Often it’s been more about fielding a team as furthering ambition.
Thirty seven years ago this week, ten Ballylongford and five Beale warriors gelled long enough to grind out their last Kerry football championship success against the ultimate grinders, Feale Rangers. Neighbours. Ten points to six. Strong wind down the field. Ball incidental. You almost wince.
In fact, you’d be wrong. Just as no-one in Kerry could have predicted Shannon Rangers in tomorrow’s Kerry SFC semi-final against favourites Mid Kerry, few who weren’t there would believe the short-passing, swift transition game orchestrated by Ogie Moran, Jackie Walsh and Eoin Liston that day into the likes of Barry Walsh and the ever stylish Eamonn O’Donoghue. Dwyer’s philosophy had taken hold alright, all the way up to the farthest tip of North Kerry. The following year Ogie Moran would captain Kerry to the first of four consecutive All-Ireland titles. But aside from that, Shannon Rangers were also the seven-a-side kingpins of Ireland around that time, winning an All-Ireland in Belfield years before Kilmacud made the format a pre-All-Ireland tradition.
Shannon Rangers thought they’d everything sorted after that. They made a Kerry semi final in 1983, but it’s taken 37 years to convince the stakeholders that the way forward involved buy-in from all their constituent parts and their players. “We couldn’t believe at the start of last year when we drew up a list of players on a sheet of paper the kind of talent we had available to us,” says Rangers joint-manager Liam Weir from Ballylongford. “How hadn’t we got further til now?”
Take your pick. Clubs leaving and then rejoining the group. Beale winning the intermediate championship in the early eighties and going senior. Ballyduff only turning their thoughts to football if the hurlers were beaten. Internecine strife. Constant finger-pointing. And yes, a dearth of talent.
Weir disagrees strongly with that one: “There are six clubs involved and each one has a fair share of good players. It was mainly a question of getting things organised and convincing the players to believe,” Weir says.
The chairman of Shannon Rangers, Conor Heaphy, uses the word ‘club’ a lot, which is strange. The wing-back on the 1977 champions is 60 now, but defers to no-one in his conviction that they’ve remained a tightly-knit unit, success or not.
“It is a club-like situation. Whenever we do fund-raisers around the division, they are always very well supported by all the clubs. We have always felt there are plenty of good players in this part of North Kerry, but getting a sustained commitment from the players always held us back.”
That changed with Weir, his co-manager Mike Holly from Tarbert, and coach Paudie Dillon got involved in 2013.
“We were very unlucky to lose to (Austin) Stacks in Ballylongford last year, and then West Kerry edged us the following week. It looked like a typical Shannon Rangers season, but we knew we were onto something,” says Weir. “This year, we started in January, and though we lost a lot of the players in March to clubs and other inter-county teams and colleges, we had a good foundation in place. Now we are one hour from a county final. Sometimes the lads have to pinch themselves, but we’re greedy now. We’re focused and we want to finish the job.”
His conviction is admirable, for Rangers are one of those outfits that appear under ‘Others’ in pre-Championship betting. Only Tarbert of the six clubs involved — Asdee, Ballylongford, Ballydonoghue Ballyduff and Beale are the others — ply their trade above Division 3 of Kerry’s Co League, and most are either in Division 4 or 5. Their first and second round draws were kind, defeating Kilcummin and St Michael’s, Foilmore.
No surprise then that they were unrated outsiders last weekend against fancied South Kerry in Tralee. What most observers wouldn’t have copped, of course, was that this was no dishevelled operation anymore.
“We played a challenge above in Dromcollogher last year and we got fellas to come from Cork, Dublin and Limerick. It was the first time players started thinking there was a bit of momentum here. We’ve maintained the contact, every week ever since, with players. It took an awfu lot of those phone calls to convince lads that we were in for the long haul,” Weir, a former Ballylongford stalwart himself, reflects.
Their roster looks superficially weak, with only Tarbert’s Shane Enright part of Kerry’s All-Ireland winning squad. But like every jump-up-and-bite-you side, the quality is in the detail. Ballyduff’s Mikey Boyle is a stellar talent if his first passion wasn’t hurling. A pair of Kerry minors, senior panellist David Culhane, and Kerry juniors Danny Wren (Tarbert) — as sticky a defender as you’ll meet, and Ballydonoghue’s Paul Kennelly, the standout bolter of the campaign.
The attacker, away in Dublin and sidelined by a cruciate for the last couple of seasons, has flourished in those little pockets around the full-forward line. Even if he hadn’t advertised his wares with 1-8 against South Kerry last Sunday, Mid Kerry manager James Sheehan would have detailed a patrolling defender at Austin Stack Park tomorrow.
“The hardest thing now is whittling it down to 15 names,” Weir says. “We’ve drafted in a couple of young lads from Ballydonoghue, who are flying under age, and they’ve added impetus to the training again
“Getting to another county final would be enormous for the club,” said Rangers chairman Heaphy. “There is such a well of enthusiasm to go with a strong footballing tradition in the area. I must admit at the start of the year, I couldn’t see us going this well but Liam, Mike and Paudie have pulled everything together superbly.”
Now, as Weir says, it’s time to be greedy.
The 1977 Kerry football champions, Shannon Rangers, lined out as follows on Sunday, October 9: J McCarthy (Ballylongford); D Mulvihill (Ballylongford), P O’Donoghue (Ballylongford), B McCarthy (Ballylongford); C Heaphy (Ballylongford), M McEllistrim (Ballylongford), Ogie Moran (Beale); J Walsh, capt (Ballylongford), E Liston (Beale); B Walsh (Ballylongford), P Liston (Beale), M Keane (Ballylongford); E O’Donoghue (Ballylongford), G Griffin (Beale), J Casey (Beale).
Sub: Barry O’Connor (Ballylongford) for M Keane.
Kerry minor selector John Galvin has confirmed that he will not be part of Jack O’Connor’s management team next season.
The former Dr Crokes man guided South Kerry to a county senior SFC success in 2009.
“I informed county chairman Patrick O Sullivan of my decision, some weeks ago. I will not be elaborating on the matter any further,” Galvin said.