean Og Sheehy (Cap), Seamus Murphy, Mick o Dwyer, Mick o Connell, Jimmy Lucy, Dan McAuliffe, Timmy o Sullivan, Gerry o Riordan, Garry McMahon Tom Long, Paudie Sheehy.
Subs. Dave Geaney (on), Seamus Roche (on), Gene o Driscoll, Alan Conway, Kevin Coffey, Tom Burke, John Healy. Noel Lucy missed the game due to injury.

It transpired that this was a defining game in the county's history. On the two previous years Down had beaten Kerry in a final and a semi final and another defeat would have proved disastrous as there was great unrest and disappointment in the county.

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom