Cork v Kerry: The stronger the rivalry, the greater the respect

The idea to erect a statue of Kerry hero John Egan may have culminated with an unveiling in his native Sneem, but it originated in his adopted hometown of Cork.

Cork v Kerry: The stronger the rivalry, the greater the respect

Photo: Jimmy Deenihan, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, Mick O’Dwyer and Niall Cahalane at the unveiling of the John Egan memorial statue. Photo by: Michelle Cooper Galvin

So, when the fundraising efforts accelerated with a golf classic last April, it was only fitting for the legends of the two counties to compete for the John Egan Memorial Cup. For all the bruising contests on the field – or indeed the fairways – the rivalry that burned so bright for more than a decade of their lives has left lasting friendships.

“We played in Macroom. There was a great crowd of Cork and Kerry players there. It was fabulous to have a big turn-out. Just brilliant,” recalls eight-time All-Ireland winner Ger Power.

The Cork men even forgave Kerry for beating them so often? Power laughs: “You forget things like that. That’s all in the past. We’re just friends now and accept the good times we had together. At that time, there was a lot of social life and stuff like that after games. Going back to the Dubs, they used come to the Listowel Races, and we’d meet the Cork players after games.

“Now, we meet them playing golf and a lot of them are actually living down here in summer homes in parts of Kerry, so (we’re) very great friends afterwards.”

Niall Cahalane played through Cork’s best ever winning streak against Kerry. Those seven wins in nine years, included four in Fortress Killarney.

“In my days against Kerry, we had Munster finals in Páirc Uí Chaoimh every second year but the place to play your football was in Killarney. Munster final day in Killarney was something special, and I’m sure still is. What you were guaranteed in Killarney was a huge crowd and more than likely sunny weather. It was a great place to play football. I might not have been the most popular in Kerry by no manner or means, but I always felt if you could hold your own that they did respect you for it.

“I’d say the only injury I actually got in Killarney was from a lady from Dingle who hit me with a handbag coming down outside of the Park Hotel one day after a Munster final. I wouldn’t mind but I hadn’t touched anyone the same day!”

Long after handbags at the Park, Cahalane and Egan became neighbours and close friends when living in Bishopstown. Their sons, Cork hurler Damien and Ireland footballer John, grew up playing together and even won the U16 National Cup with Greenwood FC in 2009.

When the idea of a statue in memory of Egan Snr was born, it came from his friends in Bishopstown, Paul Montgomery and Cahalane.

“At the end of the day, no matter what era you play in, it’s entertainment and you’re out to do your best. It might be ugly at times but we all retire and move on. You take it from John’s point of view, he was part of a machine that filled stadiums in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Killarney and Croke Park. It finishes and you’re there for a good time, not for a long time.

“You’re going to have, hopefully, a rip-roaring Munster football final and a big crowd again in Killarney. There’s no better place you could come to show your wares if you’re a Corkman and if you’re good enough than Fitzgerald Stadium.”

Egan himself is a product of the two counties. Described as “our greatest” by Mick O’Dwyer, he was reared in Tahilla, near Sneem, before going to boarding school across the border in Carrignavar. He became a Garda in Kildorrery and Togher stations and trained clubs around Cork, from Bishopstown to St Michael’s and Glanmire.

“John was very, very well respected in Cork and moved around, had a lot of friends and it shows if you look around (at the unveiling in Sneem), the amount of Cork people that are here,” said Cahalane not long after one child walked past sporting a collector’s item half-and-half Cork-Kerry jersey.

“A lot of his old colleagues who played with him are here and people that played against him, even from Offaly and places like that. It’s marvellous.”

Seamus Darby may be an outsider to the Cork-Kerry rivalry, but it says plenty when the man who dashed Sneem’s hopes for a five-in-a-row Sam Maguire homecoming led by Egan is welcomed with open arms.

“It’s one of the things that’s left in it for us,” said Darby. “You play against lads and you go out and do your best to win. But it’s all over and done with then and we’re all getting older. You make great friends. It’s one of the great things about the GAA.

“Whether you win or lose, it doesn’t matter. Of course, it does at the time, and winning does make a difference, but you still make friends and you’re friends forever. And long may it continue.”

As Eoin Liston, Egan’s full-forward line colleague, said, the friendships and memories are what endures. It was lovely to have such a close-up view and share a lot of my life with the two lads (Egan and Mikey Sheehy).

“The memories are great. No matter where I am, I can close my eyes and go back into my own little world, Bomberland we call it, and I can be recalling my chats and getting a little bit of advice from John and great trips to Australia, to America, to San Francisco. You name it, we travelled the world together. Mick O’Dwyer certainly looked after us well that way.

“We have fabulous memories and, at the end of the day, on our dying bed we can still be able to go there and think of those days.”

The statue to Egan will sit forever more on the Ring of Kerry, as a reminder of the Kerry footballer’s prowess and that team’s success. It continues to this day, too. Remember the John Egan Memorial Cup? The Kerry legends won it. As it ever was for Micko’s men.

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