When Kenmare District's two tribes go to war as one

Two great photos exist of Pat Spillane from the Kerry SFC final replay, 1987.
When Kenmare District's two tribes go to war as one

In the first — printed that winter in the Kerry GAA yearbook — Spillane is stretched out in Austin Stack Park, visited by agony. His right hand massages despair from his forehead in the classic pose of a man whose day is done.

A concerned bystander in street clothes offers consultancy while the late Dr Denis O’Connor applies a stethoscope to the Spillane midriff, frowning a diagnosis.

Bedside manner: businesslike.

“I went off twice playing football,” Pat recalls. “Once when I did my cruciate against Waterville in ‘81 in the intermediate championship. The other time was in that match. Off with a broken rib.”

Full-time found the sides still locked, with triage reconvened in the Kenmare District dressing room, where the extra-time scoreline jostled for influence with health and safety.

“The pain was savage. But things were going badly, so Denis decided, ‘we’ll try you out’. He gave me an injection anyway. Whatever it was. Some painkiller. Strapped me up. And then he gave me a belt. I nearly fell on the floor with pain. But I went on for the last six or seven minutes.”

“When he returned to the fray, the morale of his teammates lifted appreciably,” the yearbook notes.

Pat will only claim nuisance value.

“With 30 seconds to go there was a point in it. The Kenmare goalie takes a kick-out. Crokes win the kick-out, kick it back in again, score a point. Two up. The winner.

“The referee is telling Pa O’Donoghue, the fella who scored, that time is up. But as he’s telling Pa, and about to blow the whistle, my brother Mick, playing corner-back, took a quick kick-out. He didn’t have time to blow.”

Eight seconds later… “I made a run. And a couple of Crokes fellas followed. Thanks be to God, the ball wasn’t passed to me. It was passed to Eugene McCarthy and he got the goal.”

The second photo, also by Don MacMonagle, will stand testimony to Dr O’Connor’s restorative powers should the Vatican ever come calling on miracle-watch — Pat hoisted off the field, as if elected, arms up in triumph, pain invisible, the wide smile of a man who’s heard a rib-tickler.

It’s wider this week. The District are back in a county final for the first time since, looking for a third ever title. Dr Crokes again the aristocratic barrier. Where brothers Pat, Mick and Tom backboned ‘87, Tom’s sons Adrian and Killian and Pat’s young lad Pat Jr will feature in Fitzgerald Stadium tomorrow. “It’s great to have the young lads involved. In the greatest sporting coliseum in the country.”

Ordinarily, novelty, famine and breeding would be the story.

But consider the biggest game in the Kerry club calendar mightn’t be the biggest club game these lads play in the next eight days. Factor in that the camp split even this week, sights trained on each other. Take into account bonds dissolve and they retreat behind enemy lines Monday morning.

Now you have a story.

Skip the precis if you know the air of it: Kenmare District is the smallest of the Kerry divisions. Four clubs: Kenmare Shamrocks, Templenoe, Tuosist, Kilgarvan. Three at times, Kilgarvan played no adult football this year. Two nearly, only Peter O’Shea of the Tuosist crowd started the semi-final.

When the two aren’t in the same boat, their own vessels have surged on the Kenmare Bay tide.

All-Ireland junior champions, Templenoe’s whirlwind has bounced them through Divisions 5 to 1 in the league. Tomorrow week, they meet Kenmare in the county intermediate final. One will go senior, leaving the District behind to cope without them.

Pat, from the Templenoe side — a rural parish with no village, five miles from Kenmare town — tackles logistics.

“It’s difficult enough. The clubs do the training. Kenmare trained up in St Finbarr’s in Cork on Tuesday, because they have more living in Cork than in Kenmare. Templenoe have nobody at home either. Training in the winter is often in Glenflesk or Barradubh.

“The clubs agreed the District could train on Wednesday night during the summer. A challenge game or a bit of tactics. This week, they were back down in Fossa.”

You won’t find it in big game preparation manuals.

Like Pat, Mickey Ned O’Sullivan, another Kerry legend, played in both county wins (‘74 and ‘87). From the Kenmare end of this operation, he doesn’t, at least, detect any existential obstacles in the split loyalties.

“Like any local parishes, there’s rivalry. But it’s a positive rivalry. And they come together for the District and give it everything. There’s no problem. It shows what football is all about, rivalry and friendship.”

Still, best not have long to dwell on it, is Pat’s view.

“It’s such a rollercoaster now that nobody has time. A game every week. When local clubs play, if there is a three week build-up, old, old rivalries come to the fore and old, old bitterness. Thanks be to God, nobody has started talking about Templenoe versus Kenmare yet, which is great.”

