Liam Higgins - A loyal friend and a great Kerry and Lispole man

by Weeshie Fogarty

The old schoolhouse in Lispole is deserted now, a relic that s boarded up and blue. Decaying when it was once where football stories were made.

One story dates from 1979. Members of the Lispole club went into special session. They had a new pitch that was christened on a famous evening in late 78 when Lispole shocked Dingle in the West Kerry championship final.
The night before that game it poured rain. "Call it off, you couldn t play a game on that", said Dingle supremo Dr. Jim Brosnan. "That f*cking pitch is playable", countered Liam Higgins.

Weeshie Fogarty was referee and a friend of Higgins. He deemed the pitch playable and an hour later Lispole were celebrating a famous first. The meeting in early 79 had one item on the agenda. An official pitch opening. Johnny Barrett, John L O Sullivan and Liam Higgins were among those around the table. John L. started to day dream.
"What if we could get the Dubs down here and have Kerry up against them", said John L.
"You re dreaming John", said Johnny Barrett.
"Why not", said Liam Higgins.
"The Dubs but how?"

Liam Higgins got thinking. Paddy Moriarty from a few fields away in Doonshean worked with Kevin Heffernan in the ESB and knew Jimmy Grey who was the chairman of the Dublin County Board.  "Any chance of getting Dublin for us Paddy", said Higgins. We'll do our best, said Moriarty, who immediately set the wheels in motion. The Dubs landed on July 30, 1979.
"It was a tough game", said Higgins, "with Brian Mullins was coming down to where we all considered he got his football and his uncle Billy Casey looking on. Dublin put out a full team and Kerry did the same. It was tough, but it was great. We had 4,000 people in Lispole - lovely day, everything went right."

Afterwards Dublin got straight on to the bus without togging out because the game was a small bit late in starting. They were racing for a train in Tralee, and missed it. They had to go to Mallow to catch it.  "And we never, ever, got a bill from the Dublin County Board. We were supposed to pay the expenses. The ESB even put up poles to bring the power to the pitch - that should have cost 1,500 but that was written off as well. We never got a bill for that either."

Higgins was at the coalface of Kerry football for 40 years. Winning All-Irelands, selecting on the four-in-a-row team, commentating for Radio Kerry. "The 55 Munster Final was my first memory - at nine years of age. I had to jump up and down on the terrace to see the game before my father would lift me up. I remember Mick Murphy from Ventry punching a point that day. It was huge adventure - there were five buses that went from Dingle to the match. I remember the bus stopped in Crowley s of Inch, that was a stop for the men to have a pint."

"The first All-Ireland I went to was in 63 to see my classmate Tom s S play in the minor All-Ireland. Padraig Lynch from Dingle brought me up. We were staying in some guesthouse on the South Circular Road. Padraig and a few others were going out on the town.  I remember walking up and down outside the house, making sure that I wouldn t go more than 50 yards beyond it in case I wouldn t be able to find it again."

The nervous teenager got to know his way around Dublin, but it took time. Higgins wasn t good enough to be a Kerry minor and under 21 football also passed him by.  "I never thought I had a hope of being a Kerry senior - I was long, thin and scrawny."  Still, he got a run against Cork in Tralee in late 1967, thrown in at the deep end at centre forward against Denis Coughlan. He was lost out there and by the time the Past v Present team in early 1968 he was in goal. He hung on the panel until the end of the National League before bailing out to work on English building sites for the summer. 

Higgins thought his Kerry career over but he had friends in high places. Paddy Bawn was a Kerry selector while Dr Jim Brosnan was county board chairman. They got him back on the panel before in the latter stages of the 1968/69 National League campaign.  "There were four or five minutes left in a play-off game against Cork and they got me on", he recalled, "and we were down a point at the time. Mick O Dwyer got a ball over near the sideline. He crossed it over and Dominic O Donnell who was playing corner forward that time went for it with his man. It just broke to me - I was standing near the endline and I threw a left leg at it and just hit the far post on its way to the net."

Kerry played the National League semi-final two weeks later against Westmeath with Higgins named at full-forward for the first time. He stayed there for the next five years. "Connell would stick the ball to your chest from 50 or 60 yards out and you'd off load to Dwyer. If you dared to have a go yourself and you missed you'd get a bollocking from Dwyer."

There was very little bollocking in 69 or 70. Higgins was still long, thin and scrawny, but he was winning All-Irelands.
"I remember running out on the pitch for the 69 All-Ireland. It seemed any time your boot hit the ground the noise of the crowd was going through your head. We were playing in the Munster jerseys and there was doubt in all the Sunday papers about whether Connell would be playing. We didn't know ourselves and were all out on the pitch kicking around. There was no Connell. Next thing about five minutes after we went out there was this huge roar. I'll never forget it. Connell had walked out on to the pitch and wasn't wearing the same jerseys as us.  He was wearing his own personal jersey. It was blue alright, probably an old jersey he had worn with Munster. He insisted on wearing it. We didn t know until that minute whether he was going to play or not. Jackie Lyne, Dr. Jim Brosnan or Paddy Bawn didn t know either. It was the cheer we heard first - we knew he was coming then."

Great, great, he said over pints in O Flahertys in Dingle in October 2005. Not as great as Lispole though. Liam made his debut as a 14-year-old in 1959 and played his last West Kerry championship game in 1990. In between Lispole experienced everything. "The club died for a while in the sixties but back we came and fielded teams when it was a real struggle. The day we won that West Kerry Championship in 78 on our own field with two famous Pat Begley goals was better than any All-Ireland. Much better."

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