Ahead of today’s county final, Eamonn Fitzgerald charts the long and storied history of the East Kerry Board
East Kerry and Mid Kerry will clash in the Kerry SFC final at Austin Stack Park, Tralee this evening, with very few people there as spectators. I bet Mike Allen will get in to see his club man, Jack Sherwood, play. Mike hasn’t missed a county final for many decades. However, next best thing for most is live streaming.
I expect East Kerry, the reigning champions, to retain their title, but first for the benefit of On the Ball readers let’s take a brief look at the East Kerry Board. It was founded in 1925, long after the founding of the GAA in Thurles 1884.
A report in the Cork Examiner dated April 21, 1874 reported on ‘Killarney Football Sunday Evening’. It was an account of a match between the town side and the country boys from the present Flesk Bridge area on the Muckross side. There were also reports of football being played not alone in Killarney but also in its hinterland, including Kilcummin, Ballyhar, Firies and wherever. No organised clubs, as yet. Dr Crokes were quick off the mark, founded in 1886.
Kilcummin came in 1910 and others followed, such as the Legion in 1929.
The War of Independence up to 1922 and the Civil War of 1922-1923 resulted in nonstop postponements. Young people were starved for action, so the Dr Crokes club decided on October 18, 1924 to initiate an inter-street league tournament for Killarney. The teams were College Street, High Street, New Street (the Boys Below the Bridge) and Main Street. They drew great crowds and rivalry was intense, but what about the players from the surrounding districts?
Enter the East Kerry Board, who held their first meeting in 1925. It was attended by Dr Crokes, Currow, Farranfore, Firies, Headford, Kenmare, Kilcummin and Killorglin.
The first chairman of the EKB was Dick Fitzgerald and the secretary was Paul Russell. This duo, legendary Kerry All-Ireland winners and skilful Dr Crokes players, got the board off to a great start. The EKB has been blessed with high calibre officers through the tears right down to today with Johnny Brosnan (chairman) and Noel Kennedy (secretary). In my view the EKB officers played an essential part in the East Kerry team winning eight Kerry SFC titles to date. (On Sunday I expect them to make it nine.)
East Kerry didn’t win their first title until 1965. Backboned by Kerry stars Tom Long, Johnny Culloty, Mick Gleeson and Donie O’Sullivan, they were captained by Donal Socky Lynch, as good a corner back as any goalkeeper would wish for. Slight in stature, he was as tough as nails and a practitioner of the “thou shalt not pass” doctrine. He had the uncanny knack of defending without fouling.
For good measure, East Kerry won the Kerry Minor Championship in 1965, captained by Tom O’Keeffe of Gneeveguilla. Then came the three in a row of 1968-70, and greater things were to come.
They had great players but they also had the splendid organisational skills of EKB officers Brendan Walshe (chairman) and Denis Fenton (secretary), both now dead, God rest them both. And then there was Donie Sheahan, who trained the three-in-a-row team and the winning All-Ireland Club side in 1971.
No need or indeed hints of having coaches, managers, physios, video analysts and the myriad of overloaded others involved with the modern teams. Donie combined the lot in one. His game plan was simple. Win the ball, kick (not hand pass) the ball to your best placed teammate and make every post a winner. Take the goals and the points will come.
That’s what happened in 1971, when East Kerry led by Mick Gleeson, an inspiring captain, and a team of great players beat Bryansford, the county Down champions. Brendan Walshe and Denis Fenton were happy campers in Croke Park that day. It’s great to see Donie Sheahan still as exuberant as ever in his 94th year. He was born the same day as the Queen of England. Stop there. They never met.
1971 was the first year of the All-Ireland Club competition. East Kerry were so strong that the GAA stopped all divisional board teams from playing in the All-Ireland Club Championship thereafter. That is why the Kerry Club Championship run in recent weeks is so important as the club winners will go on to Munster and hopefully the All-Ireland Club series. COVID -19 will not allow that privilege this year. Thanks to Seán Kelly the intermediate and junior clubs also have their chances of a day of glory in Croke Park.
Back to East Kerry and after the great day in Croker they made little progress until 1997, 1998 and 1999, another three-in-a-row, powered by county stars such as Séamus Moynihan, John Crowley and Donal Daly. Nothing then until last year when they beat Dr Crokes in the final.
That makes it eight and I expect them to make it nine this evening. Throw-in is at 7pm.
If East Kerry are allowed the same composition of clubs next year they will be even stronger still, with Kilcummin joining them as they were relegated recently when they lost to Templenoe. Imagine Jerry O’Sullivan spoiled for choice. Go no further than your No. 1. Who will be chosen as goalkeeper 2021, Shane Ryan the present Kerry senior netminder, or Brendan Kealy, the former Kerry goalie? That’s a nice dilemma for any manager. Of course, you could pick Shane Ryan in a variety of positions outfield, but…
I believe East Kerry will win today, mainly because they have the best set of forwards in the county. In the semi-final versus St Brendan’s they had to go without David Clifford, their talisman, who was out on suspension. Dara Moynihan, Darragh Roche and Evan Cronin stepped into the breach to show that this is not a one-man team. Full credit must go to East Kerry’s midfield, where Kerry players Jack Barry and Diarmuid O’Connor were expected to rule the roost. They didn’t and with Liam Kearney expected to be back i lár an ghoirt for East Kerry, there will be more ball going in directly to the full forward line, or else worked in by Paudie Clifford,who will be wearing the No. 11 geansaí. When he drives forward at pace Mid Kerry will need to stop him early on.
Mid Kerry have a good half back line with Mike Breen and Pa Kilkenny very prominent against Dr Cokes. They can also break forward and hit Mid Kerry’s ace forward Gavan O’Grady. He is their chief scorer, but I’ve no doubt Jerry O’Sullivan will have a tactic to negative this proficient scorer. Will he sacrifice Jack Sherwood to do the marking job on O’Grady, at the expense of playing his own game? Sherwood has been outstanding in this campaign. Putting Kerry star Paul Murphy on him would be counterproductive. It would stifle his own game and those piercing runs in to attack.
I don’t underestimate Mid Kerry. In their semi-final they rattled in two goals within 90 seconds, had to overcome a four-point deficit in extra time and came back from the brink of defeat at the death with an opportunist goal from who else but Gavan O’Grady.
Take note of Mid Kerry’s Jackie Brosnan. He had a great semi-final versus Dr Crokes and there is a Killarney connection. His father Donal was a nippy forward with the Legion for many years. Donal’s father was Jackie from New Street, hence the promising grandchild Jackie.
No doubt local man Teddy Bowler will be hoping for a Mid Kerry win. He was a sterling full back in 1967 when they first won it, defeating West Kerry 0-12 to 2-4. They were beaten by East Kerry in 1965, 0-10 to 0-4 after a replay. Their last win came in 2008 so it has been a long wait for Mid Kerry, but I feel they will have to wait another year. I predict an East Kerry win by five points or so.
Above: Kerry and Dr Crokes legend Dick Fitzgerald was the first chairman of the East Kerry Board / Current star Paudie Clifford (Pic: Sportsfile).