National League

Will we get a glimpse of Jack's first fifteen?

April 21st, 2009
by Weeshie Fogarty

That feel good factor about football in the county is very evident at the moment and why not as we can reflect on three All-Ireland titles already safely added this year to the long list of previous Kerry titles in all grades.

Those memorable All-Ireland wins by Skellig Rangers, St. Michaels/Foilmore and Colaiste Na Sceilge have been acclaimed and rightly so by Kerry followers far and wide. It's a truly remarkable achievement with only four months of the year gone that these three titles have come to the Kingdom.

Chatting to members of the Kerry panel I bumped into here and there around the county it is very evident that these wins rub off on every player and adds further to the fact that when the county reaches a national final, especially in Croke Park, it takes a right good team to overcome the Green and Gold. And so it will be in Croke Park again next Sunday as Derry, our conquerors last year in the final, await Jack O'Connor's unbeaten side. It has been a highly successful league campaign for Kerry.

Little did I think when I wrote here before the league began that the forthcoming games would be purely a testing ground for the Championship that so many players would now be fighting for places as the Championship looms? It's a huge plus that Derry are the opponents, and not Galway as could have been. With Monaghan and Cork opening proceedings next Sunday there will be a great atmosphere in Croke Park and this allied to the fact that it is the first national final played under the highly discussed experimental rules adds spice to the encounter.

Derry will be worthy opponents as well we know following last year's defeat in the final. Who will forget the first 26 minutes of that game? Goals from the two Mid Kerry men, Donnchadh Walsh and Darran O'Sullivan, had seen Kerry ahead, 2-4 to 0-3. Derry then took over from a disjointed looking Kerry side and ran out winners, 2-13 to 2-9. It was an incredible collapse by Kerry. This in itself makes Sunday's game even more appetising for supporters of both sides. Derry boss Damian Cassidy made his opinions well known last week when he stated, following their win in the semi-final over Donegal, "we've got to the final without emptying the tank".

Naming a Kerry starting fifteen would be only pure speculation at this stage, but one must begin to wonder when the Kerry selectors will decide to field what they consider their best starting side. While it is a huge bonus to have so many options following the unbeaten run in the league, a settled team playing the style of football as instructed by Jack O'Connor will have to appear sooner rather than later. Of course, injuries to key players such as Declan O'Sullivan and Marc Ó Sé will dictate matters to some extent.

The wide open expanses of Croke Park will test out our troubled full-back position and when I say troubled I really mean that we do not have a settled man here as of yet. Tommy Griffin might well be the long term answer. Centre-field is another area that requires settling. The problem here is that there are numerous options, a great complaint. But who will be the Championship two? This particular league continues to mystify. Colm Cooper, who has 3-28 to his name – a third of Kerry's total score – will shine on the big stage again. His presence is becoming more and central to Kerry's scoring. Kerry to remain unbeaten.

Next Sunday's National League Final will invoke many memories for Kerry followers and indeed at times such as this Kerry football has a multitude of memories to call on. Forty-eight years ago Kerry and Derry met in Croke Park in the 1961 League Final and Kerry recorded what was one of the biggest winning margins ever in a league final as they crushed the Northern side 4-16 to 1-5. They had defeated Roscommon following a replay in the semi-final. The peerless Mick O'Connell had one of his greatest games ever at midfield, ably assisted by the late Seamus Murphy. In my opinion Seamus was one of the greatest and most underrated of all Kerry players. He never played a poor game and he lined out for club and county in most positions.

That same year Kerry had defeated Tipperary in an earlier round of the league in Tralee by a then record margin of 8-14 to 0-6. Scorers in that massive win were Bernie O'Callaghan (3-1), Garry McMahon (2-4), Dan McAuliffe (1-1), John Dowling (1-0), Mick O'Connell (0-1) and Dave Geaney (0-1). Staying with record scoring margins, in the so-called Milltown Malbay massacre of 1979 Kerry defeated Clare in the Munster Championship 9-21 to 1-9.

That 1961 winning league side was Johnny Culloty, Jack Dowling, Niall Sheehy (captain), Tim "Tiger" Lyons (RIP), Kevin Coffey (RIP), Tom Long, Mick O'Dwyer, Mick O'Connell, Seamus Murphy (RIP), Dan McAuliffe (RIP), Brian Sheehy, Joe Sheehy, Teddy Dowd, John Dowling (RIP), Dave Geaney. Subs: Bernie O'Callaghan (RIP), Garry McMahon (RIP), John Healy, Tony Guerin, Alan Conway (RIP), Pa Kerins, Paddy Hussey, Tim O'Callaghan.

It was an all Tralee town goal scoring fiesta as Teddy Dowd (2), John Dowling and Brian Sheehy, raised the green flags. It was a memorable day for that great Kerry GAA family the Sheehys. Niall emulated his legendary father John Joe as a winning league captain. His father had led the Kingdom to victory in the finals of 1928-31 while Sean Og had done likewise in 1962. Paudie Sheehy (RIP) had won his league medal also against Derry in 1959.

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