SO who is the most decorated and successful Kerry hurler of all time?
Impossible, of course, to say with any degree of certainty as there has been many. However, when a list of great Kerry born hurlers is drawn up some time in the future by the experts of the game here in the county one name will definitely be there in the final list. And that man's name is Father Martin Casey from Causeway.
A phone call from a friend in the County Wexford some time ago set me on the trail of this Causeway born hurler and what I discovered stunned me in relation to the amazing career he had forged for himself following his departure from Kerry to St Peters College in Wexford back in 1967. The phone call from an old football friend posed a question in relation to a match programme for an All Ireland Colleges Hurling final in 1967.
St Peters had defeated Limerick CBS, 5-11 to 3-6 in a replay and one name on that old match program read, Martin Casey, (Kerry / Wexford). And to add fuel to fire the very same Martin Casey was also on the following year's match program as the great Wexford College beat Colaiste Chriost Ri of Cork, 5-10 to 4-5, also in a replay. So just who was this Kerry lad who had won two all Ireland hurling school medals, in all probability a feat never before achieved by a son of The Kingdom? My curiosity of course got the better of me and I set out to solve the mystery surrounding this young man.
A quick call to a hurling friend in North Kerry solved the problem immediately and last Tuesday I had the great privilege of sitting down in The Killarney Park Hotel to recall and reflect on the life and times of Fr Martin Casey the subject of my investigation as a result of that hurling final program of 1967. When we met, Martin was on his way from Carnew in Co Wicklow where he is now stationed to visit his mother in Causeway and he had very kindly agreed to break his journey to meet and chat with me.
And what a story he had to tell. His hurling career had begun of course with Causeway with whom he won a Kerry under sixteen county championship medal in 1966 and his special memory of that day in Killarney when Kilgarvan were put to the sword was the fact that the legendary Kerry dual player Johnny Culloty was the referee. From a young age Martin harbored the desire to either join the Garda Síochána or the priesthood.
The fact that his first cousin was a priest greatly influenced him to follow that path in life and then due to the fact that his aunt was married in Wexford saw the budding young hurling star together with one of his brothers begin a new life at the famed hurling nursery of St Peters. His potential as a hurler was quickly spotted by a local hurling man, Ned Power and he was in like a flash before the Kerry selectors and had Martin transferred to Wexford and on the county minor team. A cousin was a member of the great Buffers Alley Club and persuaded Martin to join the club and thus began an amazing career.
His list of achievements is mind boggling. One Wexford minor hurling medal with the combined clubs of Buffers Alley and Oulart the Ballagh. Record appearances, including two replays in twenty senior Wexford county championship finals with his club resulting in twelve wins. Three Leinster club titles, 1984-88-91 were added to his collection and on March 17 1989 in Croke Park the young Causeway man in the company of stars such as Tony Doran and Tony Dempsey defeated O Donovan Rossa in the All Ireland Club final on the score, 2-12 to 0-12.
It was Martin's second appearance in a club final having suffered the disappointment of defeat four years previously when Buffers Alley went under to Kilruane McDonaghs, 1-15 to 2-10.
The county selectors were quick to spot this Kerry man's budding talents. Two All Ireland minor appearances (1967-68) saw him win the coveted medal in the latter year defeating the Rebel County in the final, 2-13 to 3-7. Progress to the Wexford under 21 sides was the natural order of events, but star studded Cork sides proved to good and it was huge disappointment for Martin suffering three in-arow All Ireland final losses.
Selection to the Welford senior team was soon to follow and defeat was once again the lot for the Causeway priest as he lined out against superb Cork teams in 1976 (2-21 to 4-11) and 1977, (1-17 to 3-8), All Ireland finals. Had he now become the first Kerryman to appear in two consecutive hurling finals? These Cork sides boasted great men such as Martin Coleman, Brian Murphy, Tom Cashman, Ray Cummins, Jimmy Barry Murphy, Charlie McCarthy and Seanie O'Leary, all legendary figures.
Martin's team mates those years included, Mick Jacob, the Quigley brothers, Tony and Colm Doran, Mick Butler and Christy Keogh, all legends of the game. His travels with Wexford saw him play in Wembley Stadium, Jersey, Amsterdam, Gaelic Park New York, and Chicago. Thirteen Leinsters medals of one kind or another as well as two Division two National league medals and three hurling Oireachtas Tournament wins in 1978-79-80 with his adopted county defeating in turn Galway and Offally twice.
A stunning career for this courteous, quite and exemplary Kerry man. Martin came from a great hurling tradition. His father and uncle had played with Causeway and he has proud links with the renowned Causeway Blazers away back in 1914-15. And of course his father and uncle had won county championship wit their club in 1932.
Wonderful happy memories were recalled as Martin spoke with deep appreciation of Gerald McKenna, Andy Molyneaux, Mr. Toomey (Cork), and another teacher Mr. Flaherty who had guided him on his path of life while attending St Patrick's College at home. Others he spoke fondly of included Andrew Diggin, Gerry Fitzgerald, Paddy Sean O'Connell and Francie Cantillon. The hurling life and times of Fr Martin Casey is for me the greatest Kerry hurling story of all.
He left his native Kerry, played with one of the most renowned hurling stronghold counties and matched the best the game could offer, hip to hip, stroke for stroke all over the world. His record speaks for itself. Watch out for my upcoming Radio Kerry Terrace Talk two hour special on this remarkable Kerry man, to read his story is special, but to listen to the man himself recall in great detail in his own words the great names and great games is captivating stuff.