Kelly ‘not afraid to get suit dirty’ as he mucks about for votes

The belief that the GAA is a fertile training ground for politics seems to ring true for a former president of the country’s biggest sporting organisation, Sean Kelly.

Kelly ‘not afraid to get suit dirty’  as he mucks about for votes

Everywhere he goes, the South Fine Gael MEP — under whose leadership of the GAA, Croke Park was opened up to rugby and soccer — is instantly recognisable to many people.

“Yes, a lot of people know me through the GAA and, hopefully, will see I did reasonably well as president. Rugby and soccer people, in general, are also very grateful that Croke Park has been opened to their sports,’’ he said.

Canvassing at Milltown Mart in Kerry, yesterday, Kelly needed no introductions. The county’s football prospects was a popular topic, with unanimity that old rivals Dublin are deserved favourites for the All-Ireland.

Paddy Deane, 82, flummoxed him by asking: “How will we replace Tomás Ó Sé, Paul Galvin, and The Gooch?’’

Kelly is rarely stuck for words, but couldn’t really answer that one.

Paddy — who spent 42 years in exile, mainly in England, and is now retired in Ballyroe, Tralee — also raised the more serious issue of emigration.

“The country is worse now than when I left at the age 18. The Government is talking about the unemployment rate dropping, but it has dropped because 80,000 young people have gone,’’ he opined.

Kelly, however, stuck rigidly to the Government line, saying the official figures were correct in terms of jobs being created, and exiles were returning.

Coincidentally, Michael and Johnny Healy-Rae were also campaigning at Milltown Mart, and pleasantries were exchanged between them and Kelly, with the sides wishing each other good luck in the elections.

Kelly, 62, stepped into the pens for photographs and, assisted by Jerome Twiss of Callinafercy, grappled with a Friesian calf. “He knows how to hold the tail all right and isn’t afraid to get his suit dirty,’’ one farmer observed.

Kelly’s farming background and knowledge of “sucks’’ came in useful when canvassing the weather-beaten men of the land, who were happy about the abolition of quotas but complained about the poor price of calves.

Then, it was back to the classroom, even if only briefly, for Kelly.

The retired teacher managed to hold the attention of children in Fybough National School, in the Dingle Peninsula, for a short lesson on the history of the EU and promised to return to talk to them in more detail.

However, they admitted they hadn’t watched his performance on Prime Time on Monday night — it was on too late and they were asleep. That was in sharp contrast to Kelly’s own schedule as he didn’t get to bed at his home in Killarney until 3.30am and was on the road again after a few hours.

Kelley O’Shea, a pupil in sixth class, was wide awake for she was first to answer the MEP’s question on what year Ireland joined the EU (then the EEC), instantly replying “1973”.

Travelling in a green and gold 4x4, Kelly is the Fine Gael frontrunner in the opinion polls, ahead of Cork-based candidate Deirdre Clune, but he was quick to warn against complacency among his supporters.

“It’s tough enough,’’ he said. ‘’There’s a margin of error in opinion polls, which can vary. I’m fighting for my seat and Fine Gael is trying very hard to win two of the four seats.’’

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