Tribute to Eddie Dowling
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I stood at Eddie Dowling's graveside last Wednesday in the beautifully kept Gale graveyard halfway between Listowel and Ballybunion.
It was a poignant moment, the end of an era, another sad break with Kerry's past, as his coffin was lowered into the grave by his sons. His friend and former team mate Mick Finnucane – they played together in the 1947 Polo Grounds All-Ireland final – family and friends stood silently by. Eddie Dowling, the name evokes a legion of memories for me because as a young boy growing up on the side of the street in Killarney and being football mad his name was synonymous with all that was great and good in Kerry football.
His name was on everybody's lips in the Killarney of the forties as he and his Shannon Rangers team defeated the two Killarney sides to win the 1945 county championship. It took them three epic games to beat Dick Fitzgerald's in the semi-final and the final then went to a replay before my own club Killarney Legion was beaten by five points. Eddie Dowling, Gus Cremin, Mick Finnucane, three wonderful gentlemen on that great side, I befriended them all as the years rolled by. I loved meeting them. Now Eddie is gone. Gus and Mick soldier on.
It was his massive hands that captured my imagination when I first met him and shook his hand in the Listowel Arms Hotel at a North Kerry function. Big strong hands, hard, as tough as leather from a life toiling on his North Kerry farm. Gentle face and kind eyes which lit up as he spoke of friends long since past. He loved talking about football, it was his great passion. We sat in a corner of the bar, drinking pints of porter as he rolled back the years recalling great games, great names. It was as if all my birthdays had come together as I sat enthralled as this hero of my youth relived the past. Just being in his company was special. I would often meet him at the North Kerry finals, always positioned somewhere near the entrance, he was a familiar sight, cigarette in hand and the ever present cap tilted slightly to the left side of his head. Always a lovely warm greeting, a shake of the massive hand and then the football talk, nothing else.
During the years I interviewed Eddie on a number of occasions, he was always so generous with his time, accommodation, courteous. No such thing as "no, some other time, not now, I am busy, etc," those words were not in his vocabulary. Of course, one of my first questions to him was his memories of the historic Polo Grounds Final against Cavan in New York in 1947. His memory of that day long since past was crystal clear. He described in vivid detail the events which probably cost Kerry that All Ireland final. "We were flying it," he began. "We were all over them and after fifteen minutes we were ahead 2-4 to 0-2 and we also had two goals disallowed. I scored one of the two goals myself. Then I went for a high ball, it was going to be mine. It wasn't straight ahead of me but to the side and I was over stretched as I went for it. The Cavan half back PJ Duke told me years after that I had come from nowhere and my boots hit his forehead. I came down very hard on my head, hit the baseball mound which should not have been left there and I was knocked out cold".
Cavan took over following Eddie's departure and went on to win the game. It was the first of two injuries which would deprive the Ballydonoghue club man of an All Ireland medal he so richly deserved.
Eddie was still playing great football in 1954 and lined out at full forward as Kerry won the Junior All Ireland. Johnny Culloty, Ned Fitzgerald, Tom Spillane and Sean Lovett were team mates that day. He was a sub on the team which lost to Meath in the 1954 senior final. Again the cherished medal had eluded him. He played his last match for Ballydonoghue in 1955.
I interviewed his ten children at his graveside last Wednesday. Wonderful, poignant, beautiful life memories of a beloved father.
It was for me a hugely privileged experienced as his sons and daughters and his English born grand son proudly named Eddie Dowling rolled back the years, laughed and cried recalling long lost memories of their father.
Only for Eddie Dowling and his comrades Kerry football would not be what we know today.
Read Maurice O'Mahoney's graveside eulogy to Eddie Dowling
Eddie's career playing football for Kerry
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