Barry John Keane. So, what are you thinking?
Kerry SFC semi-final: Kerins O’Rahillys V South Kerry
Kicks his points as an impact sub. Cheeky chappie is our Baz. Bit of McGregor going on. You’re a bum, you’re a bum. Why did you kick that ball off Paul Durcan’s tee in Croke Park? Scores per minutes on the pitch ratio? Got to be good. Maybe why Éamonn Fitzmaurice says in 2015 he’s ‘the unluckiest player in the squad’?
And then one day, he’s 27. And a dad. And chatting to the Kerins O’Rahillys tyros who want to be the next Barry John Keane like he’s chatting to you here today in Benners Hotel in Tralee.
Growing up. Recognising, appreciating youthful energy needs its ventilation too.
“I don’t do interviews, really,” he says. “Back whenever, I was in with the (club) seniors at 19, playing with Kerry at 21, young and foolish. You learn quick or you’ll be left on the side. Thankfully, I matured. I can see myself now in a lot of the young fellas that come in. They have the talent, and a few of them are wild. I thought that my vintage was wild but I don’t know. I just pull them aside. There’s only a small window there.”
Today, the Strand Road club faces into a Kerry SFC semi-final against South Kerry knowing they are the perennial underachievers of senior football in the county until they prove otherwise. What looks good on paper doesn’t always impress on grass. Keane is joined by David Moran, Jack Savage, Tommy Walsh, Cormac Coffey in a line-up bidding to put the past in its place. One county title in 60 years. Barry John gets it because it’s IV-dripped into his bloodstream. His grandfathers, John Dowling and Leo Keane were Strand Road champions in the 50s, his father Davy and uncle Mikey wore Strand Road on their forearms. Little Leo Keane, who’s one, has already sat in on his first team meeting with his dad.
“This is my 10th year and I’ve only a few County Leagues. I’ve got one county final, and, like, I’ve played with good fellas. It slips by. I’ve said that to the young fellas coming in. They’re looking at me and are like ‘ah come on now. What were you like?’ The image of me when they were younger would have been the haircut and the tattoos, that cheeky thing. But if you know me, it’s nearly the opposite now, so they do get a kick out of that. But they still get the chat now just like I got the chat 10 years ago. Maybe it takes a bit to sink in.”
That Strand Road are in a Kerry semi shouldn’t be a great surprise, but it is. They defeated today’s opponents in Rd 1, and Dingle a week later on May 21. Nothing then only a wait over a long summer, and Strand Road lads seem to do summer better than anyone. “We lost 13 fellas going abroad last year, and 11 starters. We had a B team out in most county league games. This season, seven or eight went to America and different places, and remember, there were three more of us with Kerry. The upside is that three or four lads who played a lot of county league minutes are now options to play in championship.
“Every club is in the same boat. The likes of Dr Crokes produce a lot of young talent so if they lose one or two, it’s not the end of the world. We need to keep onto everyone we have because we’ve lost so many over the recent years.”
Beyond the goalkeeper Gary Kissane, and three others, Barry John is now the oldest starter for Kerins O’Rahilly’s. He delivers for Strand Road with the same unvarying regularity he does with Kerry. When given the chance. He’s made 33 championship appearances for the county and started three times.
In 2015, he was Kerry’s best forward in the win over Tipperary in Thurles, and scored three points in the Munster final draw with Cork in Killarney. He was withdrawn after 50 minutes and replaced for the replay.
Tattoo ‘impact’ on him. It has stuck.
“He has to be the unluckiest man in the squad, because of the players that he is competing with,” accepted Fitzmaurice at the time. “His formline going back to last June in Portugal has been incredible and his attitude has been even better, because another fella in his position could easily throw his toys out of the cot, but he’s been the ultimate pro.”
“Kerry is a hard road,” Barry John says, “but the way I look at it is I’m in there. There are 20 fellas around the county as good as what’s in there. If I am not taking my chance, some other fella is going to be. Whether I am starting, getting a half, getting 10 minutes, I need to make an impact. For our younger fellas in the club not happy with their minutes, I give them my example. You’ve got to make the most of your time, be tuned in, don’t be messing in the dugout.”
