An Phoblacht 2 - 2022 small

15 December 2005 Edition

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Tim Kennelly and the era of the two giants

I never met Tim Kennelly and yet he was a part of my childhood. In the same way as Gay O'Driscoll and Mikey Sheehy and Heffo and Mick O'Dwyer. So it was a shock to hear that he had died.

He was also partly responsible for my developing insomnia at an early age. For days before the big Dublin versus Kerry matches in the 1970s, I would lie awake in my bed. Worrying. One of the visions that haunted me was Kennelly bursting out of the Kerry half back line, carrying the ball past midfield and dispatching it to one of the other monsters who would send it over the bar or crashing past Paddy Cullen.

My father would come in and ask me why I wasn't asleep. "Do you think Hanahoe will play better than Kennelly," I'd say. A dark shadow would cross his face. There would be little sleep in the Treacy house that night.

The first time I ever saw Tim Kennelly playing was in Croke Park in October or November 1975. My Da hadn't brought me to the All Ireland final when Kerry had beaten Dublin. This was 'only' a National League game but there must have been 40,000 there. Dublin won, and it became a bit of a habit for a while.

It is hard to describe what those matches were like now or what they meant to us, and not just us children. You couldn't sleep. You could hardly eat the big Sunday dinner. You couldn't think about anything else and it was all we talked about. In fact we didn't even get to see a lot of it. The world ended at an adult's waist level so there was lots of noise and jostling and a couple of near misses from being crushed to death. Songs, paper hats, packets of crisps and glasses of warm orange juice. Then a sudden burst of light and a green patch of grass. And Dublin and Kerry. All matches were exciting and we wanted to win them all but this was heart in the throat serious stuff. Two giants.

It was unbelievable when we beat them. Didn't matter where or in what, but the best days were in 1976 and '77. Especially the '76 final. I only remember seeing the bits when I was lifted up. Paudie O'Mahony having to be replaced by Charlie Nelligan in the Kerry goal. Keaveney's penalty into the sun. Mikey Sheehy almost scoring a goal to ruin the party. And the roar at the end.

In school we had a teacher called Tom Roche from Ballybunion. He used to take us out to the football pitch any chance he got and would spend hours planning the team positions on the black board. One day as I emerged from a scramble of kicking, gouging young fellas, he roared "Go on Kennelly boy".

Now if he'd mentioned Paudi or Deenihan I'd have been upset but we little Dubs liked Kennelly for some reason. He was one of the players that you might imagine yourself to be. Of course Roche probably meant it in the same way that some smart arse might tell a bad singer in the pub that he reminded him of a young Perry Como.

We had great craic with Mr Roche in 1976 and 1977 and we'd left him, thank God, by the time Dublin were annihilated by Tim and the boys in 1978. I remember Roche coming in to the classroom the morning after the 1976 final. He was late. We were roaring our heads off, waiting for him.

He stood there bleary-eyed for a minute or two and took it in good spirit. Then he held up his hands. "Listen lads, ye can do whatever you want, just so long as ye do it quietly." So he sat there reading the papers, every so often emitting a groan. We sat around whispering about the match. But it was hard to whisper when you wanted to get up and jump around and scream with sheer bloody joy.

Of course Kerry had their revenge in 1978 and 1979. Kennelly was captain in '79 and had a huge game in his usual understated way. It was depressing for us to watch but even in the midst of it you couldn't help admiring the efficiency of it all.

I surprised myself in 1980. Kerry were playing Roscommon in the final and I sat down to watch it wanting the old enemy to be overcome. Then something strange happened. Maybe it is like the Stockhom Syndrome, but after about ten minutes I was shouting for Kerry. And getting plenty of dirty looks I might add from the Da.

It was a really tough match in which Kennelly's tenacity and courage were among the decisive factors in Kerry's victory. It has generally been acknowledged as his finest display in an All-Ireland Final and perhaps his finest hour in a Kerry jersey.

It all seems so long ago, and yet I can recall incidents from those games better than ones from last Summer. What a privilege it was to see the likes of Kennelly. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam cróga.

An Phoblacht
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