It was jersey day yesterday at the school which must surely hold a claim to the title of Kerry GAA football nursery.
Holy Cross Mercy in the heart of Killarney was where Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper learned to kick and catch — along with an astonishing four other members of tomorrow’s senior Kerry football team.
Five of the seniors started school in Holy Cross, on leafy New Rd, Killarney, and two current teachers at the school played with senior teams — male and female.
Their first feats with the ball in the school yard were taken by Cooper, Johnny Buckley, James O’Donoghue, Jonathan Lyne, and Brian Kelly, along with Kerry minor Ciarán White.
Speaking in the midst of a riot of green and gold decorations, deputy principal Breda Courtney Murphy recalls Colm as “a cute little lad”.
She taught him in junior infants and remembers him well, and says he was “a good little boy”.
“I taught him to throw and catch. We didn’t do much kicking in junior infants,” says Ms Courtney Murphy sporting a Kerry jersey.
Cooper’s talent with the ball was obvious even then- and the deputy principal has no fear for the future of football in Killarney.
“There are a number of rising stars — male and female,” says Ms Courtney Murphy.
After second class, the boys move from Holy Cross, most of them to the nearby Monastery.
But the school has other footballing links. Teacher Mairead O’Donoghue, nee Finnegan, played with Kerry senior ladies.
Mike Frank Russell, five times All-Ireland winner, teaches first class. Yesterday, he had a ‘lámha suas’ of who was Crokes and who was Legion, the rival Killarney clubs. Practically everyone in the class of 26, which includes several nationalities, put their hand up.
And his prediction for Sunday? “Kerry — but very close. And I won’t rule out a draw,” he says.
The annual pilgrimage from Kerry to Croke Park begins for many this morning through Castleisland and onto the Limerick Road.
But this morning it has a special start: The Dooneen Roundabout, the last roundabout on leaving Kerry and the first on the return journey was last night officially named The Mick Galwey Roundabout.
Galwey, who won an All-Ireland medal with Kerry in 1986, is the only living person to have a roundabout named after him.
Mayor of Killarney Bobby O’Connell said that while Galwey was also an international rugby player, he was an icon in Kerry football terms too.
Meanwhile, decorations are low-key in Kerry, as they usually are. Asked to explain the usual Kerry understated approach, seasoned sports commentator and Kerry football enthusiast Jerry O’Sullivan, former head of sport with Newstalk and now the presenter of Radio Kerry’s flagship daily Kerry Today programme, sums it up: “We love winning, but we dread losing.
“A year without a title in Kerry, it’s a bad year. It is blacker even than in Mayo. People tend to forget that while no one has won more all-Ireland titles, they have lost more too. Kerry may have won 37 All-Ireland’s but they lost 20. Kerry dreads losing, that’s why it is what people think is a cute approach beforehand.”
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