By Robert Mulhern
London-based Christy Kissane has been to every All Ireland football final since 1962, bar one.
The affable publican was unable to make the 1968 final between Kerry and Down because of work.
“We were doing a railway crossing with Murphys,” the Kerry native explained. “We started on the Friday and went right the way through into Saturday.”
Other than that, he has travelled from the Kingdom pub he owns in Kilburn to attend 52 of the last 53 Croke Park deciders.
He watched Mikey Sheehy chip Paddy Cullen in the 1978 final; Kevin McManamon break Kerry hearts with a late goal in 2011 and Seamus Darby stop the famed Five-in-a- Row in 1982.
“The referee kept Offaly in that one,” he laughed.
His wife Noreen interjected: “That’s one of the ones I went to and we were beat.”
Kissane has witnesses both highs and lows for Kerry, and also watched as new footballing kingdoms emerge: Armagh, Tyrone, Donegal.
His annual routine follows the fixture list.
“We’d go to Dublin on the Saturday,” Kissane explained. “We’ve been staying in the same place the past 30-years, O’Sheas on Talbot Street.
“There was a time we’d always go down (to Kerry) on the Monday because the Listowel Festival used to start after the All Ireland then.”
I met Kissane in his home in Dollis Hill in North London.
To get there, take a shortcut from the Tube Station across the green hills of Gladstone Park.
On the wall by the kitchen, a selection of Kerry memorabilia hangs: a scarf, framed pictures, plaques.
Kissane is the chairman of the Kingdom Kerry Gaels Club.
He shows off three jerseys carrying his county’s colours.
‘Kingdom,’ which evolved into the second jersey of ‘Kingdom Kerry Gaels’ in his right hand and Kerry is the third.
“Some of them we put over the coffin when someone [from Kerry] passes away here,” Noreen told me.
Christy remembers the class of ‘75 when the London based Kingdom team went across and played in the All Ireland seven-a-side tournament.
The team were sponsored by the shipping company B&I and they kept their sea legs to defeat Clann na nGael in the final.
“It was an amazing achievement for a club from here,” he said. “There were great players from Kerry on the team: The Mahoneys, Billy Collins, John Coffey, John Evans, who managed Roscommon, Ken Shea, Timmy Shanahan, Tony Flavin.”
Kissane’s ties with Kerry and Kerry football are strong and extend far beyond the role of All-Ireland spectator.
The Sam Maguire has been displayed behind the counter of his bar on the Kilburn High Road and the chances are any Kerry player of consequence in the last five decades has supped a pint in one of his pubs.
He remembers the beginnings of Kerry’s great rivalry with Dublin and an exhibition game between both counties in Wembley in the late 1970s.
“I’ve the Kingdom [pub] the last 20 years but my first pub was the Windsor Castle on the Harrow Road,” he explained “I put up a meal for the Kerry team there in ‘76. It was the last game in Wembley.
“They came to play Dublin and we’d a dance for Kerry in the National on the Kilburn High Road. I was asked could Dublin come and mix with Kerry boys and I said no problem.
“They all got on with each other but Dublin went home at 1am that night and Kerry didn’t go home until early in the morning.
“Dublin beat them.
“I remember sitting down for meal afterwards John O’Keefe said only way to beat Dublin was to get fitter,” he laughed.
“And we beat them in league in Killarney. It was a great Dublin team and a great Kerry team as well.”
The rivalry has remained and they’ll all travel from London again on Saturday.
“We used to go by boat because the flights would be too dear back then,” he said.
“We’d get the boat on Saturday morning and we’d be across in Dublin for five o’clock in the evening then back by on boat again on Monday, sit down, pint on boat and relax.
“We’d come here to Kilburn and celebrate in the pub. We'd put the replay on the telly.”