'I remember leaving the field, literally, shaking' - Aidan O'Mahony looks back on his nine All Ireland finals
Kingdom great is chasing a different kind of glory after a remarkable career that took in nine All-Ireland finals. Here, he relives those games with Vincent Hogan
Thursday morning in The Gibson Hotel and his mind is already being tugged towards an afternoon in service to the intricacies of 'American Smooth'.
Aidan O'Mahony begins to explain how this week's repertoire with partner, Valeria, will be a ballroom mix of Waltz and Quickstep and Foxtrot when, suddenly, he stops himself. "Lord Jesus, you'd nearly think I knew what I was talking about," he says, exploding with laughter.
The bullpen of championship football is an odd grounding for this new world so in thrall to elegance and posture. In Kerry, a man takes a particular identity from wearing the county jersey and is presumed reconciled with the view that nothing could ever explore what's inside of him more rigorously than that pursuit of All-Irelands.
Maybe O'Mahony just has the confidence to be different. Remarkably, he played in nine September finals and, if his inter-county race is finally run, he's not done yet with his club, Rathmore. His day job is as a community garda in Tralee but every week of survival on 'Dancing with the Stars', requires three days of rehearsals in a Dublin studio.
"I'm totally engrossed in it," he admits. "You're trying to learn a dance in a week and that's difficult. People say to me, 'Look you've played in front of 82,000 in Croke Park, sure how hard can going out in front of 300 people on a dance-floor be?' The difference is I might make a mistake five minutes into the football game, but I've another 65 minutes to rectify that mistake. You've a minute and a half in this to ruin yourself on live television (laughing). There's no hiding place."
This week, we asked Aidan to look back on nine tumultuous September days in his life.
2004 (v Mayo)
"I was rooming with Paul Galvin and neither of us slept much the night before the final. I suppose we were pre-occupied. So we went down for breakfast feeling absolutely wrecked and I remember one of us saying to Ger O'Keeffe, 'Jesus, we didn't sleep a wink!'
"His response was, 'Maurice Fitz never slept before the '97 final and look how that went for him!' It was the best thing he could possibly have said. Like, if it was good enough for Maurice, it was good enough for us.
"I started off on Alan Dillon and, of course, he got an early goal. But I was very calm. That year had been going so well for me, and Jack O'Connor was investing a lot of trust. Most of the game is a blur now. We got on top pretty early (Kerry led 1-12 to 1-4 at half-time) and I ended up marking Brian Maloney before the finish. I'd marked Stephen Kelly when we played Limerick and that was like chasing a racehorse. Great battles. A lot of teams were rotating their forwards. The game was changing."
2005 (v Tyrone)
"Jack O'Connor rang me two weeks before the game to tell me I'd be starting full-back, a new position for me, and marking Stephen O'Neill who'd finish up Player of the Year. I was happy with how I played. I think I held him scoreless for the first 40 or so minutes, then he kicked a boomer from the sideline. One of those that only he could do. Most Kerry players look back on that final as one we could have won. Peter Canavan's goal just before half-time was crucial and Tyrone were well ahead (1-12 to 1-7) by the end of the third quarter, but a Tomás (ó Sé) goal brought us right back into it. We couldn't kick on though. I remember going away from that game thinking I'd have to improve, that I'd have to do more gym work to get stronger. Tyrone played the game with such intensity, we just knew the bar was raised. Tyrone were really in our heads now."
2006 (v Mayo)
"I remember reading an article before the game that I ended up using as personal motivation. I won't name the journalist, but he basically said that if Kerry were serious about winning this All-Ireland they'd better not put Aidan O'Mahony on Ciarán McDonald.
"Jack had already told me I'd be marking him. I'd already marked Cork's Conor McCarthy that year and he was one of the toughest players you could mark. We played them in about 29 degrees in Páirc Uí Chaoimh (Munster final replay) and I remember thinking, 'If this man doesn't get taken off, I'm going to pass out in the heat!' It was just ferocious, non-stop running. He eventually got the hook with about 20 minutes to go, but we were well beaten.
