In the summer of 1975, a band of wide-eyed teenagers with dreams of conquering Kerry soccer formed a new club called the Killarney Rangers. A little over a year later, they were gone. This week Adam Moynihan spoke to former players Diarmuid O’Donoghue and Tom Griffin about Killarney’s forgotten team.
Who were the Killarney Rangers?
Tom Griffin: We all came from the Franciscan Youth Club, which was very strong at the time, and most of us were in the Parish Hall Youth Club as well. We were all mates.
Diarmuid O’Donoghue: Yeah, there was a gang of us. We were all from within a two-mile radius of Killarney. There were fellas from the Park Road, we had town fellas like Mike Buckley, and myself and my brother Donal were the farthest out. We had five-a-side indoor soccer teams that played in the Parish Hall.
TG: That was a big thing at the time. Every year there was a big indoor soccer tournament. Kelly’s Villas were the kingpins; they were always the team to beat.
DOD: We were the rivals as such. We were mostly Legion but we had Mike Buckley, Colm Galvin and Jerry O’Leary as well who would have all been Crokes.
TG: There was a Franciscan Friar here in town, Fr Vivian. He was very involved with the youth club. He moved on to Waterford and in 1975 he contacted us about doing an exchange. So off up to Waterford we went and part of the day was a soccer match between ourselves and the local club. We thought we were something special after that so we said, “why not go into the league?” That’s kind of where the whole thing came from.
What made you want to form your own team? Why not join Killarney Athletic?
DOD: We were too young. We were only kids at the time. You’re talking 16/17/18. We didn’t even think about joining them.
TG: Athletic were very supportive, though. They played us in challenge matches ahead of our first season in the KDL.
‘Rangers’ is a rather unusual name for an Irish soccer club. What was the thinking there?
DOD: We had no idea about Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic. It was just a sexy name.
TG: We were thinking more in terms of the Texas Rangers than Glasgow Rangers!
DOD: We were also oblivious to the fact that Canon Michael Lyne, one of the Lynes of Cleeney and a great Legion man, was the patron of Glasgow Celtic. We didn’t know any of that. They were probably thinking to themselves, “Killarney Rangers?!”
TG: We did everything wrong that we could do wrong. What people might not realise now is that we were only just after coming out of the ban (on members of the GAA playing or attending foreign sports). I think ‘71 was when the ban was lifted. The GAA was still totally and utterly dominant. The attitude of the old lads in the cloth caps was very much, “keep these boys down”.
Diarmuid, you went on to have a fine Gaelic football career and you lined out with Kerry during the Golden Years. Was anything said to you about playing soccer?
DOD: No. My father (Jameso) was the chairman of the Legion at the time but he never said a word to me. Can you imagine the hassle he must have been getting in the pub or above in Legion from staunch GAA fellas?
Did the soccer ever clash with the football?
TG: We probably weren’t on the go for long enough to actually get into confrontation.
DOD: And we were a bit young. We were just on the periphery of the Legion seniors so it wasn’t a big issue.
Where did the black and green kit come from?
DOD: That’s a good question now. Two interesting facts about the jersey. First of all, it was not Irish-made, which would have been a big thing at the time. And secondly, one of our fellow Legion clubmates, Weeshie Fogarty, wore one of those jerseys when he refereed intercounty matches.
Really? That’s amazing.
TG: I’ll tell you another good one. We had two teams in the Parish Hall five-a-side: an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ team. We discreetly made ourselves the ‘B’ team and the other lads the ‘A’ team so they’d think they were the best! The two sides met in the semi-final so there had to be a change of jerseys, and we got our hands on a set of Legion ones. We won the toss and because all the Crokes boys were on the ‘A’ team, we put them in the Legion jerseys! The ‘B’ team won the tournament out in the end.
Brilliant. Where did the idea for the design come from?
DOD: It was Legion and Crokes, basically. That’s what it came down to. Green for Legion and black for Crokes. We had black shorts and black and green socks.
TG: Most of the time, it was whatever socks came out of the washing machine.
Where did you play your matches?
DOD: Up by St Finan’s. When you go up Lewis Road and turn back the avenue towards the hospital, in there on the right-hand-side.
What was it like inside there?
TG: Yeah, all the pitches were poor at that time. It was by no means the worst pitch in the county.
And how did you fare in the Kerry District League?
DOD: I’ll put it this way to you: we were all tip-tappy. We thought we were fantastic but we were playing in muck and gutter in Division 2 against (Gaelic) football teams. Scartaglen, Ballydesmond, the Bower from Rathmore… They kicked the s*** out of us.
TG: They didn’t have much skill but they had the physical strength. We were all throwing shapes like we were superstars in the making. That summer in ‘75 we played a couple of challenge games and also in a youth club competition out in Millstreet. We felt we did okay. Before we entered the league, we figured that we were as good as, and maybe better than, what was already out there.
DOD: We lost more league games than we won, we’ll put it that way.
Who were some of your key men?
DOD: Joe Howe was a very good player. Colm Galvin too. Mike Buckley was good. Eamon Murphy was our oldest player at 19. He was one of the centre backs. Very lithe but he could get up for a ball. His brother, Mike, would have been with him at the back. And, of course, Ray Hoctor was there as well.
TG: When we started we used to play Ray centre half. For us, he was as big and as strong as we had. And sure he went on to become one of the best centre forwards in Kerry for years.
The team broke up in 1976. What happened?
DOD: I would say lack of organisation and immaturity.
TG: And the age profile as well. A lot of lads were doing the Leaving Cert so they were going off to college and work. The structure just wasn’t there to keep it going.
DOD: The league gave us a chance and it was a case of sink or swim. We sank.
And Killarney Celtic were founded that very same year. Did many Rangers players make the switch to the Celts?
DOD: It was more or less half and half. Some went to Celtic and some went to Athletic. Joe Howe, Mikey Lyne, Ray Hoctor and myself would have been Celtic and Mike Buckley, Pat and Jimmy Reen, Colm Galvin and Tom went to Athletic.
TG: I went to Celtic first, actually!
How did Celtic manage to succeed where Rangers had failed?
DOD: They had a lot of Spa boys which gave them more numbers. And they were more organised. They probably learned from everything that we did wrong.
TG: They had a couple of older heads as well. Guys like Byron Holmes and Bill Healy. They were just a little bit more mature and they were sticking around, whereas our fellas were going away. I think there was a groundswell of feeling that there was room for another team in the town. We probably started it but Celtic went on and did it better.
All in all, do you have happy memories of your time in the green and black of the Killarney Rangers?
DOD: It was great. We really enjoyed ourselves. We carried a big bus to our matches and the women in the youth club used to come along with us.
TG: The groupies! It was brilliant, Adam. Playing with your best mates around you and not a care in the world. The craic before and after the matches was magic. Great memories.
Main photo: The Killarney Rangers team that lined out in the 1975/76 Kerry District League. Back: Joe Howe, Neilie O’Keefe, Mike Buckley, Donal O’Donoghue, Jimmy Reen, Mike Murphy, Mikey Lyne and Mike Hickey (referee). Front: Ray Hoctor, Pat Reen, Eamon Murphy, Colm Galvin, Diarmuid O’Donoghue, Tom Griffin and Paddy O’Donoghue (manager).