SUNDAY July 29th 1956 will for ever remain deeply etched in my memory for various difference reasons. It had been a glorious summer as all those summers of our youth appear to have been. Receiving holidays from the Monastery School my father dispatched me for a stint of seasonal work back to the luxurious and opulent surroundings of the Great Southern Hotel in Sneem where the few extra bobs would greatly supplement the family income.
I was assigned there to the silver pantry where my boss was a Louth man named Harry Reynolds whose main aim in life appeared to have been that every silver utensil put before the guests would be shinning bright and glossy. "I want to be able to use that dinner plate as a mirror when I decide to shave," was the cry I would hear from Harry each day.
It was an early start. "Up and at them" at 6-30 am, a couple of hours break in the afternoon and then back for a few more hours shinning and cleaning as the guests dined on the finest foods served on the silver service. But behind the daily grind was football. There was staff from all parts of Ireland working there at the time and football was always the topic and we had our own little sloping field behind the hotel where we would while away the summer evenings having what we called "three goals to get in".
All eyes and ears were of course on the Kerry team. Excitement was at fever pitch in the county following Kerry's historic win over Dublin in the previous year's All Ireland final, 1955. And so when the day of the '56 Munster final replay arrived I found my self on the side of the road, thumb in the air anxiously awaiting a lift to Killarney where Kerry and Cork would resume hostilities following the drawn game in Cork two weeks previously.
That day Dr Jim Brosnan had crashed home a last second goal to draw the game. Mission accomplished I finally arrived in Killarney following a series of lifts and found myself on the then grassy hill over looking the entrance goal in Fitzgerald Stadium. And it was from here that I witnessed one Kerry man write himself into history's pages as Tom Collins of Kilmoyley will for ever be remembered for his amazing achievement of playing in three Munster Finals in the one afternoon.
He played full games for the Kerry Junior hurlers and the Kerry Junior footballers and came on in the second half for the Kerry senior footballers. Tom was successful as the junior sides won, however, there was a dramatic end to the senior final. With the last attack of the hour Cork's Niall Fitzgerald the army man stunned the huge Kerry attendance when he careered through to kick high over the bar for the winning point of the game. It was the first time I had seen Kerry lose a game of football.
Tom Collins was a brilliant dual player. He won Kerry minor hurling and football medals with Kilmoyley and St Brendan's respectfully. A star of the great Kilmoyley hurling side of the fifties and sixties together with his brother Michael he helped his club to capture the championship in 1962-63-64 and suffered losses in the finals of 1955-56-58. He was a regular member of the St Brendan's football sides around this period also.
In 1958 Brendan's went under to a Mick O'Connell inspired South Kerry side in the county final. Tom was outstanding in his favorite position at wing forward that day. On the intercounty scene he made his debut for the Kerry footballers in the National League against Cork in 1953 and six years, 1959 he won a treasured All Ireland medal as a member of the Kerry panel. He also played at wingforward for the Kerry junior footballers in their All Ireland victory of 1954 beating London in Tralee, 1-7 to 1-5.
The apple never falls far from the tree as Tom's father Mickey Collins was renowned at football, hurling and was a passionate greyhound enthusiast winning major honours such as the Irish Cup, Kingdom Cup and Munster Cups with his brilliant dog Ballymacquinn Monarch. Toms brother John was a distinguished footballer also, winning a minor All Ireland football medal at corner back in 1950 and Sigerson Cups with UCD and the great Tim "Tiger" Lyons a Kerry star of the fifties and early sixties was Tom's brother-in-law.
Tom Collins recent death has taken from our mist a true son of the Kingdom and his beloved Kilmoyley. He was a throw back to a completely different era. A time when despite huge commitment to his farming duties he devoted himself to the cause of Kerry hurling and football. Lining out for three Kerry teams on that one day in 1956 will never again be repeated.
Nowadays inter-county men would look at you in astonishment if asked to play a game even one week before a championship. The highly respected and exemplary Kerry GAA official Liam Cotter paid him this beautiful and richly deserved tribute.
"I can tell you without fear of contradiction that Tom Collins was above all a true gentleman. Quiet and unassuming he never once boasted or spoke about his greatness as a Kerry hurler and footballer. He was a class act at both codes and while he will for ever be remembered for that extraordinary day in Killarney in 1956 when he played in three Munster finals outside of that he was one of Kerry's very select few. A brilliant dual player. It was my privilege to have befriended him," he said.
His former Kilmoyley and St Brendan's colleagues turned out in huge numbers to form a guard of honour at the removal of the remains and for the burial at the church graveyard. All of the Kilmoyley team that had won the North Kerry hurling championship that Saturday were present to honour their former great. Tom Collins has written himself indelibly into the history of Kerry GAA and to his loving wife Ina, daughters Caroline and Triona and son David and extended family we extend our deepest sympathies.
My thanks to Marita Corcoran one of the exemplary staff of the Kerry County Library Tralee for her generous help in providing those three historic Kerry teams that Tom played on that glorious day away back in 1956.
The three Kerry teams on which Tom wrote himself into the pages of GAA history on that momentous day on 29-71956 were as follows: