Rejuvenated Kerry club set for its finest hour

AN historic week in Irish football didn’t begin and end with Marco Tardelli’s press conference at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown on Tuesday.

Tonight a first international fixture will be played in Kerry when the Republic of Ireland face Germany in an U16 friendly.

What’s more remarkable is that host club, Listowel Celtic, was homeless four years ago and tonight’s Tanavalla venue was then little more than grazing land. So what’s changed? A combination of hard work and the right circumstances according to club chairman Aiden O’Connor.

He explained: “The club was formed in 1963 and we were always criticised for not having our own ground. We kept looking until something came up that was close to the town. This opportunity arose and we bought the field about three years. Then we set about developing two full sized pitches and a club house which consists of four dressing-rooms, a referee’s room, a first aid area, a launderette, kitchen, toilets, foyer and club room.

“We also have space upstairs which we aim to develop over the next couple of years into a gym. Then we built an astroturf pitch and that has proven very successful as a source of income.”

And what does it mean it cold hard cash? “We have spent about €1.2m on the projects; we raised €400,000 through various schemes; €340,000 came from Lotto and government grants and we are working off the balance.”

The spending hasn’t end there. The club have recently invested €23,000 grant on a sprinkler system along with a high-tech aeration system to improve grass growth. “We have to do these things. We can’t afford to sit still,” reasons O’Connor.

Tonight’s affair will help put a dent in the debt column. But the chairman reveals this piece of history came about by accident rather than design.

He said: “The FAI held their annual general meeting in Killarney last July and during the week they travelled around and visited many of the clubs in Kerry. All the hierarchy were there, John Delaney, Don Givens, Packie Bonner, Steve Staunton and they were really, really impressed by what we had.

“Someone, I can’t remember who, said that it would be good enough to host an international game and John Delaney made a speech later that evening vowing that an international game would be played here within 12 months. And he stuck to his word.”

O’Connor is keen to deflect the plaudits away from himself and his committee for the creation of such a jewel. Celtic has been part of Feale side life for 45 years serving not just the town but the North Kerry hinterland long, long before the explosion of clubs post Euro ‘88 and Italia ‘90 and when the GAA ‘ban’ was enforced with zeal.

He insisted: “This isn’t just about the present; this is about recognition of all the people involved in the club since 1963. For example the pitch is named Pat Kennedy Park — Pat was our secretary who died unexpectedly in 1990. We also wanted to honour Jackie Carmody who was one of our former members. He was player, manager and basically held every position you could have in the club. And the astroturf pitch will be dedicated to his memory.”

Even with the strength of gaelic football in the home of the All-Ireland champions and now rugby, on the crest of a Munster tsunami, Celtic and Association football is in a healthy state.

O’Connor reports the club boasts 30 teams — there are 20 schoolboy teams from U7 to U16, five senior men’s sides, one senior ladies and four catering for schoolgirls.

There is a great relationship between all as O’Connor points out, ‘‘we are all working for the good of the youngsters’’ and the rival codes will be amongst the guests of Celtic at this evening’s affair.

Two of home players Bryan Murphy from Listowel and David Culhane (Ballylongford) are named in Vincent Butler’s squad and it would have been three but for an injury to Paudie Quinn who represented his country at U15 last season.

Though the Tanavalla future is bright, the men that brought them to this moment wouldn’t be forgotten.

“The oldest photograph of the team we have is from 1966. Of that 11, 10 are there and they are travelling from all over Ireland to make it.

“There will be some great memories,” said O’Connor.

And some more are about to be made.

Today: International U16 Friendly: Republic of Ireland v Germany, Listowel Celtic FC, 5.45pm.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND U16 Squad: Goalkeepers: C Gallagher (Castlefin Celtic, Donegal), A McCarey (Monaghan United).

Defenders: L Swords (Belvedere FC), D Culhane (Listowel Celtic), M O’Brien (Cherry Orchard), J Egan (Greenwood, Cork), A O’Connor (Kilreen Celtic, Cork), D Fitzsimons (Millwall, England), D Joyce (Belvedere FC) .

Midfielders: S Stewart (St.Kevins), S McDonnell (Glasgow Celtic), O Kelly (Reading), S Skelly (Belvedere FC), R Connolly (Derby County), S Murray (Arklow Town).

Strikers: R Benson (Athlone Town), B Murphy (Listowel Celtic), M Rafter (Borris St.Kevins, Tipperary), S Tidim (St.Pauli, Germany).

Manager: Vincent Butler.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox