“I didn’t because there wasn’t anyone worth voting for! The man who’s elected is elected and everyone has to row in behind him. It would have been the same if it were Hillary (Clinton) who won.”
New York-born O’Sullivan’s US contacts were integral to the massive Stateside funding drive Kerry embarked on in his five years of chairmanship, which concludes in the middle of next month. It has meant the costs attributed to the construction of county’s centre of excellence in Currans (more of that another time) has been greatly offset although it wasn’t easy when they had competition in raising finances there.
“The GPA were over there before us and they were campaigning about mental health. Mental health is a serious issue but Irish- Americans had bought into the GPA idea because their parents and grandparents came from Ireland and these were amateur players providing entertainment. You can only sell so much of mental health. Maybe they could highlight the importance of education and other things.
“We were selling a project and our project was to benefit people in Kerry. When we went to the US we first went to Kerry people who in turn went to people from other counties. (Irish-American businessman) Maurice Regan played an incredible role.
“A lot of people will do things for you once but he has helped us on three, four occasions. Eoin Moriarty was the person on the ground for us. Donal O’Sullivan, Tony Colbert... all those guys and more did a lot of work for us. We’re very proud of what we achieved and grateful for the support we received.”
O’Sullivan, who hasn’t let a series of leg operations this year hold him back, succeeded Jerome Conway as chairman a year earlier than expected. It will be up to his successor, Tim Murphy, to decide if the US fundraising campaigns are to continue but he expects they will maintain a presence there – “it can’t go on forever; the question is what have we got left to sell to get it (Currans) over the line.”
He believes the GPA should be doing more to persuade Gaelic games’ best players to remain in the country. “Look at the top 50 or 60 players coming up, give them scholarships and ensure they want for nothing when it comes to third level education. If they came together with the GAA and county boards on that, it could be a real force against what’s happening at the moment.”
What’s happening is the AFL’s heavy scouting of Gaelic players. Tadhg Kennelly’s AFL Talent Combine in Dublin this weekend includes five players. Dingle’s Mark O’Connor has already left for Geelong where Legion’s Padraig Lucey is based and O’Sullivan claims “another player is being badgered on a regular basis in the last couple of months about going to Australia”.
Declan Quill and Killian Young have already spoken out about how Kerry’s brightest are being poached and O’Sullivan insists the hemorrhaging has to stop.
“We’re looking at losing seven to nine to 10 minors from Kerry football over the next two or three years. That is something the GAA will have to look at and it’s not good enough for us to develop players and then for somebody to come in and take them away from us. We put our heart and soul into putting Kerry back on the map and it’s a very sad affair when anybody can come in and cherry-pick the best from any county. The GAA has to stem this because the counties are putting too much time, money and expertise on these players. Now anyone can come in and pick the best of them. It’s not good enough.”
That Kennelly is a figurehead of the campaign to attract players to Australia is a thorny issue for Kerry
“When you win three minors All-Irelands in a row, it’s easy to be drawn even though Tadhg is from our county and his family has a tradition with us. The problem is it’s too easy to come in and take a player and it’s too easy to send back a player crocked. And it’s too easy to sell a lifestyle that might be further from the truth and when you’re gone you don’t want to give up.
“The GPA have given scholarships to every Tom, Dick and Harry but maybe it’s time they concentrated on giving it to the best to help keep them in this country.
“We in Kerry don’t have the money to do that. We have to go beg and borrow like most counties. We have to raise money all the time to be competitive. People will tell you we’re this and that and ring a couple of boys in America but they can only keep going for so long like the boys in England.
“It comes down to Kerry people and whether they want to give €100 towards a ticket scheme to help Kerry improve or do they want to be above in the ditch giving out about the standard of the ticket and knocking officers and asking why we aren’t winning.”
O’Sullivan on .....
“I would be proud out about Kerry and I’m sure Kerry will prevail in the long run. Éamonn Fitzmaurice is the right man for Kerry, the way he handles himself and manages his players and backroom staff. Jack O’Connor is a manager who has the toughness to lead Kerry going forward but he’s now in a position to develop the next batch. Peter Keane has done an outstanding job. It doesn’t matter who is the chairman; everything will be provided to help Kerry win.”
“There has always been a financial commitment to hurling in Kerry but it’s because of the sacrifices made by players Kerry are in Division 1B next year. They have had good managers over the years and there is some good work being done at under-age level. The hurling championship in Kerry is very competitive but the challenge is to get everybody who is committed to club hurling showing the same commitment to county hurling.”
“We’re so far south and we have to travel to most things. Páraic Duffy’s proposal at least gives us one All-Ireland series game at home. The proposal may need a small bit of tweaking but, for us, it makes a lot of sense. I would agree with 95% of it and I don’t see many in the county who would knock it. If we keep on doing the same thing all of the time, we’re going to get the same answers all of the time.”
“When you are from Killarney and games are fixed for the town people will automatically associate that with the chairman being from Killarney and people will always cherry-pick what they want to think of you. The CCC, led by secretary Peter Twiss, organise games largely based on geography. For instance, Kenmare (District) wanted to play the county final against Crokes in Killarney. I’m very proud we did work in Tralee; I made that commitment before I ever became chairman. The pitch in Austin Stack Park wasn’t good enough and games had to be moved when the weather wasn’t good. We’re spending another €400,000 in the Pavilion at the moment and have plans to finish more work in the stadium.”
“I am an officer 19 years with the county board, 10 years as development officer. I have met every club, those who are rich and poor, and it doesn’t matter where you are living here or in the likes of Mayo, Donegal and Sligo... emigration has hit you a lot harder than other parts of the country. People still travel to Cork for work. A lot of people come home on Friday from England and go back on the first flight Monday. That hasn’t changed. We don’t know how Brexit, or Trump becoming US president, is going to affect Ireland.”