A special day for little Duagh

THEY have lived in the shadows for long enough, being sandwiched between bustling towns with rich football traditions in Listowel and Abbeyfeale.

The contribution of Listowel Emmetts to the Kerry football cause is well-documented with senior starting 15s peppered with surnames like Kennelly and Stack, while current panellist Brian McGuire is the latest to roll off the conveyor belt.

A few miles over the border in Limerick, the Abbeyfeale club Fr Casey’s have consistently churned out players with John Riordan, Mike Sheehan and Eoin Joy amongst those who featured in Maurice Horan’s senior plans this year.

And in between on the R555 along the banks of the River Feale is the village of Duagh, home club to Kerry midfielder Anthony Maher. It’s not the first time that they’ve had a representative on football’s biggest day. But enough time has passed since the attacking heroics of Dan McAuliffe, All-Ireland medal winner in 1959 and 1962, to make this occasion a special one.

“There’s such a big interest in football around here that Kerry’s All-Ireland finals are always big deals,” says Duagh chairman Martin Leen. “But this is a very special one for the club, the village and the parish. Having a local man on the team is tremendous. It’s a whole generation since Dan McAuliffe was on the Kerry team. Anthony was on the Kerry panel in 2009, as was another club man Kieran Quirke. But with Anthony starting now, this is huge.”

Maher’s rise to prominence has taken time. He first lined out for the Kingdom in the league back in 2008 against Mayo and did not make his championship bow until May 2010 against Tipperary. The 24 year-old has been rewarded for his patience this year with a sustained run of games.

“He’s been there on the fringes for a couple of years but it wasn’t an easy team to break into,” says Leen. “You’d Darragh Ó Sé there for a long time and then the likes of Seamus Scanlon and Micheal Quirke. In Kerry you tend to have to bide your time and then go for it when you get a chance. But Anthony always stood out at underage level. He’s a very tall player, 6ft 5, and is very strong. If you have somebody at underage that tall, you tend to put them out in the middle of the field. He had the talent to develop himself as well.”

Diarmuid Murphy has been well-placed to judge Maher’s progress. The former Kerry goalkeeper played alongside him en route to that 2009 All-Ireland title win and is now observing him as his current role of senior selector.

“I think Anthony always was an excellent footballer. He’s got a lot of attributes that are very helpful to the team and he does an awful lot of unseen work. He’s had to be patient. Some lads are mature at 21 in a football sense of the word and they’re ready to step onto the field. But there are other lads who take a year or two after that to get confident in themselves and in their role in the team. It can take some fellas a few years to do that. I think Anthony has had an impressive year and we’re hoping he can have a big role for us tomorrow.”

In Duagh, the practice of the parish being emptied of its citizens and migrating towards Jones Road is not a new one. They have been beneficiaries of the decision to establish All-Ireland club competitions at junior and intermediate level. Four years ago they embarked on a wonderful odyssey that took them to the All-Ireland junior football decider.

“The build-up for that game was incredible, it brought a level of buzz and excitement to the area that we’d never seen before,” recalls Leen. “It made the club very attractive for young lads to start playing for us. We beat Killian Young’s club Renard in the county final in Tralee and then won the Munster final against Adrigole from Cork. From there we went on to beat Park-Ratheniska of Laois in the All-Ireland semi-final but unfortunately lost out in the final against Greencastle of Tyrone by a point. Still, it was a great adventure for us.”

And now they are bracing themselves for another one. That 2007 campaign concluded in celebration when Maher, Quirke and Declan Griffin were part of the Feale Rangers combination that swept to Kerry senior honours. The ambition now is for 2011 to conclude in similar style. The first port of call is Croke Park on Sunday where they hope Maher will shine. Then on October 1 in the Kerry junior championship, a grade they have returned to after their intermediate sojourn, Duagh have a semi-final date with Cordal. For Leen, who is also one of the figureheads of the Kerry Supporters Club, these are busy times.

But silverware will make it all worthwhile.

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