"So being put on McDonald was a big challenge. Jack just said to me if I could stifle him it would go a long way towards us winning the game. Ciarán was like a bit of a god at the time. He had a real aura. But, if you're marking a key man tight enough, chances are you're going to get on some ball and I got two points. It was a huge thing for my parents that night when I was named Man of the Match. Personally, I was half mortified, because Seamus (Moynihan), Donaghy, 'Gooch' and Declan (O'Sullivan) all had big games too.
"As a team, we were all just in the zone. The game was nearly over after 12 minutes (Kerry 2-4; Mayo 0-0) and it's strange to think that Mayo scored three goals in the first half, yet were still six points down at half-time. It gave Jack something to crack the whip with before we went back out."
2007 (v Cork)
"I marked Kevin McMahon in this game and he was playing unreal football. He was a great man to give a pass and loop around for the return. If you were marking him, it'd be very easy to get sidetracked by where he'd just passed the ball to. I just knew I'd have to get stuck into him early and I suppose I felt at the height of my powers physically. It's tough being a man-marker because a lot of the time you mightn't be seeing any ball. The way I used measure it was he needed to be taken off before I was. And Kevin was gone after about 40 minutes.
"Someone pointed out recently that I actually kicked the first score of the game. For the life of me, I've no memory of that kick at all. I'd say our full-back line wasn't too thrilled to see me so far up the field. But back then myself and Tomás (ó Sé) were like marauding half-backs. In fairness to Pat O'Shea, we had that bit of a licence to push up. Gooch got a great goal that only Gooch could get and then Donaghy intercepted a Cork pass just seconds after the resumption and stuck another."
2008 (v Tyrone)
"This was really intense because the rivalry between Kerry and Tyrone had built into something massive. Even league games had a real edge. The niggle was what people wanted to see. There was a big scuffle just before half-time in this final and myself, Darragh (ó Sé) and a few others were booked. I think our chairman got put on his arse as well.
"I marked Martin Penrose to start off but found myself inside at full-back marking Seán Cavanagh in the second half. And that was no picnic. He kicked two or three points off me. Pascal McConnell made a great save from Declan that went out for a '45, which was a massive turning point. I'm a firm believer that in finals you need a bit of luck and Tyrone's name was definitely on the Cup that year. They were a serious team, but it was tough to take not getting the three-in-a-row. Especially losing a third big championship game to Tyrone in five years. But we realised we'd have to park that disappointment fairly quickly or it might just eat us up."
2009 (v Cork)
"Our sixth All-Ireland in a row. Cork were strongly fancied to beat us having given us a right hiding (1-17 to 0-12) in a Munster semi-final replay. I was chopped by Jack O'Connor after that game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
"I'd been marking Pearse O'Neill and the ball kept coming down the middle. Mike McCarthy came back into the squad after that game and ended up as our centre-back. He'd been gone for a few years but was a phenomenal athlete, a great reader of the game.
"But I found it hard not starting because there wasn't as much time put into you then as now. I think these days, there's probably more focus on management explaining that kind of decision. Back then, mentally, I kind of had to figure it out for myself.
"The rest of the year was in and out for me. We were struggling to get momentum, but the Dublin game (All-Ireland quarter-final) eventually got us going. I just had to bite the bullet that I wasn't starting and anyway football was becoming more of a panel game now.
"It's hard not starting a final (eventually got on as a 69th-minute substitute for Killian Young). I'd be lying if I said I wasn't frustrated. I felt I was in good shape. People were saying at the time that I'd got too bulked up. I don't know, maybe I did. Maybe I was in the gym too much. I do remember I was working shifts at the time and that was tough going. Could be working seven nights in a row, but I'm not making excuses. Bottom line, I wasn't playing well enough to start. It would have been easy enough for me to walk away after. But I decided I'd hang in there. I just remember thinking, 'This isn't about you, this is about Kerry football'. And I'm glad I did. The experience of '09 definitely made me more thick-skinned. It was very hard to break me down mentally after that."
