Comment: Aidan O’Mahony - a man who had defiance as his default-setting
Aidan O’Mahony, who has just announced his retirement from county football at the age of 36, had defiance as his default-setting, even to the point of stretching out his career well past the point where most players feel they can handle the demands of playing at that level.
His departure promoted a slew of tributes that reflected how highly he was regarded within the Kerry footballing family.
Jack O’Connor introduced him in 2004 to add some steel and stubbornness to a Kerry team that had been knocked about like a rag-dog by Ulster opposition in previous seasons. Kerry were viewed as having the football to win All-Irelands but possessing a soft centre, with an absence of the warring virtues necessary to come through matches when the temperature was at its most severe.
O’Mahony offered some of those missing characteristics, quickly earning a reputation as a combative and uncompromising player. But by the time he had finished playing for Kerry, his last appearance coming in last year’s All-Ireland smell final loss to Dublin, O’Mahony’s game had changed, due primarily to the influence of manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice, only two years his senior. He finished his last days playing as a sweeper, all the while maintaining a high level of fitness and sacrificing none of the strength which was his trademark.
When they reached the summit in 2014 under Fitzmaurice, Kerry had nine players starting their first All-Ireland final. The wheels of transition were fully in motion and for any player in his 30s the future looked uncertain. By then two members of their defence, Marc O Se and O’Mahony, were well into their thirties, but O’Mahony was given the task of marking Donegal’s best player, Michael Murphy in the final. He managed to stifle his influence, even if some of his methods were off the manual. Effectively, he did the job asked of him and Kerry upset the form-book and won the match.
At that point he was being selected at right half back, drifting back at times to protect the full back line, and usually wheeled off midway through the second half of matches when his energy levels began to drop. The role of marking Murphy was a break from that pattern but Fitzmaurice could see he had the physical strength and football brain to make a go of it.
Another example of his ongoing usefulness to Kerry came in their defeat of Cork in the 2015 Munster final, after a replay. In the drawn game Cork made merry, cutting through the middle of Kerry’s defence and scoring three goals. For the replay, O’Mahony filled that hole and added extra cover. Cork finished with a total of 1-6 and were well beaten.
O’Mahony jealously guarded the Kerry jersey because it did not come easily to him. He was suspended for much of his minor year with the county and didn’t have a dazzling career with the under-21s. By the time he got the call up from Jack O’Connor he was already a couple of years out of under-21 grade, a relatively mature player. Many talk of him being one of the hardest working players in his time with the county.
Only a few weeks ago he was voted East Kerry Player of the Year for his performances for Rathmore, proving there is life in the old dog yet. In Rathmore they hope they haven’t seen the end of him. In Kerry they have, but he leaves having emptied the tank, with five All-Ireland medals and the unconditional respect of his peers.