Much of my life is in Kerry now and nearly every day it involves a drive into Kerins O’Rahilly’s country — the stronghold and foundation stone of the club on Strand Road.
Indeed, so central to the Kerins O’Rahilly story is the place that the club is more often than not referred to as Strand Road.
And, Strand Road is littered with football stories about great men who wore the club colors and went as high as any footballer could go — Dan Spring, Paddy Kennedy Jas Murphy and John Dowling, who were All-Ireland winning captains who played for the club; there isn’t enough room for the rest of the All-Ireland winners.
We’ll mention four though: David Moran, Tommy Walsh, Jack Savage and Barry John Keane. We mention them because this quartet will be playing on Sunday, with each one of them being a Strand Road All-Ireland alumnus and part of the tradition of putting Sam Maguire up on the sideboard that stretches back over 90 years.
It might make club and team appear like behemoths to a team from Clare — a team that whatever way Kerry’s football intelligentsia might like to talk up publicly beforehand, will in reality talk down privately and view them as the Poor Clares.
The Poor Clares, just because nothing could possibly measure up to Kerry in footballing terms. This is what they’ll think; this is the only thing they know.
But, history tells us that sometimes Clare teams have measured up. The last time Strand Road played in Munster there was a picture taken straight after the game of real-life behemoth and current Kerry selector Micheál Quirke beside Kilmurry Ibrickane’s Peter O’Dwyer.
Quirke managed to make O’Dywer look small and you wondered how he managed to compete in midfield. But the Mullagh man did just that and more, ensuring that the real takeaway from the photograph was that O’Dwyer was on the winning team and Quirke was left disappointed when a late point by Evan Talty into the town end goal ensured that the ‘Bricks edged the Munster final arm-wrestle.
In simple terms, the challenge for Éire Óg is to kick that winning score as Talty did. More broadly, it’s to get into a position to win the game and then grasp it to prove that a Clare team can win in Kerry and can win in Austin Stack Park.
It wouldn’t be the first time — the famous first coming was 43 years ago this month when the great Kilrush Shamrocks team of the 1970s, fresh from their achievement of winning five-in-a-row, struck a might blow for Clare football after their raid across the Shannon Estuary on the ferry to take on Austin Stacks.
The Rock Street club were to the Shams exactly what Strand Road are to Éire Óg. Strand Road have their four All-Ireland winners with Kerry, just as their great Tralee rivals had four Kerry All-Ireland winners of their own in Mikey Sheehy, Ger Power, John O’Keeffe and Ger O’Keeffe, even if they also had a fifth in Denny Long from Cork.
But the men guiding the Shams that year in Raymond Clancy and Tom Prendeville weren’t bothered about their All-Ireland winning reputations, in the same way that the players on the field like Brian O’Reilly, Seanie Moloney, the O’Doherty brothers and many more didn’t care.
The result was a stunning victory that left everyone in Austin Stack Park, except the Shams and their supporters, stunned into silence and almost disbelieving.
But it was no fluke, as The Kerryman’s John Barry, who himself was a Stacks blueblood and championship winner admitted afterwards in a candid commentary on the game: “This will go down as one of the sensations of the year in football, the day the champions of Clare came to Tralee and beat the champions of Kerry, but let nobody run away with the idea that it was a freak result, or anything of the sort.
“For Stacks were beaten fairly and squarely by a team that produced a truly heart-warming brand of football — dashing, gutsy, skillful stuff that made a mockery of Clare’s rating in Munster football.”
All that’s left is for GAA literati in Kerry to pen some similar lines if Éire Óg can become the first team since Doonbeg in 1999, who beat Laune Rangers in Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney, to win in Kerry.
It may be a mountain, but then again you can’t see Carrauntoohil or Brandon from Tralee — only the Sliabh Mish range on the road back west comes into view. And that’s only a hill.