2011 (v Dublin)
"I was marking Barry Cahill. We'd silenced the Dublin crowd for most of that game. But then (Kevin) McManamon got the goal and I remember the field, literally, shaking. It was a hard defeat to take for Kerry because we'd had nearly the perfect year up to the last few minutes of the final. Time just ran out for us in the end. I wouldn't say we were ever complacent. But Dublin had lost to us by 17 points in '09 and they were definitely still carrying that hurt two years later. When Stephen Cluxton was lining up that last free, all you could do was hope it wouldn't go over. The rest, I suppose, is history."
2014 (v Donegal)
"There's a bit of a context to this final. My dad, Ted, had died suddenly the Monday after the 2012 All-Ireland final. We just got a phone call at 5am, he'd gone with a heart attack. I so wanted to get up the steps of the Hogan Stand in 2013, just for him, to honour his memory. He'd been such a part of my career. I might do something I shouldn't in a game but he never judged me. He was just always there for me.
"But I dislocated my elbow that year, playing an internal game before the Munster final. I went in to block a ball and the bone was driven out through my elbow. I remember lying on the pitch for about 40 minutes, the scoreboard side of Fitzgerald Stadium, waiting for an ambulance. And all I could think of was my Dad. I suppose I thought my career was finished.
"As it happened, I did get back to make the bench for our All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final but, of course, the Dubs beat us. So I was really a man on a mission in 2014. But I needed two injections into my ankle the week before the final against Donegal. I'd gone over on it badly training in Killarney before the first semi-final against Mayo. Physios used be fit to murder me because my attitude was always, 'Strap it up there, I'll be fine!'
"I knew it wasn't right both days against Mayo, but the injections were a kind of local anaesthetic, just to bring down the swelling in the ankle. I was rooming with Paul Murphy, my own clubmate, facing his first All-Ireland. He was going to be marking Ryan McHugh. We were chatting the night before and we said if we both won our battles, Kerry would surely win. Paul ended up getting Man of the Match.
"Eamonn Fitz placed a lot of faith in me that day, putting me on Michael Murphy. He looked unstoppable at the time, head and shoulders above everyone. But I felt he was being hyped up so much, I couldn't lose.
"There was a lot of talk after about how I roughed him up in the game. That made me laugh. Michael Murphy's about 6' 5", towering over me, would, obviously, have had the legs on me and I was 35. I've massive respect for the guy, but I just knew that day I had to be in front of him the whole time. That game was just so satisfying. I was in great shape that year and, mentally, very, very tough."
2015 (v Dublin)
"I had to get the whole ankle re-constructed in January of that year and I knew a lot of people in Kerry were saying that, at 35, I shouldn't be starting. I probably felt I had something to prove, maybe to myself as much as anyone.
"I started the game on Dean Rock, just stuck to him and he was taken off at half-time. Kevin McManamon then came on and, of course, I'd eventually get sent off with a black card for a foul on him. We'd been one-on-one a few times before that and I held him up each time. But this time my feet got caught the wrong side of him and, if I let him go, he was through on goal. So I pulled him down. David Coldrick, the referee, was whistling for me to go over to him. But I just followed McManamon in. I wasn't going to let him out of my sight.
"I didn't realise Coldrick was miked up for a TV documentary the same day. It seemed strange that the players weren't told because there was a big focus in the programme on Kevin and me pushing each other. Fair enough, we were thumping the lights out of one another, but it would have been nice to have been told we were being recorded. I'm sure we'd have been far better behaved! I was very happy with my game right up to the black card. And that was just a split-second decision. Dublin were the hungrier team on the day. They deserved to win it."
Aidan O'Mahony's nine All-Ireland finals:
2004: Sunday, September 26.
KERRY 1-20; Mayo 2-9.
SCORERS: Kerry - C Cooper 1-5 (0-1 free), D O'Cinneide 0-8 (0-5 frees, 0-1 '45'), W Kirby 0-3, M O'Se, D O'Sullivan, P Galvin, MF Russell 0-1 each.
Mayo - A Dillon 1-2 (0-1 free), N Conroy 1-1, C McDonald 0-3 (0-2 frees), B Maloney, A Moran, C Mortimer 0-1 each.
