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Friday 17 August 2018

'Milking cows can be very antisocial' - former Kerry footballer on how he combines dairy farming with running a bar and nightclub

Former Kerry footballer Liam O'Flaherty pictured on his farm in Liselton, North Kerry. Photo: Don MacMonagle
Former Kerry footballer Liam O'Flaherty pictured on his farm in Liselton, North Kerry. Photo: Don MacMonagle
Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

Farm Relief Services have given dairy farmer and former Kerry footballer Liam O'Flaherty the freedom to do his second job - running a busy bar and nightclub.

The father of two milks 140 cows at his 138ac holding in Ballydonoghue, Co Kerry. The helping hand allows him devote more time at the weekends to his other occupation - Mermaids Bar and Nightclub in nearby Listowel.

"All the football training I got from Páidí Ó Sé stood to me," says Liam.

He was part of the team that defeated Mayo in the 1997 All-Ireland final before he hung up his boots and retired from inter-county football the following year, though he continued to play with his club, Ballydonoghue.

In his inter-county days, he trained four times a week, completing the two-and-a-half-hour round trip to Killarney. This took him away from the farm and he says it was his father, Daniel, who was left with the evening milking most of the time.

The father and son bought the 138ac out-farm in 1995, at a time when Liam was at the height of his sporting career.

Dan had always milked about 140 cows on the family farm.

"The plan was always for me to branch out on my own dairying on that farm. It's only 2ƒ miles from the home farm and even in the same parish," he says.

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"I was well trained up for milking large numbers of cows and I've been farming all my life."

Liam has a sister, Rosaleen, a doctor in Manchester, and two brothers. Dónal is an accountant in Limerick and his younger brother, Dermot, works in construction in New York.

Liam O'Flaherty on the pitch for Kerry back in the day
Liam O'Flaherty on the pitch for Kerry back in the day

After completing his Leaving Cert, Liam went to Pallaskenry Agricultural College and then returned home to farm with his dad.

"It suited me as well because I was playing football at the time. It was OK when I was playing minor but when you get older and are involved in the senior squad, there's more work.

"I used to start the evening milking but then Dad would take over because I'd have to go to training," he recalls.

In 1995, when they bought the second farm, Kerry exited the championship when they were beaten by Cork in the Munster final. After that, Liam had to undergo a shoulder operation, which kept him out of the game for six months.

The following year, Kerry legend Páidí Ó Sé, who was managing the senior team, and selector Bernie O'Callaghan persuaded him to return.

"I was inside in the milking parlour with my father one evening and Páidí and Bernie came in and asked me to rejoin the panel," he recalls.

"I said I'd think about it but within a week or two I was back training with the Kerry team.

"It wasn't too bad because at that time of the year, spring was over and the cows were back out in the field, so there isn't as much work.

"At that stage, I had been in the squad for six or seven years, and we still hadn't won an All-Ireland senior championship.

"Páidí was over the team and we had some good players coming up like Darragh Ó Sé, Dara Ó Cinnéide and Seamus Moynihan," says Liam, revealing he hoped that elusive All-Ireland could be within sight.

It was: in 1997, a Kerry team under captain Liam Hassett won their 31st title.

But in Kerry, one All-Ireland medal is never enough. The following year, their hopes were dashed when they were knocked out by Kildare in the semi-final. Liam made the decision to retire leaving the pitch.

"I remember coming off the field in Croke Park that day and saying to myself 'I'm playing no more of this'.

"You know, I had enough of it. We got a goal that was disallowed with about five or six minutes to go.

"I said to myself coming off the field, 'after all the training we've done and the hard work, what's the point when it can all be over with one decision?'."

Finding it very hard to motivate himself again, at 28 Liam turned his full attention to the farm and built a new milking parlour.

"I had to fend for myself at that stage and start making a living. Football wasn't going to make a living for me," he says.

Isolated

But he found life as a dairy farmer very different to the highs of being a footballer at the top level, meeting his team-mates several times a week, playing matches and travelling around the country.

"Being isolated at home and milking cows and meeting very few people was a big change for me.

"At that stage in life I had it in my head to get into the bar trade and I was on the lookout for a place that would be local enough to me so I would be able to work there at nighttime but still farm during the day," he adds.

"It was more a social thing really.

"Milking cows, by its very nature, can be very antisocial. There isn't a lot of meeting with people and you're there working away on your own."

In 2003, an opportunity presented itself when he was 33 and Mermaids Bar, Restaurant and Nightclub in Listowel came on the market. He had no background in the pub trade, but the previous owner, Vincent Nolan, stayed on for six months to show him the ropes.

"When I started farming first there was a very small quota with the farm, and the most I could milk was about 40 cows. You'd have the milking done in about half an hour," says Liam.

"I was still young. I had a pile of energy and more time on my hands, so that's why I went into the bar trade."

Fourteen years later, he's still in the business, helped by his wife, Bridget, whom he has known for years having played football with her brother, Pa Dennehy. The couple married in 2007 and now have two children, Libby (8) and Liam Óg (7).

His is the only nightclub between Ballybunion and Killarney, and he says it's still rocking away, though the music has changed a lot since his day.


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He enjoys meeting people and talking about football but says his younger patrons, who are in their 20s, haven't a clue who he is and would never have even heard of him.

On the farming side, he was buying as much quota as he could each year and building up his stock and his enterprise bit by bit.

"There were options in Kerry Group every year to buy more quota so one year I might buy 10,000 gallons and the next year 5,000, and I built it up like that."

By the time quotas were abolished, his enterprise was well built up to 100 cows and he has increased the number to 140 since.

"I suppose at the moment I'm more or less at my limit, as regards the acreage and the sheds," he adds.

Liam is adamant he's a farmer first and foremost. His only regret is that he didn't go to university to get a degree before going to agricultural college, something he would encourage his own children to do.

"Do the college thing first and then come back. The farm will always be there for them to come back to, if they're interested in it," he says.

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