'Winning the All-Ireland would be the greatest day in Kilcummin's history' - Former GAA President Sean Kelly
WHEN Sean Kelly, as GAA President, successfully lobbied for the introduction of a provincial and All-Ireland championships at junior and intermediate level he probably didn’t imagine his own club Kilcummin would grace Croke Park.
Situated a few miles north of Killarney, Kilcummin had struggled at senior level for the best part of 20 years and, almost inevitably, they were relegated to intermediate status after losing a play-off with Kerins O’Rahillys in 2017.
As their captain and former Kerry goalkeeper Brendan Kealy said, the club needed to take a step back in order to regroup for another crack at senior football.
“Some in the club agree and others disagree,” says Kelly, who held the GAA presidency between 2003-06, “but I would have felt we were putting too much effort into staying in the senior county championship, trying to stay in Division One of the county league and so when it came to winning championships we weren’t able to manage it because our efforts were spread too thinly.
“So, by playing intermediate, it gave us a new focus and winning the county championship was of course fantastic and now that we’re back up to senior again and in an intermediate All-Ireland final is really wonderful.
“One sad thing about being a senior club and winning nothing is that you have a pile of good players who spend their careers playing and at the end of it haven’t a medal to show for it.”
Kelly explains: “When I became Uachtarán I proposed there should be junior and intermediate championships at provincial and All-Ireland level but more importantly that they be played in Croke Park.
“It has really worked out bigger and much better than what I would have thought because for any club it’s an odyssey; we’ve people coming from abroad, we’ve people coming to the final from as far away as Australia.
“And there will be people from Kilcummin who have never been in Croke Park and who will probably never be again. They will be travelling for this event. It’s a unique occasion.”
Similar to tomorrow’s All-Ireland final opponents at Croke Park, St Enda’s Glengormley, Kilcummin is benefiting from the sprawling urbanisation.
The Kerry club, just three miles north of Killarney, boasts over 600 members, 270 of which are juveniles.
While St Enda’s are putting the finishing touches to a state-of-the-art £1.8m community hub, Kilcummin are doing likewise on their premises, “incorporating new dressing rooms, gym facilities, extra playing surfaces and a walking track to cater for an increasing population and encroaching urbanisation”, says club PRO Michael O’Riordan.
Kelly adds: “There are new housing developments around but it is still a small, tightly-knit community. We have one pub, a clubhouse, a shop, a post office and a church.”
While Kilcummin has endured more bad days than good over the last 20 years, they have produced some stunning footballers since the club was founded in 1910.
Eugene Moriarty, (1924), Dee O Connor, (1929-1932) and Sean Kelly (snr) in 1953 won All-Irelands with Kerry.
In more recent times Mike McCarthy and Brendan Kealy have earned Allstar recognition to go along with their Celtic Crosses.
Indeed, their current manager Willie Maher won an All-Ireland with Kerry in 1986. At the beginning of the season, Kilcummin were at a low ebb. Nobody had a great appetite for playing intermediate football and not many in the club were putting their hand up to take the team.
“Willie is a great guy,” says Kelly. “Doesn’t say a whole pile. Knows his game, very modest, very genuine. He took up the position last year because we basically couldn’t get anyone else.
“He was part of the committee and one or two others were appointed to other things, and he was the only one left and he had to take it.”
Maher has two sons on the team – Willie jr and Darragh.
Current Kerry forward Kevin McCarthy is the lynchpin of the Kilcummin side that faces the Antrim and Ulster champions at Croke Park tomorrow and his understanding with Matt Keane and Noel Duggan – both East Kerry Allstar winners of 2018 – is one of the glowing features of their play.
McCarthy suffered a broken hand – twice this season - and was only fit to come on in the final minutes of their tempestuous All-Ireland semi-final win over Kildare’s Two Mile House.
Keith O’Leary, Sean O’Leary and Gary O’Leary were also involved in the Kerry seniors last season. Kieran Murphy, who captained the Kerry juniors last year, is their reliable midfield resident.
Kerry’s Intermediate Championship was wrapped up by May 6 2018, with most of the games being played off in the club-only month of April.
Eight of their players were involved for East Kerry: Kealy, Sean O’Leary, Philip Casey, Shane McSweeney, Kevin O’Gorman, Kevin McCarthy, Noel Duggan and Matt Keane.
Despite the long lay-off between their county and provincial championships, Maher’s men were generally untested in Munster before squeezing past a highly-rated Two Mile House in last month’s All-Ireland semi-final.
Their 3-24 to 1-8 hammering at the hands of Dr Crokes in the O’Donoghue Cup final just before Christmas did them no harm and perhaps helped raise their intensity levels for their clash with Two Mile House.
As the clock ticks down to 4.45pm tomorrow, Kelly is in no doubt just how big the occasion is to his club.
“If we win the All-Ireland, it would be the greatest day in our history on the playing field without a doubt.
“The status of the All-Ireland – junior or intermediate – is absolutely irrelevant. It doesn’t enter into anybody’s thinking. We are a small rural club and we are playing in an All-Ireland final.”
Round One: Kilcummin 0-12 Glenbeigh/Glencar 0-11
Round Two: Kilcummin 1-14 Milltown/Castlemaine 0-9
Round Three: Kicummin 3-11 Brosna 0-8
Semi-final: Kilcummin 1-10 Templenoe 0-12
Final: Kilcummin 4-13 Glenflesk 2-13
Quarter-final: Kilcummin 0-10 Kilrush (Clare) 0-7
Semi-final: Kilcummin 2-17 Kilmacthomas (Waterford) 0-1
Final: Kilcummin 1-11 Fermoy (Cork) 1-3
Semi-final: Kilcummin 0-11 Two Mile House (Kildare) 0-10