National League

Fitzmaurices men to avenge recent defeats to the Dubs in League Final

April 19th, 2016
by Weeshie Fogarty

It's amazing to realise as Kerry approach their big clash with Dublin in next Sundays National League final that in what was one of the greatest ever league finals just a few thousand Kerry fans were present to see them win and only a handful actually left their homes in Kerry to see the game. I refer here, and most readers will be unaware of this to the long forgotten league final of 1969 played in Gaelic Park New York city, a final that went to a draw and re-play. It was a historic and memorable occasion, a game in which both teams were captained by Kerrymen which is greatly historic in itself.

Unfortunately league finals unlike All Ireland finals are quickly forgotten and are rarely if ever brought up in conversation despite the fact in my experience they have provided some unforgettable victories for Kerry and wonderful displays by individual players. So while next Sundays keenly anticipated final against the Dubs will be the talk of the town and expertly previewed elsewhere in these pages perhaps its right to have a little look back down memory lane and recognise the contribution others have made to our county's league wins. After all we lead the winners list with nineteen titles to Dublin who are second in the table with eleven victories.

Kerry's 0-9 to 1-5 victory over holders Down in the 1963 final readily comes to mind, 57,180 people attended that tense, dramatic and fiercely fought final. The meeting of the two counties was eagerly awaited by all followers of the game as Down had beaten Kerry twice in the championship shortly before this, 1960-61.  I witnessed amazing scenes before the final as several thousand supporters from both counties gained free admission when large entrance gates were forced open so you can add at least 3,000 more to that attendance figure.

That National League final victory was some small consolation to Kerry following those two  championship  defeats and my memories of the day was of an all-out battle in which no holds were barred and it took a suburb save on the goal line late in the game by Tim "Tiger" Lyons to save the day. Coming out to clear he was met by a swarm of Northerners; he was injured in the charge and had to leave the field. And as he did the huge Kerry following rose to him in a thunder of applause.

Mick o Dwyer played with a broken big toe, the Wednesday before the game a manhole cover fell on his foot at his Waterville garage. He cut a piece out of his booth to accommodate the swelling, Dr Jim Brosna gave him a pain killing injection and the legendary Waterville man played a huge part in that league win. Bernie o Callaghan, Kevin Coffey, Billy Doran, Gerry o Riordan, Jerdie o Connor and Mick o Connell were other stars. It was Kerry's first victory in competitive football over the Mournmen; Sean Og Sheehy was the Kerry captain. 

But back to that 1969 league final mentioned at the onset. Kerry travelled to New York having won the "home" final beating Offaly. It would be a two legged affair in "the city that never sleeps" against the exiled Irishmen and three Kerry players, Johnny Culloty, Mick o Dwyer and Mick o Connell had amazingly won league medals all of ten years previously in 1959 when the Kingdom had captured  their first league title since away back in 1932.

Mickey Moynihan who had emigrated from Rathmore during the fifties and playing centre forward was the New York captain and Brendan Lynch captained Kerry. Jimmy Foley from Keel was lined out at corner forward for New York. Both men have been described as two of the best players ever to emigrate from the county and had won National Football League medals with their adopted city some years previously as had the Hennessey brothers from Ballyduff, Brendan and Tommy.

The first leg of that 1969 final played in blazing sun shine finished in a draw, twelve points each and it tool a last minute pointed free by Tom Furlong from Offaly to level matters. Mick o Dwyer scored seven points, Mick o Connell went off injured. Pat Moynihan and Mick Fleming finished at mid field, Christy o Sullivan came on as a sub and the two exiled Kerrymen scored for New York. Seven days later on June 29th Gaelic Park was packed to capacity and in an absorbing battle played under a blazing sun the sides just like the previous Sunday could not be separated and when Dublin referee Paul Kelly called full time the score read, New York 2-8, Kerry 0-14. Des Ryan a Tyrone man scored the two New York goals; to this day Ryan remains the top scores ever to play in the city. I met the man some years ago, we discussed this game and he spoke about his time in the New York Fire Department, the 16th Battalion, Fifth division. Harlem was their beat.

There was a long delay before extra time, New York wanted the game re-played the following week but Kerry Chairman Jim Brosnan, secretary Tadgh Crowley and trainor Jackie Lyne were adamant it finished that day, and so it did. With temperatures soring into the mid-nineties and clouds of dust rising from the bone hard surface bucket of ice water were placed at various locations around the side lines which helped cool the players when needed, Mick o Connell came on and proceeded to give one of the greatest displays ever seen in a league final. One paper wrote of him saying, "the islander took possession of New York". He sent over a series of magnificent points, set up Derry Crowley and Brendan Lynch for decisive goals and Kerry raced away to a 2-21 to 2-12 victory. Mick o Dwyer, Johnny Culloty, Seamus Murphy, Liam Higgins, Mick Morris and Donie o Sullivan were Kerry heroes as the league title was won for the first time since 1963. They had played ten games to win that league and scored 16gls-118 pts in the process. 

Next Sundays clash will, I am convinced be an enthralling contest, the two best teams in the country, Kerry attempting to prevent Dublin from equalling the four-in-a-row league titles last won by Kerry, 1971-72-73-74. The Kerry captains in these triumphs, Donie o Sullivan, Mick Gleeson, Brendan Lynch and Paud o Donoghue (RIP). I have a sneaking feeling Brian Sheehan might follow in their footsteps despite the fact that Dublin will be most peoples favourites. There is a settled spirit, a bonding; a burning desire to right wrongs in this Kerry panel and next Sunday gives Eamon Fitzmaurice's men the opportunity to avenged recent defeats to the sky blues.

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