KERRY: D Murphy, A O'Mahony, M McCarthy, T O'Sullivan, M O'Se, E Fitzmaurice, T O'Se, W Kirby, E Brosnan, L Hassett, D O'Sullivan, P Galvin, C Cooper, D O'Cinneide, J Crowley. Subs - S Moynihan for Hassett (54), MF Russell for Crowley (57), R O'Connor for O'Cinneide (64), P Kelly for Galvin (67), B Guiney for T O'Se (71).
MAYO: P Burke, D Geraghty, D Heaney, G Ruane, P Gardiner, J Nallen, P Kelly, R McGarrity, F Kelly, T Mortimer, C McDonald, B Maloney, C Mortimer, J Gill, A Dillon. Subs - D Brady for F Kelly (24), C Moran for Geraghty (half-time), M Conroy for Gill (half-time), A Moran for C Mortimer (65), P Navin for Heaney (65).
Referee - P McEneaney (Monaghan).
2005: Sunday, September 25.
TYRONE 1-16; KERRY 2-10.
SCORERS: Tyrone - O Mulligan 0-4 (0-2 frees), S O'Neill 0-4 (0-2 frees), P Canavan 1-1, B McGuigan 0-3, R Mellon 0-2, B Dooher and P Jordan 0-1 each.
Kerry - C Cooper 0-5 (0-2 frees), D O'Cinneide 1-1 (0-1 free), T O'Se 1-0, D O'Se and E Brosnan 0-2 each.
TYRONE: P McConnell, M McGee, J McMahon, R McMenamin, D Harte, C Gormley, P Jordan, E McGinley, S Cavanagh, B Dooher, B McGuigan, R Mellon, P Canavan, S O'Neill, O Mulligan. Subs - C Holmes for Canavan (half-time), C Lawn for McMahon (48), P Canavan for McGinley (55).
KERRY: D Murphy, M McCarthy, A O'Mahony, T O'Sullivan, T O'Se, M O'Se, S Moynihan, D O'Se, W Kirby, L Hassett, E Brosnan, P Galvin, C Cooper, Declan O'Sullivan, D O'Cinneide. Subs - MF Russell for Hassett (44), Darran O'Sullivan for O'Cinneide (61), E Fitzmaurice for Moynihan (68), B Sheehan for Galvin (68).
Referee - M Monahan (Kildare).
2006: Sunday, September 17.
KERRY 4-15: MAYO 3-5.
SCORERS: Kerry - Declan O'Sullivan, C Cooper and K Donaghy 1-2 each, E Brosnan 1-1, A O'Mahony and MF Russell (0-1 free) 0-2 each, S Moynihan, S O'Sullivan, P Galvin 0-1 each, B Sheehan 0-1 free.
Mayo - K O'Neill 2-0, C Mortimer 0-3 (all frees), P Harte 1-0, BJ Padden 0-1, C McDonald 0-1 free.
KERRY: D Murphy, M O'Se, M McCarthy, T O'Sullivan, T O'Se, S Moynihan, A O'Mahony, D O'Se, T Griffin, S O'Sullivan, Declan O'Sullivan, P Galvin, C Cooper, K Donaghy, MF Russell. Subs - E Brosnan for T O'Se (half-time), Darran O'Sullivan for S O'Sullivan (52), B Sheehan for Russell (62), E Fitzmaurice for Griffin (68), B Guiney for O'Mahony (69).
MAYO: D Clarke, D Geraghty, D Heaney, K Higgins, A Higgins, J Nallen, P Gardiner, R McGarrity, P Harte, BJ Padden, G Brady, A Dillon, K O'Neill, C Mortimer, C McDonald. Subs - D Brady for Nallen (11), T Mortimer for Dillon (47), B Moran for O'Neill (47), A Kilcoyne for Padden (52), A Moran for Gardiner (60).
Referee - B Crowe (Cavan).
2007: Sunday, September 16.
KERRY 3-13; CORK 1-9.
SCORERS: Kerry - C Cooper 1-5, K Donaghy 2-0, B Sheehan 0-2, P Galvin, S O'Sullivan, T O'Se, A O'Mahony, S Scanlon and D O'Sullivan 0-1 each.
