Almost seven months on, and Mick Doyle remains adamant their run-of-the-mill challenge game against Nemo Rangers is the fixture that awoke the smallest of Kerry’s football divisions.
Tomorrow afternoon at Fitzgerald Stadium (2.30pm), Kenmare District make their first county semi-final appearance in 20 years.
In May of last year, they could not get 15 players for their championship opener against Dingle. Quite the turnaround.
Return even to March, and Kenmare District were still without a senior manager for the campaign. Mickey Ned O’Sullivan suggested Doyle to District chairman Dermot Healy. The Sneem native, who previously managed a host of Cork club teams, agreed to meet the pair.
“Mickey Ned was my PE teacher in Coláiste Íosagáin in Ballyvourney in 1975,” recalls Doyle, “and I would have always held him in high regard.” The Brigade Transport Officer at Collins Barracks in Cork City took the job and requested that all interested players be present at Pobalscoil Inbhear Scéine on the second Saturday in March.
“Most of the players had met each other for the first time at school in Kenmare so I thought it an appropriate place to meet. I told them the next time we would meet would be for a training session in Kenmare on Easter Saturday morning.” Between their chat in Pobalscoil Inbhear Scéine and the planned session in Kenmare, Doyle put in a call to Steven O’Brien. The Nemo boss agreed to a challenge and the two teams lined out in Macroom on Easter Saturday.
“Many thought I had the bar set too high initially, but we beat Nemo by a point. Both teams were missing a number of players, but it served as a wake-up call to the district that, yes, there is something here.” Bar set too high?
“You are playing Nemo Rangers in your first challenge game. And Nemo Rangers are Nemo Rangers. My belief is you play the best and you learn from them.
“We were missing a lot of players. The two Crowley lads, Gavin and Brian, were involved with the Kerry U21s. Tadhg Morley was working in Dublin. It was an opportunity for other lads to have a go and there was huge enthusiasm and delight after that result. It woke up people back in the district as well. The general reaction to that result was ‘wow’. This was off the back of a 2014 campaign where they failed to field for their first game.
“I think it just needed a new voice to go in and organise it, put a bit of self-belief in the players. The lads took it upon themselves to turn up for the first meeting and even though it was a new voice, it was probably still going to be the same old story. I put the onus on them. The game against Nemo certainly instilled a lot of self-belief.
“The lads galvanised themselves after that and said, ‘okay, let’s give this a go’ because they certainly have the football. They showed that in the quarter-final against West Kerry.” Assisted by DJ Brennan on the line, the pair are effectively picking from two of the four clubs feeding into the district. With John Mark Foley aggravating an old injury in the All-Ireland minor football final last month, there is no Kilgarvan representation on the starting team. Flor O’Sullivan, as he has done for many years now, carries the Tuosist flag. The remainder are pulled from Kenmare and Templenoe.
“The age profile is quite young. We had four on the Kerry minor panel this year – John Mark, Stephen O’Sullivan and Dara and Sean O’Shea. Then you’d have Killian and Pat Spillane — 80% of the panel would be between 20 and 23. Stephen O’Brien would be just outside that and further up, you have lads like Paul O’Connor, who is in the prime of his career and playing fabulous football. They’re a great bunch.
“It would be a massive result to get to a final. A win would be huge for the area, for the district, for football. With Templenoe already in a county junior final, football is going very well back there.”