Kerry legend Marc O Se recalls memorable 'Game of My Life' against Armagh in 2006
Kerry Game of My Life (by David Byrne, Hero Books, 240pp, E20)
IN 'Kerry: Game of My Life', the new book in which 30 Kingdom football legends recall the most significant match during their playing career, only two Ulster opponents feature.
Based on a series of interviews, Limerick journalist David Byrne skilfully draws out recollections from Mick O'Dwyer, John O'Keeffe, Eoin Liston, Mikey Sheehy, Jack O'Shea, Dara O Cinneide, Mike Frank Russell, Darran O'Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy, and Eamonn Fitzmaurice, among others.
However, just Seamus 'Pony' Moynihan and the youngest of the three O Se brothers who represented the Kingdom with such distinction, Marc, select games against 'northern' teams.
On both occasions the opposition was Armagh. Moynihan recalls his move to full-back for the 2000 All-Ireland SFC semi-final, which finished in a thrilling 2-11 apiece draw, before Kerry went on to win the replay, after the extra time, and the final against Galway - also after a replay.
Another star defender, Marc O Se spoke about Kerry's All-Ireland SFC quarter-final victory over the Orchard County in 2006, by 3-15 to 1-13, although it was a much tighter tussle than that scoreline suggests.
Each chapter begins by listing the teams and scorers and a succinct overview of how the match went, before launching into the player's memories of their personal greatest game in their own words.
Revenge for 2002?
Marc O Se admitted that defeat in the 2002 Final by Joe Kernan's side had hit the Kerry team hard, especially his own family:
"Coming into that game, you'd be lying if you said we didn't want to avenge the 2002 defeat. We were four points up at half-time against Armagh in 2002 in the All-Ireland final, going well but, in fairness to Armagh they really rallied in the second-half… and they came back.
"It was hugely disappointing for us that year, because it was the year we buried our father, and as well as that Darragh was captain. It would have been a great year to win Sam and bring the cup back to Ventry… and add in the fact that that year we played the best football we ever played. We had nine games in the Championship in 2002, and to lose at the final hurdle was bitterly disappointing."
There was a sense of déjà vu four years one, said Marc: "The Armagh game in 2006 had a similar backdrop. We had lost to Cork in the Munster final replay and we went through the backdoor again… and again we came up against Armagh in the quarter-final.
"It was a huge game for us. The minute the draw was made we were thrilled in a way because we knew there was no need for motivation. In the first-half, they were totally in control. There were great battles all over the field… beginning with Francie Bellew and Kieran Donaghy.
"Armagh definitely posed questions that day. What a serious side they had! They had Paul McGrane, Kieran McGeeney, Stevie McDonnell… they'd Aaron Kernan and Bellew. They had quality players all over the pitch. We were definitely up against it. Then McDonnell got the goal to put them 1-6 to 1-3 up…
Darragh dominates - and Donaghy nets
"The second-half came, and we were a different animal. Tomás, myself and Darragh really stood up in the second-half. I was delighted with that from a family point of view, but Darragh was just phenomenal.
"He totally took over around that midfield area. He was everywhere. Armagh had no answer to him. Any ball that was kicked out, Darragh was fielding it. He was all over the place. We were also getting breaks.
"Donaghy was staying mentally tough, picking away at the scores, and drawing the odd free or two from Bellew. Do you know what was a real significant moment in that game? In the first-half, there was a ball played into Donaghy. He had Bellew and McGeeney marking him… and Donaghy won a free against the two of them. I thought it was a huge moment just for Donaghy himself because it kept him in the game mentally. It really showed his mental resolve.
"Donaghy got his goal then. Seán O'Sullivan came in…. he was probably going for a point. He put that ball in and Donaghy just at the edge of the post slipped, got back up on his feet and had the composure.
