Tony Leen: Danaher, Kerry and me: A minor matter

By the only metric that matters in Kerry — championship appearances in the green and gold in one of the three acknowledged grades — I was a footballing failure.
Tony Leen: Danaher, Kerry and me: A minor matter

Philip Danaher. Picture: INPHO/Alan Betson
Philip Danaher. Picture: INPHO/Alan Betson

By the only metric that matters in Kerry — championship appearances in the green and gold in one of the three acknowledged grades — I was a footballing failure.

For too long it helped to blame Philip Danaher for that. Yes, the rugby international from Limerick.

Thirty-seven years ago tonight, in extraordinary circumstances, he made his one and only appearance in a Kerry jersey, a jersey I convinced myself could and should have been mine.

This is my version of events (pen, sword, etc), and not even Danaher, who is impossible to stay annoyed at for 37 minutes much less 37 years, is going to gainsay it.

It was the first year of the open draw in the Munster Minor football championship. Of course, Kerry and Cork were paired in the first round in Kilmallock on May 18. Paudie Herlihy was the Kerry manager, a man from Knocknagoshel I knew well and who would video our wedding a decade later.

Proof that I didn’t bear a grudge.

Mike Galwey and I — yes that’s Mick Galwey — were in and out of the Kerry panel that spring.

Gaillimh had another year at minor so by the time we were perched in Bill Kirby’s Brogue Inn, grubbing after one training session, he might have already been cut.

I was next, but not before a story went around the table that we were getting this budding superstar into the squad to help us quieten Cork, an ace from the bottom of the deck that no-one had seen or heard of. A gamechanger.

It was all a bit tall until the following Friday night when Danaher — who’d been a Limerick minor the previous season — was parachuted in among us.

I say ‘us’, but by that stage I’d been axed. Not in so many words, more that the County Board was only permitting 24 players on the team bus to Killmallock and I’d be back in training if/once we’d beaten Cork.

Ah right.

The following Wednesday I was up in the stand, stewing, as Cork cruised to a 1-13 to 1-7 victory.

Kerry had lost the previous year’s All-Ireland final to Dublin and Joe McNally (boy, was that a bad day for the Kingdom), but their successors were nowhere as good.

I was vying for a place in a half forward line that featured the team’s best player in Glenflesk’s Davy O’Donoghue, Connie Murphy from Dr Crokes, and Fionán Murphy, a bullock of a man from Valentia Island. Why I felt midfielder Danaher was the cause of my exclusion is hard to explain.

But the fact that he was slipped in from Abbeyfeale, via Duagh, straight into the Kerry midfield was something I didn’t understand then and can’t explain 37 years later. I’ve never seen anything like it at inter-county level.

Picture: Inpho
Picture: Inpho

In our present demented state, everyone has time to nurse old ideas and grudges. Hence, I called several people involved around that time to get somewhere close to the bottom of this one.

From Danaher himself, to Paudie Herlihy the manager, to his Cork counterpart, Eamonn Horgan from Doneraile, to Stephen Stack, who would win a county minor championship with Danaher and Feale Rangers later that year (by beating us, Castleisland division), to Liam Dennehy, the Duagh GAA club chairman of the time, to Mike Galwey (yeah, we still call him Mike at home.)

And after it all, the mystery remains.

Herlihy’s recollection was hazy, save that he recalled Danaher came in ‘late in the day’ to the panel. In truth, he seemed more troubled that Kerry lost the following year, 1984 in Killarney to Tipperary, when he was still in charge.

But Danaher disputes even that — he says his father used collect him from St Munchin’s in Limerick and drive him over the border into Kerry for minor training. Liam Dennehy remembers him playing ‘a few matches’ for Duagh once his transfer from Abbeyfeale had been sanctioned.

He was a good talent. I’d say the minors must have thought if they could get him to transfer, he’d be a big asset.

Abbeyfeale and Duagh may be in different counties but they are literally yards apart. Strictly speaking, Danaher played football in Kerry several nights a week, with the Abbeyfeale pitch on the Kingdom side of the bridge.

That the family had built a house nearby clearly created an opening for some creative spark in Kerry GAA. Except no-one’s ‘fessing up.

“The Kerry football team was the bees’ knees at the time, certainly for anyone who played gaelic football. Liam Dennehy was the man in Duagh at the time, and he fell in chatting with my Dad, but it was my decision at the time. I had nothing to lose,” Danaher recalls.

“Dad collected me Tuesdays and Thursdays at Munchins and brought me back to Kerry for the training.”

I have no reason to doubt his bona fides on this, because Danaher’s recollection of our county championship minor duels later that summer was spot on.

“That was my first time really coming across yourself and Gaillimh. Myself and Brendan Guiney were in midfield, he was killed later in a traffic accident in New York. We had big Liam Canty from Listowel at full forward, PJ Gaire at corner forward, Stephen Stack at the back. Jimmy Deenihan was our coach that year. It was some team.”

Whoever felt Danaher had something to offer wasn’t all wrong. Though Lansdowne and rugby took him away from football in his late teens, he returned to the Abbeyfeale footballers after his Kingdom moonlight and when John O’Keeffe took over the Treaty, he drafted Danaher in, along with Brian Spillane and Dan Larkin.

In 1991, they had Kerry beaten (without Larkin), but an ailing Kingdom escaped out the back door, 0-23 to 3-12.

To this day, I can’t remember who actually had a legitimate gripe in terms of being replaced at midfield for Herlihy’s Kerry minors against Cork in Kilmallock. Pat Stackpoole was a giant of a man from Finuge, who came on and scored two points. Him perhaps?

Picture: Inpho
Picture: Inpho

“What stands in my head,” says Herlihy, “is that his father built a house on the ‘right’ side of the river in Abbeyfeale and that qualified him for Duagh. There might have been a bit of waiting for that (transfer) to come through.

It was a late in the day thing, maybe a week or ten days before Cork.”

It certainly was. We played Clare in Tralee, maybe ten days before the championship, and there was no whiff of a saviour on a steed. Either way it was a gamble that didn’t come off.

Cork were better from the get-go in Kilmallock and would advance to the All-Ireland final, only to lose to Derry.

If there was any Kerry subterfuge heading into the game, it was lost on Cork. Their manager Eamonn Horgan from Doneraile says now they knew zero about the Danaher ruse, a claim substantiated by corner back on the night Denis Walsh of St Catherine’s.

‘Sure when you are 17, it’s all about getting on the pitch and playing, isn’t it?”

It sure is Denis...

CORK: Ray Duffy (St Finbarr’s); Michael Maguire (Castlehaven), Terry Minihane (O’Donovan Rossa), Denis Walsh (St Catherine’s); Michael Slocum (St Finbarr’s), Brendan Searles (0-2, St Finbarr’s), Johnny Moynihan (Canovee); Barry Coffey (0-1, Bishopstown), Brendan Stack (0-1, Doneraile); Mick McCarthy (0-1, O’Donovan Rossa) , Teddy McCarthy (0-3, Glanmire), Eddie Kenneally (Newcestown); Martin Kelleher (0-1, Kilmurry), Tony Power (1-2, St Finbarr’s), Paddy Harrington (0-2, Doneraile).

Sub: David Kennedy (Douglas).

KERRY: Joe O’Leary (Spa); Patie Griffin (Glenbeigh-Glencar), John Keane (Kenmare), Sean Moynihan (Glenflesk); Donal McCarthy (Kenmare), Kieran Culhane (Ballylongford), Johnny Walsh (Austin Stacks); Philip Danaher (Duagh), Pat Condon (Kenmare); Davy O’Donoghue (1-4, Glenflesk), Fionan Murphy (Valentia), Connie Murphy (Dr Crokes); Micheal O’Suilleabhain (Gaeltacht), Mike O’Shea (0- 1, Waterville), Mike Fitzgerald (Ardfert).

Subs: Pat Stackpoole (0-2, Finuge) for O’Shea; Mike Scanlon (Moyvane) for McCarthy; Cian Sugrue (Dingle) fort Fitzgerald).

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