Friday, July 30, 2010

Jimmy Deenihan on Five-in-a-Row and other stuff

Why did Kerry’s great four in a row team never make it five?

Jimmy Deenihan thinks he knows the answer although he won’t say it directly:

The reason Kerry lost to Offaly in the 1982 All-Ireland is that he wasn’t playing.

Séamus Darby's goal in the 1982 All-Ireland final
 I’m too young to remember the match but growing up, my late father never tired of talking about it. He had been out of the country and landed home late on the final Sunday just in time to watch the highlights in a bar. He used to fondly recall jumping up and down screaming when Seamus Darby scored Offaly’s winning goal while bemused onlookers, who’d already had several hours to digest the upset, just assumed he was insane.

It was his happiest GAA memory despite having no connection with either county, which probably goes to show the depth of anti-Kerry feeling among neutrals at the time.

(Although given that Kerry had beaten his native Roscommon* in an ill-tempered final two years earlier perhaps he’s not a fair reflection of the prevailing mood at the time. It’s also worth noting that absolutely nothing against Kerry apart from that “they won a lot of soft ones”.)

The 1982 final for me then was simply justice. Kerry’s luck had finally run out. The whole country rejoiced and that’s all there was to it.

So I must admit that when I spoke to Jimmy Deenihan, I wasn’t particularly comfortable with his assessment of a match he missed after breaking his leg in training earlier that summer.

It remains one of the few sporting regrets the Fine Gael TD has after an illustrious career in which he won five All-Ireland titles and captained his county in the 1981 triumph that made it four in succession for Kerry.
“I suppose the major disappointment was losing out on five in a row. I wasn’t playing that day. Some people would say if I was playing, Seamus Darby wouldn’t have scored that goal. But that’s hypothetical; I may not even have been marking him.

“I was usually marking Brendan Lowry at that time so I probably wouldn’t have even been on (Darby). But the only thing I would say is that Brendan Lowry scored three points on that occasion and he always found it hard (against me). He only took one score off me the previous year and that was because of an error from another defender!

"He found it hard to scores off me so maybe Kerry wouldn’t have been in that position if I was playing."
I must admit than while he was saying this all that was going through my head was ‘typical Kerry arrogance’ and I think I literally rolled my eyes and even scoffed out loud at one point.

But with a bit of time to reflect, I realised that it only sounded arrogant because of the watered down politically-correct bullshit non-answers from sportspeople that we’ve all been conditioned with and have perversely come to expect and even desire.

Even if he had directly said that Kerry would definitely have won had he been playing, it would have been a valid argument. He was a gifted defender, a former All-Star and the side’s captain. There would be something wrong if he didn’t feel he could’ve been the difference between winning and losing.

He continued:
“Certainly we played together for a long time - for seven or eight years with that defence - and the fact that I was out of it probably upset the cohesion. We knew each other’s place so well and obviously we had a very good positional sense.

“And our relationship with each other as regards support and so on. That was developed over a number of years and I was there at all times. I was taken out of it and it probably upset the shape of our defence but one can never tell.

“But I hope I won’t just be remembered for the day I wasn’t playing."
Again all very valid and leaves me with the rather uncomfortable thought that maybe Kerry were unlucky in 1982? Well whatever... I won't be losing sleep over it and to be honest I think I'll continue with the Kerry had it coming theory.

Deenihan's last line there is quite poignant but seems highly unlikely to me. Quite apart from his successes on the field, his current position as a politician and quite probably a future government minister means that several chapters of the Jimmy Deenihan story remain unwritten.

More from Jimmy Deenihan - the lazy way:

Deenihan on the best player he ever played with:
“It’s a hard one to call but I think the most important man in that team would’ve been Eoin Liston for a number of reasons. He was an excellent player, he developed his skill at kicking with both feet and he was a great fielder of the ball. He was fearless. And the most important thing about thing about him was that he was entirely unselfish. He was key man in that team.
On his toughest opponent:
“From the point of view of being a striker or a goal-poacher, Jimmy Barry Murphy probably was one of the most difficult to watch it’s fair to say. He was a very good player. He was very fast and was a striker, in soccer terms , in Gaelic football at the time.

"If a ball dropped around the square he would pounce on it and certainly the goals he got off me were all broken balls around the square that he pounced on so you’d want to be forever alert on him.

 On Down’s All-Ireland winning sides of the 60s:
“You could say was the start to some extent of the modern game. Down dressed differently, they looked different, they played a faster game of football, they didn’t stick to their zones - or ‘sectors’ as Dr Eamon O’Sullivan who trained Kerry at the time used to describe it as.

"They were inclined to move out of their positions and make space and overall they introduced a totally new element to Gaelic football at the time. And I think they lifted the game as well. They brightened up the game.

"They were a young, fast, attractive team and they brought the Sam Maguire across the border for the first time which was very significant and meant a lot to the nationalist community in Northern Ireland.

"It’s one of my few regrets in Gaelic football that I didn’t meet Down in an All-Ireland semi-final or final with that four-in-a-row Kerry team."
On the difference between winning an All-Ireland and getting elected:
"One thing about winning an All-Ireland is that the whole county is behind you, in politics it’s only a small percentage!"

* - My Dad was from Ballygar on the Roscommon/Galway border. He was born on Roscommon side but grew up in the village in Galway so his allegiances changed regularly. It mainly depended on who he wanted to annoy at the time

Note: A different article based on the same Jimmy Deenihan interview appeared in The Irish Daily Star on Saturday, July 31, 2010

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