A Solskjaer on Strand Road. “I back myself, and I’m disappointed like anyone else not to get the nod. You think Michael Darragh Macauley or Bernard Brogan don’t think they should be starting with Dublin? Of course, you want to the best opportunity to make the best impression.”
Six points again in the quarter-final win over East Kerry might suggest he moved on from the Mayo disappointment sharpish.
“I was in the gym on the Monday after, I’d say. Mayo was a hard one to take and it’s still tough to take. Saying something else is only lying. We know we didn’t put out there what we were capable of.”
Which, in a half-sentence, could sum up Strand Road? It’s a source of some contention in the clubhouse whether they’ve been desperately unlucky over the past decade, or found wanting in the money moments.
2008 county final: A replay with Mid Kerry. Winning by two into injury time. “(Ian) Twiss got on the end of something, it got bunched up, he went down handy and the ref somehow gave a penalty.” Lost by a point.
2009 Munster club final: Last minute v Kilmurry-Ibrickane: “We were down to 14 men for the last 28 minutes. Then we got a ‘goal’ in the last minute, Declan Quill punched it in, but it was wrongly called for a square ball. We were protesting, they took a quick kick-out, went down and got a point. Game over, ball burst.”
2009 County championship v Laune Rangers: “After Kerry won the All-Ireland, there was four going back to the club. Quarter-final, Killorglin had no-one, we looked brilliant on paper. And they beat us. Yeah, we are not getting the most out of ourselves. Now there has been legitimate excuses. Dave (Moran) had two cruciates, a bad eye injury, so he missed the guts of three of those campaigns. Barry John and Tommy Walsh were gone to Australia. Of them all, Barry John would be our biggest loss, we haven’t seen him in six years now, he’s living in San Francisco. He was as promising as David Clifford in his day.”
And on the stories go.
“I don’t like looking back at defeats, you only start picking the bones off it. The heart is definitely there. We’ve been on the wrong side of it on the day, but twice this year, against South Kerry and down in Dingle, we dug in. Our backs were against the wall going into championship because we’d got an awful hockeying from Austin Stacks in the Town Championship. And when we went 2-2 to no score down to South Kerry… If we can get the best out of ourselves, we think we can give anyone a rattle. It’s consistency. That’s why Dr Crokes are so successful.”
One they’ve held onto is Jack Savage, the youngest Kerry boy in blue. Barry John like the Savage swagger. “He was a bit tapped too in his own way, but when he crosses the white line, he produces. He’s hungry. He reminds me a small bit of Gooch when we were together in with Kerry. Jack has high standards, and that’s a good thing. He tries to get the most out of himself and everyone around him, he wants everyone else on his level, and he’s quite out there for a young fella.
“He’s been with the seniors since he was 17 and he’s always wanted those standards. The lads respect him, he played two years minor, three years U21 — Jack’s a big club man. You’d go into battle with him every day.”
Yesterday he went to work in Kingdom Printers and watched the teams for today’s match programme eventually roll in. Printing is the Keane family business in Balloonagh and he allowed himself a quick glance at South Kerry’s named selection. “I’d pretty much know who’ll be marking me, it’ll be one or two players. It’s all getting a bit cloak and dagger, but I don’t take too much notice. I pretty much know who’ll be marking me, it’ll be one of two players.”
It won’t be Killian Young, who’s out for the season, and if the grapevine is accurate, Bryan Sheehan won’t play the full game either for South Kerry. Maybe, Strand Road’s luck is turning. “It’s a semi-final, that’s it. You play what’s there, and try to ensure we deliver a mature performance.”
And in the crowd will be his partner Aoife, and baby Leo, togged out in blue. “He has all the gear. Mom (Kayrena, who runs Dowling Sports) has him kitted out. I’ve brought him along with me to a few Strand Road meetings. Starting him early. It’s a different world, fatherhood. A different world.”
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