Cork - D O'Connor 0-4, D Goulding 1-1, J Masters 0-3, M Cussen 0-1.
KERRY: D Murphy, M O'Se, T O'Sullivan, P Reidy, A O'Mahony, T O'Se, K Young, D O'Se, S Scanlon, P Galvin, Declan O'Sullivan, E Brosnan, C Cooper, K Donaghy, B Sheehan. Subs - S O'Sullivan for Galvin, Darran O'Sullivan for Brosnan, T Griffin for Young, MF Russell for Sheehan, M Lyons for Reidy.
CORK: A Quirke, M Shields, G Canty, K O'Connor, N O'Leary, G Spillane, J Miskella, D Kavanagh, N Murphy, C McCarthy, P O'Neill, K McMahon, J Masters, M Cussen, D O'Connor. Subs - D Goulding for Masters, A Lynch for Miskella, F Goold for McMahon, K O'Sullivan for McCarthy.
Referee - D Coldrick (Meath).
2008: Sunday, September 21.
TYRONE 1-15; KERRY 0-14
SCORERS: Tyrone - S Cavanagh 0-5, T McGuigan 1-1, B Dooher 0-2, D Harte, C McCullagh, M Penrose, R Mellon, C Cavanagh, E McGinley and K Hughes 0-1 each.
Kerry - C Cooper 0-6 (0-3 frees), Declan O'Sullivan 0-2, B Sheehan 0-2 (frees), Darran O'Sullivan, T Walsh, T O'Se and D O'Se 0-1 each.
TYRONE: P McConnell, Joe McMahon, Justin McMahon, C Gormley, D Harte, P Jordan, R McMenamin, C Holmes, E McGinley, B Dooher, M Penrose, R Mellon, T McGuigan, S Cavanagh, C McCullagh. Subs - S O'Neill for McCullagh (25), K Hughes for Holmes (half-time), B McGuigan for Penrose (50), O Mulligan for Mellon (51), C Cavanagh for T McGuigan (67).
KERRY: D Murphy, M O'Se, T O'Sullivan, P Reidy, T O'Se, A O'Mahony, K Young, D O'Se, S Scanlon, E Brosnan, Declan O'Sullivan, B Sheehan, C Cooper, K Donaghy, T Walsh. Subs - Darran O'Sullivan for Brosnan (42), T Griffin for Scanlon (51), P Galvin for Walsh (58), D Moran for Sheehan (67).
Referee - M Deegan (Laois).
2009: Sunday, September 20.
KERRY 0-16; CORK 1-9
SCORERS: Kerry - C Cooper 0-6 (frees), T Walsh 0-4, T Kennelly and T O'Se 0-2 each, Declan O'Sullivan and Darran O'Sullivan 0-1 each.
Cork - D Goulding 0-4 (0-2 frees), C O'Neill 1-1, D O'Connor 0-3 (frees), P Kelly 0-1.
KERRY: D Murphy, M O'Se, T Griffin, T O'Sullivan, T O'Se, M McCarthy, K Young, D O'Se, S Scanlon, Darran O'Sullivan, T Kennelly, P Galvin, C Cooper, Declan O'Sullivan, T Walsh. Subs - D Walsh for Kennelly (51), M Quirke for D O'Se (57), K Donaghy for Darran O'Sullivan (57), D Moran for T Walsh (67), A O'Mahony for Young (69).
CORK: A Quirke, M Shields, K O'Connor, A Lynch, N O'Leary, G Canty, J Miskella, A O'Connor, N Murphy, P Kelly, P O'Neill, P Kerrigan, D Goulding, C O'Neill, D O'Connor. Subs - E Cadogan for K O'Connor (half-time), F Goold for Kerrigan (49), D Kavanagh for Lynch (58), J Masters for Goulding (63), M Cussen for A O'Connor (66).
Referee - M Duffy (Sligo).
2011: Sunday, September 18.
DUBLIN 1-12; KERRY 1-11
SCORERS: Dublin - B Brogan 0-6 (0-4 frees), K McManamon 1-0, A Brogan 0-2, S Cluxton 0-2 (frees), K Nolan and D Bastick 0-1 each.