One game at a time. More necessity than cliche. These guys don’t need Deepak Chopra to preach the value of living in the moment.

“Both games are big,” says Mickey Ned. “But it’s all about the here and now. If you’re in a county senior final that’s the ultimate. But the following week with your club in a county final, that’s also the ultimate. It’s not a comparison.”

That Kerry yearbook in ‘87 wrestled with the 13-year gap between titles and partly foretold the next 29-year famine.

“Finance is a curtailing factor. It is often more difficult for a district board to raise money than it is for a club due to the fact that the board is, as it is often referred to as, ‘Nobody’s Baby’.”

Nobody’s Baby sometimes went unloved, Spillane admits.

“Two years ago, we forfeited a game. And we’re so small and so poor, I’d say we’re still paying off the fine.

“Fair play to him, the same fella is sponsoring the jerseys for the last 40 years. Danny McCarthy, of Star Sailing and Seafoods. A complete labour of love. From an advertising point of view, there aren’t too many photographs.

“But 99% certain, Kenmare District will be the only team in Ireland going into a final without new gear or anything like that. No bags, no new socks. “There’s no money there. Not a bob.”

Politics, inevitably, fogged heads too.

“There used be war. There had to be so many from Kenmare and so many from Templenoe. One from Kilgarvan, whatever.

“And one of the main reasons down through the years why the District didn’t achieve, the clubs would take precedence.”

Even last year, when they reached the county semi, falling to winners South Kerry by a point, Mickey Ned felt more might have been done.

“There probably were teething problems. Players prioritising the clubs. But I think the players spotted they lost an opportunity last year of winning the county senior.”

Mike Doyle, who trained them, thinks that did open eyes.

“If you didn’t have intermediate and junior in the way, it would be far easier to work. But they are very talented and committed bunch. I think the run instilled a lot of self-belief in fellas and they realised they were capable of winning a senior championship.”

Now, ex-Crokes stalwart John Galvin has brought them a step further. But why now?

“You just didn’t have the talent before. There’s no mystery to it,” says O’Sullivan. “Kenmare have worked on their underage structure and that’s coming through now. Templenoe had a talented group the same age. All these lads grew up together and there’s a lot of credit due to the local school too.”

Kerry seniors Paul O’Connor and Stephen O’Brien aside, most of the crop aren’t long out of class.

“All it is, it’s a numbers game,” says Pat, who took the U21s to a county two years ago. “Every 20, 30, 40 years, an exceptional bunch come along and they’re held together and they’re coached. Good work at underage level. A great bunch of lads who get on well together. They came through Pobalscoil Inbhear Sceine, Kenmare, They’re getting Munster colleges experience there. A high level.

“In Templenoe, we might have two or three years of a golden era ahead of us, but that’s all. They’re all students. They’re all away.

“In 10 years’ time, we’ll be way back down to Division 4 or 5. We have no numbers. We have three lads playing football between 16 and 18.”

They will squeeze what they can from this bumper harvest. But Pat knows they will come to rely again on another kind of richness. That pride in place.

“With Templenoe and Kenmare District teams, often... had we 15 footballers, we hadn’t. But we had 15 players. Fellas who wouldn’t leave us down. That sort of way. It was mostly hammerings. But the one thing about it, with Templenoe in particular, we never failed to field. Even though you’d be heading to Tarbert, two and a half hours away, you’d get 15 fellas to go up for the hammering.

“The success of the clubs now is because of those boys keeping it going.”

Maybe the doc has to share some of the credit for getting Pat up, in ‘87, and keeping him going.

“My mother was an amazing women. My father died at a young age. She raised us. Parked her life. Everything was done for us. Ran a bar, looked after us, says the Kerry legend.

“All-Ireland finals were never discussed. The week of a final, not mentioned. She’d never say, ‘make sure and win this’ or anything like that.

“The only thing she’d say: ‘Remember who we are and come back safely.’

“But Kenmare-Crokes was different. She was a Lyne from Killarney. Her brothers played Kerry senior. Jackie played and managed. Dinny captained Kerry in the Polo Grounds in ‘47. Canon Michael Lyne played.

“They were Legion. The Killarney thing. Legion-Crokes. Ferocious rivalry. And I always remember it was the only time in her life my mother said to us: “Do this for me.”

This time, Mickey Ned hopes they do it for themselves.

“You cannot afford to be parochial. You can afford to be parochial the following Sunday. But you have to look at the bigger picture. What is in their interests as players? To win at the highest level.

“These guys are bright lads. Third level graduates. When they look back at their playing career, they will say we enjoyed it, but what did we win.

“And they would love to say we won a county championship together and we won an intermediate championship against each other.

“They know that they are within touching distance. They want it now.

“And the following week they will want the intermediate.”

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