GAA Football

Best of Enemies - Dara O Cinneide: 'I turned round and just punched him on the nose, got a good piece of flesh off him'.

In the latest of our ‘Best of Enemies' series reflecting on some of the GAA's red hot rivalries on the field, former Kerry forward Dara O Cinneide talks to Neil Loughran about Royal rumbles, a 'lairy' Kingdom team-mate and a leech from Limerick…

Dara O Cinneide clashed with Meath's Darren Fay several times throughout his Kerry career. Picture by INPHO

Darren Fay (Meath)

I WAS saying to myself you’re going to have to be creative here because I saw Mugsy’s one of these and I was thinking ‘how does he remember that stuff, like?’I made a point of not speaking to my opponent, and would love if they didn’t either. Thankfully most of them didn’t.

With Mugsy, he seems to have been marking lads regularly. Now, either I was useless or they said don’t put him there, but I didn’t mark a lot of people in a serial sense.

If you look at the rivalry we had with Tyrone, I played them in Championship in 2003 and 2005 - I was marking Gavin Devlin and Cormac McAnallen in ’03 and Chris Lawn, Joe McMahon and Mickey McGee at different stages in ’05.

Mickey started on me and I got a goal early enough so they moved him off. They might as well have left him on me because I didn’t kick a ball afterwards, I was useless that day.

You’d be hearing stuff after about Tyrone and the sledging, I never got that off them. I said it to Brian McGuigan one day - ‘did you not consider me worth sledging or what?’ We never spoke. It was a nasty oul rivalry there at the time but after the final in ’05, they had this new players’ lounge in Croke Park and they did this stupid thing where there were Kerry lads on one side of the bar and Tyrone lads, after winning the All-Ireland, on the other.

I thought ‘f**k this, I’m going over here’, so I went and had a pint with Chris Lawn because he would’ve been my vintage. He had done well in that second half – I’d always done pretty well on him in the League but he did well on me that day.

Anyway, in terms of players I marked in a direct sense, Darren Fay was the best. He was the player I most respected because he was everything the traditionalists would want in a full-back – he was hard, strong, fast, he didn’t mind whatever way it came in. had great hands… Fay was something else.

We had good oul League battles but I marked Fay in the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final and I was hauled ashore at half-time that day.

I remember watching the International Rules one time and a fight broke out, the Irish lads were sort of half punching – ‘hold me back’ stuff - but there was Fay wading into the middle of it like the 1996 final all over again. I loved that; in there, just getting the job done.

Fay never opened his mouth either and I never got to know him afterwards. I spoke to him once on the phone about 10 or 15 years ago and he seemed a very quiet lad.

In the Kerry teams I played on we almost prided ourselves in not really mixing or fraternising with opposition players. I didn’t get the Allstars to go on the Allstar trip, and then after games it seemed to suit us just fine not to get to know our opponents. We were very insular.

Two or three years ago about 20 or 30 of us were invited out to Rockland GAA in America for the opening of a new pavilion and I was sitting on the plane alongside Brian McGuigan – first time I ever spoke to the man.

From my time playing I thought he was a complete prick, because obviously you’re conditioned that way. But we had a few beers and had great craic.

Barry O'Shea and Dara O Cinneide were part of the same Kerry teams for years, and also came up against each other at club level 

Barry O’Shea (Kerry)

I’D have been on Seamus Moynihan a lot at training which, when you’re trying to get your place on the team, it’s not great like. But I’ve gone for Barry O’Shea. Barry was one of the few Kerry footballers who actually wanted to play full-back. Everybody else was makeshift.

He was full-back for Kerry at the age of 19, at 21 he had an All-Ireland medal, does well in ’98, does well in ’99, looked like he was going to have a great career but then does his cruciate in 2000 and never really recovered properly from it.

Even after our county days I would’ve marked him a lot at club level. Actually the very last game of football I played in 2007 I was marking Barry O’Shea, the whole thing had come full circle and we ended up fighting. He bust my lip and I bust his nose.

Our clubs [An Ghaeltacht and Kerin’s O’Rahilly’s, Tralee] wouldn’t necessarily like each other, we won county titles in 2001 and 2003, in between they won it so there was a natural coming together.

Barry was loud and mouthy. He’s a good friend of mine, you know, but he was really annoying to play against, always roaring. You’d be like ‘ah Jaysus would you give it a break?’ He’d be shouting over your head to his wing-back or whoever, just… lairy. That’s probably the word.

He was one of those sneaky jersey-tuggers too and that’s the reason we started fighting,. He was very good at it, he’d steal a yard and have a tug if you stopped stationary at all. He did it once too often early in this game and I turned round – I never did this before – and just punched him on the nose. Got a good piece of flesh off him.

I just thought basically ‘you’ve been doing this long enough, I’m not going to take this sh*t any more – I can play it that way if you really want’. I prided myself on not doing that. Throughout my Kerry career as well, I wasn’t one for getting booked or anything like that.

My own crowd used to be saying it to me all the time, a big strong man like you, you should be throwing yourself around a bit more. Oul fellas in the pub would still say ‘you could’ve been a better footballer if you’d had a more physical edge to you’ – I don’t give a f**k. My approach was I can give it and I can take it, but I don’t need to.

I remember watching Declan O’Sullivan the first year or two after I finished, he’s a guy I’d have fierce respect for. We were playing Monaghan one day, I was in the Hogan Stand looking in and all the Kerry crowd were baying ‘go on Declan, don’t be taking that stuff’. But Declan never reacted, and I just thought ‘fair play to you’. I liked that.

Paidi O Se always used to say to us, even when you’re getting punched in the back of the head, don’t react. Act as if it’s not happening. It’s a very hard thing to do, but I would have prided myself on that. If they tried it with me, they were wasting their time because I wasn’t going to react.

It wasn’t going to add to my game. I was 14-and-a-half stone fully fit, I just never felt the need to unless I really had to. I saw myself as a footballer, not a wrestler.

That day though, I felt Barry would respect me more if I just lamped him, and I think he does. I’m not particularly proud of it, but I think it was just something that needed to be done. He got me back, he split my lip. It was funny afterwards, we had a pint in their clubhouse and we were laughing away - ‘what were we at out there?’

'A secret jersey-tugger' - Dara O Cinneide hated played against Limerick's Johnny McCarthy. Picture by Colm O’Reilly

Johnny McCarthy (Limerick)

FOR the last one I was torn between Glenn Ryan of Kildare and Johnny McCarthy of Limerick. I’ve gone for McCarthy because he annoyed the sh*t out of me any time I played him. He was a jersey tugger, a tight marker.

Fay would handle a bit of ball, Glenn Ryan the same, but McCarthy had no interest in handling the ball. A high ball would come in and he’d dip in under you and you’d land horizontal. In rugby it would be a red card.

He just had no interest in going for the ball – I’m not knocking him, but he was one of those backs who only had eyes for you. Marc O Se made a habit of it towards the end of his career as well, looking at the man, but he was adept at judging when the ball was coming even when he wasn’t looking at the ball. McCarthy was likewise. He’d take your ground.

He had no interest in what was going on out the field, didn’t want to move out of the backs. He’s another one who didn’t look like he was holding when he was holding. I have a theory on this where Kerry are concerned.

A lot of the Kerry backs play a lot of their football in midfield, some of them even play in the forwards, so when they do tackle illegitimately it’s obvious that they’re doing it because they’re not skilled in that art. Defenders like Johnny McCarthy never look like they’re fouling. That’s a skill in itself.

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