Kerry - C Cooper 1-3 (0-2 frees), B Sheehan 0-4 (0-2 frees, 0-1 '45'), K Donaghy 0-2, Declan O'Sullivan and P Galvin 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton, M Fitzsimons, R O'Carroll, C O'Sullivan, J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan, D Bastick, MD Macauley, P Flynn, B Cahill, B Cullen, A Brogan, D Connolly, B Brogan. Subs - P McMahon for McCarthy (46), K McManamon for Flynn (51), E O'Gara for Cahill (57), E Fennell for Bastick (63).
KERRY: B Kealy, K Young, M O'Se, T O'Sullivan, T O'Se, E Brosnan, A O'Mahony, A Maher, B Sheehan, Darran O'Sullivan, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh, C Cooper, K Donaghy, K O'Leary. Subs - P Galvin for O'Leary (24), BJ Keane for Walsh (51), D Bohane for Brosnan (63).
Referee - J McQuillan (Cavan).
2014: Sunday, September 21.
KERRY 2-9; DONEGAL 0-12
SCORERS: Kerry - K Donaghy 1-2, P Geaney 1-2 (0-1 free), BJ Keane 0-2 (frees), P Murphy and J Buckley 0-1 each. B Sheehan 0-1 free.
Donegal - M Murphy 0-4 (0-3 frees), P McBrearty 0-2, C McFadden, O MacNiallais, K Lacey, N McGee, D Molloy and C Toye 0-1 each.
KERRY: B Kelly, M O'Se, A O'Mahony, F Fitzgerald, P Murphy, P Crowley, K Young, A Maher, D Moran, D Walsh, S O'Brien, J Buckley, P Geaney, K Donaghy, J O'Donoghue. Subs - M Geaney for O'Brien (half-time), BJ Keane for P Geaney (49), S Enright for Fitzgerald (55), Declan O'Sullivan for Walsh (57), B Sheehan for Moran (68), K O'Leary for Donaghy (70).
DONEGAL: P Durcan, N McGee, E McGee, P McGrath, A Thompson, K Lacey, F McGlynn, R Kavanagh, N Gallagher, O MacNiallais, L McLoone, R McHugh, C McFadden, M Murphy, D O'Connor. Subs - C Toye for O'Connor (28), P McBrearty for McHugh (46), M McElhinney for MacNiallais (52), D Walsh for McLoone (57), D Molloy for Kavanagh (64).
Referee - E Kinsella (Laois).
2015: Sunday, September 20.
DUBLIN 0-12; KERRY 0-9
SCORERS: Dublin - P Flynn 0-2, B Brogan 0-2 (0-1 free), D Rock 0-2 (frees), P McMahon, J McCaffrey, B Fenton, A Brogan and P Andrews 0-1 each. S Cluxton 0-1 free.
Kerry - J O'Donoghue 0-3, P Geaney and Darran O'Sullivan 0-2 each, J Lyne 0-1, B Sheehan 0-1 free.
DUBLIN: S Cluxton, J Cooper, R O'Carroll, P McMahon, J McCarthy, C O'Sillivan, J McCaffrey, B Fenton, D Bastick, P Flynn, D Connolly, C Kilkenny, B Brogan, D Rock, P Andrews. Subs - K McManamon for Rock (half-time), MD Macauley for Bastick (40), M Fitzsimons for Cooper (48), J Small for McCaffrey (52), D Daly for O'Sullivan (60), A Brogan for Fenton (66).
KERRY: B Kealy, F Fitzgerald, A O'Mahony, S Enright, J Lyne, P Crowley, K Young, A Maher, D Moran, S O'Brien, J Buckley, D Walsh, C Cooper, P Geaney, J O'Donoghue. Subs - Darran O'Sullivan for O'Brien (half-time), B Sheehan for Buckley (44), K Donaghy for Geaney (50), P Galvin for Moran (57), P Murphy for O'Mahony (58), BJ Keane for O'Donoghue (62).
Referee - D Coldrick (Meath).