1967 - Historic victory for Kerry under lights in Australia

by Weeshie Fogarty

Understandably I may be accused of being bias when I state that the first half performance given by the Kerry touring side in March of 1970 in Adelaide was one of the greatest ever given by a side in the green and gold. Bold words indeed when one reflects on the legendary games played by The Kingdom down through the decades. However when I point out that it was with an oval shaped ball and against the mighty Australians in their own back yard it should make more sense.

In the first half of that game under lights at the Norwood Oval Kerry performed what seemed like miracles with that strange oval ball against a South Australian side which included no fewer than nine State players. Now Kerry county board Chairman Dr. Jim Brosnan had agreed to the oval ball being used for the first fifteen minutes of the game and many in the party while admiring his courage doubted his wisdom in giving the home side what appeared would be a head start on the score board. Nevertheless events were to prove dramatic to say the least and in hind sight greatly advanced the course of international football between the two countries in future years.

Kerry were performing brilliantly when referee Pascal Deering, a former Wicklow and son of former Bective rangers Irish Rugby international, Mark, was about to introduce the round ball for the oval one after a quarter of an hour when Jim Brosnan had it announced over the public address that Kerry would continue with the oval ball up until half time. And so it was when the short whistle went Kerry were unbelievably level with the star studded host having scored 2-2 to the home sides 1-5.

The Australian coach Neil Kerle had boasted in the run up to the match that they would be so far ahead at half time there would be no point in playing the second half and the spectators, there were 5,000 present would be gone home to their beds. I was sitting in the dug out that historic night and what I witnessed will remain forever etched in my memory. We had trained under Jackie Lyne the previous day with the oval ball and to tell the truth most of us were very skeptical of taking on the Aussies with their own ball. All our fears were completely unfounded and on the night the fielding, passing and kicking by our side was a joy to behold and most proficient with the oval ball, they took to it like ducks to water, were Mick o Dwyer, Liam Higgins Tom Prendergast, Seamus Fitzgerald, Donie o Sullivan Mick o Shea and in goal Johnny Culloty. The Australians were absolutely stunned and the Kerry supporters were thrilled with the exhibition and how they responded to it all, as the literally raised the roof as the half time whistle sounded. Great stuff indeed. The round ball as agreed was introduced at half time and the Australians were simply pulverized as our boys turned on an exhibition winning 7-13 to 3-5.

At the after match reception Harry Beitzel the man who brought the first Australian teams to Ireland in 1967 and 1968 was lavish in his praise of Captain Johnny Culloty and his team. "That performance", he said, proved beyond all doubt that you fellows can play and play superbly, and I can see no reason why we would not have Gaelic Internationals in Ireland and our rules being played here, this has been an historic evening." Neil Kerley added, "I was astonished by the handling and kicking of Kerry but it will still be a long and difficult fight to overcome the doubters and those in opposition to these games." Towering Peter Darby, a star of the defeated side speaking as captain, expressed his amazement at the display of Kerry and then added some-thing that should be forever remembered when great Kerry footballers are spoken of. Darley stated," I rate Tom Prendergast the greatest small man I have ever seen, his display was superb." Tom was of course voted Texao player of the year in 1970 and has a record equal to anyone. Wing back was his position. He is now living in Killarney and general secretary of the Killarney Golf and Fishing Club. What a player. And finally Dr Jim the man responsible for all said that he was surprised by our sides handling and kicking of the oval ball and considered that the display of Kerry could be the start of something big between Ireland and Australia. Prophetic words indeed from the good doctor.

That historic winning side: Johnny Culloty, Seamus Murphy, Paud o Donoghue, Seamus Fitzgerald, Tom Prendergast, Mick Gleeson, Derry Crowley, D J Crowley, Donie O Sullivan, Brendan Lynch, Pat Griffin, Eamon o Donoghue, Mick Aherne, Liam Higgins  Mick o Dwyer. Subs on, Dom o Donnell, P J Burns, Colm O Callaghan, Pat Moynihan,

We had arrived in Adelaide on National Flower Day, Victoria Square was a blaze of color and the festival of Arts was in full flow at which Irish writer Enda o Brien was a guest speaker and Connor Cruise o Brien's "King Herod was also topping the bill, Another great reception here for the travelers. In Adelaide alone you had about 300 Irish step dancers and we enjoyed a fine exhibition by a group of girls born in Australia of Irish parents. There I met men like Jim Stack and Jim Farnan who do tremendous work for the Irish community and every one went out of their way to help us.

Next stop was one of the highlights of the tour, a trip to the outback town of Wagga Wagga,(population back then 30,000), and they were celebrating its centenary and we were well informed of the part the Irish had played in building this cowboy town. The people had ridden in from all the rural areas to cheer on the Wagga Tigers at the Weissel Oval and their was a great atmosphere in the air. We stayed with local families and my host could not do enough to make my visit memorable, conducting tours to all the surrounding areas, such a difference from the bustling cities.

Johnny Culloty was having knee problems and it had swelled up for no apparent reason and it was evident that his playing on the tour was at an end so I was called upon to replace my legendary Legion club mate, trainer Jackie Lyne was also a member of our Killarney club so it was nice to have The Legion represented on all those world tour games. The great Spa man Donie o Sullivan took over the captaincy in Johnny's absence. It was another easy win, 3-18 to 0-11, however the tactics of some of the opposition was reminiscent of what happened in the compromise rules last year and some of their play was positively dangerous and I have vivid memories of some spectators behind my goal seeking to incite their players. They exhorted their players with such comments as, "drop him, lay him out mate, kick him back to Ireland", and so on. Referee Ollie Courtney was no help to our cause and the former Fermanagh player then resident in Sydney left everything go from start to finish. It must be added that only a minority of their players were at these rough house tactics.

Late in the game played in intense heat Pat griffin one of Kerrys most stylish of all footballers went high for a ball in the middle of the field, came down heavily on his back on the bone hard pitch and when on the ground received a violent kick to his back. The great Glenbeigh in my estimation never fully recovered from that incident and it hastened his retirement from the game. Late last year I broadcast a two hour Radio Kerry Terrace Talk special from Glenbeigh on Pat's life and times and that incident come up for discussion, it certainly hindered Pat in his later life.

Wagga Wagga is Aboriginal dialect for crow, the place where crows assemble, the Murumbidgee river runs through the town. It is 322 miles by rail from Sydney and 268 miles from Melbourne and it was first visited by white men in 1829. A visit to a real life rodeo was special, one day you are in the heart of civilization the next you can drive for endless miles in boiling conditions through red-dust country, the car stifling hot, without seeing a single soul except Kangaroos hopping all over the place. The only link for resident of this bush country with the rest of the world is often by phone and that is if they can afford the cost of laying the necessary cable.  Fascinating look at the life and times of the cattle and sheep drover, many we were told opt for this solitary existence and indeed when we were flying overhead in what appeared to me to be an old dilapidated twin engine plane the bleak vastness of the out- back stretched as far as the eye could see. Our next stop would be Sydney, then on to New Zealand, Hawaii, Fiji, San Francisco, and New York. March 1970 was certainly becoming a year to remember.

Fogra: Next Monday 13th on Radio Kerry, Terrace Talk 6-8 pm I will launch the Kerry GAA year book. A man named Sylvester Hennessey has been working on this publication for the past 12 months. It promises to be a collector's item with all the forgotten news of the past year included. Tune in.

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