"He gave Paul Hearty a bit of an earful straight after, but that goal got us going. That goal is what kick-started the whole thing for us. I was pushed out the field after that. I was moved out to the half-back line on [Martin] O'Rourke. He was getting on a few breaks so I was moved out.
"I said the moment I go out… I'm going to bring him down the field. I was mindful of the fact as well that I didn't want to be occupying space. I got in then for a point. 'Gooch' [Colm Cooper] got the ball and he slipped it to me, and I popped it over the bar. That kept the scoreboard ticking over.
"We were still the goal up. I felt at that stage there were scores to be got, that we could pop up and get the odd score because there were holes being punched. Darragh had a great catch then. Tomás popped up; he saw me getting a score and he probably wanted to pop up and get a score. Great score by him, over the bar. All of a sudden, we had gone four points up and Armagh had to come out and play.
"My favourite score that I ever scored was on that day. We worked it from one end of the field and we were totally patient with the ball… and then, all of a sudden, we had numbers and Armagh couldn't get bodies back. I saw Bellew coming at me like a train, so I showed him the dummy… and over the bar it went. That was my favourite point that I ever scored in the championship. There were opportunities to get up the field, and I think from that moment we didn't really look back.
"It kind of got a bit messy because Galvin got sent off. John Toal came onto the field and he was getting at Galvin. There was real danger when Galvin got sent off. It was in the 60th minute, and the game was still in the balance. It was end-to-end stuff. McDonnell was a real thorn in the side for us, and was single-handedly getting them back into the game.
"The fight started around that time. Toal was no help to the cause. He was the waterboy and he was coming in. The referee wasn't looking and Toal was going at Galvin. I think the ref needed to take control. Paul took matters into his own hands. Waterboys shouldn't be getting involved like that.
"For us, Galvin being sent off was a disaster. The game was in the balance, we'd 10 minutes plus left… it's only a three-point game. This was a key point in that game when temperatures were definitely high. But we had Declan O'Sullivan in… and we still had real leaders on that field. The likes of Declan, the likes of 'Gooch', the likes of Darragh… and Tomás. The last 10 minutes is when we really took over! In the last 10 minutes we were able to bring fellas on that were able to cause serious damage. The likes of Darran O'Sullivan.
"It was an excellent Kerry team. That 2006 team I reckon was our best team of that period. In the full-back line there was myself, there was Mike McCarthy, Tom O' Sullivan… you'd Tomás, Seamus Moynihan, Aidan O'Mahony… you'd Darragh out in midfield. Diarmuid Murphy in goals. That's as strong a 1-8 as you are going to get. All characters too.
"I definitely believe that game was a turning point because there were serious questions asked of us. We were really put up against it. Maybe we might have folded in previous years, like in 2002 when Armagh got the goal… but when they got the goal in '06 we continued to rally and we continued to stay strong. There was a great team ethos at that time…. We never really looked back after that. It was a great game.
"The Northern teams at the time were playing a more direct style of football. If you can't beat them, you've got to join them… and you've got to think outside the box and try to come up with new ideas of playing. With Donaghy inside, it just gave us a different focal point.
"The thing about that is, we were able to change the system midway through the season. In fairness to Jack O'Connor, it was great to be able to change the dynamics of the whole thing. It just gave us something different. All of a sudden, it was a different Kerry team. It just gave us more options. You could put the short ball in… or you could put the high ball in.
"We could ask more questions than we could have asked at the start of the year, because we weren't going well at the start of the year. We hadn't really beaten the Northern teams up until that point. Kerry did beat Armagh in 2000, but in '02 Armagh beat us, in '03 Tyrone beat us, and again in '05 Tyrone beat us, so this was a huge match for us.
"The story had been… Kerry struggle against the Northern teams. So in 2006 that was another carrot that we were really going after, to try and right the wrongs.
"The Armagh game was certainly a game like that where it was nip and tuck and we finished up then winning by eight. We were very lucky, but mentally we were strong. We were well up for the battle. And we didn't lie down."