This could be Rob Penney’s pre-match war cry for Munster before today’s Heineken Cup clash against Gloucester, it isn’t. These were JJ Hanrahan’s final words to his native Currow prior to today’s Kerry IFC final, it’s his advice. It doesn’t matter what the level of sport, the emotion is the same. Don’t play the occasion, play the game is the familiar mantra. It is one Hanrahan lives by.
A Munster Heineken Cup game in Thomond Park and Currow v St Mary’s of Cahersiveen in the Kerry IFC final are a world apart but Hanrahan’s story provides the link.
His fondness for Currow — four miles south of Castleisland, near Kerry Airport — and Kerry GAA has never left him. He was in Fitzgerald Stadium for this year’s Munster final and Croke Park for last month’s Kerry-Dublin All-Ireland semi-final. He marvels at the players that play in the green and gold as he grew up watching Currow stalwarts in the black and amber. A month ago he found out they had made the county final and was “delighted” for his idols.
“I always watched the senior games when I was younger. There was a dozen of us as a group who would always go along. I loved watching Kieran Scanlon [the club’s current trainer], Johnny McGlynn, Jack Dennehy, throwing dummy solos, Seamus Scanlon and Liam Brosnan. Liam actually coached me a lot at underage in football and in basketball. A great guy. They were great players for the club and have made it what it is really.”
Hanrahan played football with the North Kerry U16s alongside current Kerry U21s James Walsh and Conor Cox. He enjoyed the game but even at that stage knew rugby was for him.
“It wasn’t until about 12 when I really started leaning towards rugby. I loved the contact element of the game more so than football. I was always well-built and quite quick so I could run around or through other lads. In football there was more skill needed and I’m sure some of the lads in Currow could tell you about my point-kicking attempts,” said the 21-year-old.
For an impressionable teen winning was always going to be the draw. The Castleisland team that he played on was successful. That rugby team also contained two other players that would go on to play for the Kerry U21s: the Galvin twins from Ballymac, Matthew and Philip.
“I was lucky that when I started playing rugby with Castleisland that we had a good age group.
“It wasn’t until U14 level with Currow that we started improving and were able to compete with the Crokes or the Stacks. But by then I was slowly realising that I was getting good at rugby.”
His schooling took him from Currow National School; to three years in Castleisland Community College before he left for the famed rugby academy of Rockwell College in Tipperary after consulting with his parents Gerry and Mary Jo. The switch was game, set and match for rugby.
Currow is famed for producing some of the most influential players in Irish rugby: Moss Keane, Mick Doyle and Mick Galwey and their status in the community left a mark on Hanrahan.
“I heard about it all the time. I used to see all their names and their photographs at Castleisland Rugby Club. It was a while though before I realised they were all from Currow.
“It was quite mystical really. It was only when I saw Mick Galway walking around the village that I realised that I could also play for Munster. I don’t know what it is about Currow and rugby as I am the only one of my group of 12 or 13 friends that plays.”
Sports always look to each other for hints and tips but Hanrahan is reticent to preach about any GAA rules, he’s been too long out of the game for that, but he does see an improvement in one thing: respect for referees.
“This is the one thing that always pops up when talking about rugby and football. A referee in rugby is rarely questioned, it just doesn’t happen.
“For that to happen in GAA it has to start at school level. But I also think the man in the middle has to earn respect. He has to be authoritative so it works both ways.”
He might find out the result before kick-off today, or maybe afterwards, he won’t mind either way but a Munster/Currow double would make for the perfect Saturday for John Joseph Hanrahan.