Vincent Linnane: ‘It’s like the stations in the house. You want the place looking its best’

The footballers of Shannon Rangers were already running behind schedule when they landed onto the Boherbee Road outside Austin Stack Park. The main entrance, though, was barely visible among the thousands of supporters attempting to make their way into the stadium. The men from North Kerry were stranded.

Vincent Linnane: ‘It’s like the stations in the house. You want the place looking its best’

Teddy O’Sullivan, a native of Templenoe who had been transferred up to Ballyduff Garda Station in 1961, was centre-forward on the Shannon Rangers side. The 1964 county final was his second time appearing in the showpiece event of Kerry club football, but he, along with his team--mates, were now in danger of failing to make it to the start line on time.

Amid the chaotic scenes on what is now John Joe Sheehy Road, a steward signals to the Shannon Rangers squad. A ladder is pressed up against the stone wall outside the stadium and the players are told to begin climbing. An unconventional entrance, to say the least.

“Those health and safety officials in Dublin these days wouldn’t have been too impressed with the sight of us crossing the wall by ladder,” laughs O’Sullivan, the chairman of the Austin Stack Park committee. “The crowds covering the gate were unbelievable. 10,000 people were there that afternoon squashed down to the wire.”

Having closed it gates last spring to begin work on an €800,000 facelift which included the laying of a sand-based pitch, an upgrade of the floodlight system and construction of concrete terracing at the Mitchel’s End, O’Sullivan says such a crowd would be comfortably accommodated at present day, revamped and refurnished, Austin Stack Park.

The chairman first set foot on the Tralee pitch in 1954 for a Kerry minor football trial. John Joe Sheehy was manager and the Kingdom went all the way to the All- Ireland final that September.

A week prior to the decider against Dublin, the Kerry senior football final was staged at Austin Stack Park; Kenmare District, of which O’Sullivan was a first-team regular, versus O’Rahilly’s.

“The dugouts were under the main stand, they were almost underground. You had to run up the tunnel to get onto the field so it was always daunting running out onto the pitch for the first time. It was a bit like coming up the steps of the Cusack Stand.

“There was a grassy bank where the terrace is now. The main stand is half the size of what it is now and there was open terracing in front of that with concrete seating. The stand was very small. The dressing-rooms underneath were even smaller.”

Seán Kelly appointed O’Sullivan secretary of the Austin Stack Park committee in 1990 and the retired Garda remained part of the fabric over the ensuing 26-years.

“It has been like a second home to me,” he says. “It is important for North Kerry, and for the town of Tralee because it’s a great sporting town. There are a number of big clubs here and Austin Stack Park is a focal point. It is the longest serving stadium in Kerry for national league games and county finals.

“We are extremely proud of it.”

A year prior to O’Sullivan’s appointment in 1990, then County Board secretary Tony O’Keeffe approached Vincent Linnane with a view to the latter overseeing a FÁS scheme at the grounds. Three decades on and the Kiltimagh native is still calling the shots.

“I moved to Manchester as a young lad and met my wife, Noreen, over there. I came back to Ballyduff with her where I got involved with the local GAA club.”

In his role as groundsman, Linnane has seen several Kerry managers come and go, had the inside track on many a heated training session and made friends with some of the best footballers to ever wear the green and gold.

“It was a privilege to be involved with them all. They were all very genuine people. You never seen them shouting or bawling or anything like that. They all had Kerry at their heart.

“Eamonn is there presently and you couldn’t meet nicer. He is very dedicated, just as Jack [O’Connor] and Pat [O’Shea] were before him. The biggest character of the lot was my old friend Páidí Ó Sé. I always had the craic with Páidí. He would come out with something totally unexpected. He’d hit you with a one-liner and you wouldn’t know what to say back. He was a character.

“I always had great conversations with Maurice Fitzgerald, he wasn’t as quite as most thought. Seamus Moynihan, the three Ó Sé’s and Declan O’Sullivan, too, were very easy get on with.”

Tomorrow’s double-header marks the stadium’s re-opening after months and months of hard graft. How’s he feeling? “It is like a station in the house, you want to have the place looking its best. I don’t know how my wife puts up with me. I leave early in the morning for Austin Stack Park. Sometimes I don’t get home until very late at night. That is the way it has always been. This place means a lot to me.”

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