Sean O’Shea, or Seanie Shea, as he is known in Kerry, kicked the winning point against Dublin last Sunday from 53 metres out. The breeze was in his face and was strong enough to stiffen limp flags.
Seanie had missed a penalty earlier, but filed that one away under AOB, as all the great players do.
The winning free was awarded after 74 minutes, and Seanie’s legs had more kilometres up than a country postman on Christmas Eve.
The kick was into a boisterous Hill 16, and the Dublin goalkeeper shook the goalposts as vigorously as a thirsty South Sea Islander hoping to spare himself a climb up the coconut tree.
Young Seanie carved the ball from right to left like a banana and it went straight over the bar. I just fact-checked there and a banana does curl from right to left.
The only downside, there was no slagging the Dublin fans. Their team was heroic and the supporters were sporting and magnanimous in defeat.
The new generation of Kerry came to Dublin in their thousands. I thought of the old brigade, gone now, but not forgotten.
We met the last of the old brigade at the 2011 final.
The old boy wore braces to keep his pants up and socks inside his sandals in case someone stood on his toes.
I saw him gaze up at the height of the tall building looking out on to O’Connell Bridge and the Liffey. He came from a mountain place where sky sat permanently on the crest. Great chieftains were laid to rest there. Their cairn could be seen from kilometres away, yet the eight-storey building was a wonder to him. He told me as much. “How did they get up there at all?” he asked, and, more importantly: “How did they get down?”
Like the Egyptologists and archaeologists in the Valley of the Kings, he wondered how it was built. That was 11 years ago on the day of a Kerry v Dublin game in Croke Park. He was missing last Sunday. Tim passed unheralded and was mourned long-distance in the middle of the pandemic.
During that gap, Ireland was foreclosed by Father Time. There was no natural change-over.
He’s gone now, and so are most of his generation. Many of those who are still alive are afraid or can’t afford to come out to play. They stayed at home.
The old boy has been replaced by a new generation of confident, well- dressed Kerry fans who hop on and off planes on their way to games. They may not have enough money to buy a house, but most have more than we had in our pockets back in the day. The Kerry youngsters pack into friends’ flats and we met several who slept in the Hotels Ford and Toyota, the only free digs in Dublin.
There’s plenty of work, and the days of bringing your own sandwiches are long gone.
Eric Browne missed the game due to his untimely passing last November. It was the only way of stopping him. He used to bring a pig’s head to the matches. Half the fun was in producing the head on a bar counter. The Dubs were shocked and wondered were they up against some sort of savages who would take a bite out of yourself if they got the chance
We missed him at the apres match on Sunday, but he surely blew Seanie’s last-ditch kick over the bar.
There was a changing of the guard, but the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren took their ancestors’ places. I’m often told there are no characters any more. Not so. Each generation produces the icons of their time and place.
Eamonn O’Carroll passed away a few weeks ago. His pub, Jet’s, just across the street from us, is run by his daughter, Lisa. Jet’s is still going strong. Lisa is a dote.
Eamonn was an undertaker, and I was the one who named him Ned the Dead. He buried my mam and dad. They were given all the respect in the world by Eamonn and his team.
I know the new generation host their own matchday stories, but I will stick to mine until we hear the fresh lore.
There was an All-Ireland Sunday outside The Palace, and Eamonn was just about to hand over a match ticket to a friend when a young lad grabbed it and ran off down a laneway. Three of us gave chase. Pat Healy, the famed racing photographer, and plucky bookie Berkie Browne, Eric’s son, were in the posse.
We came to the laneway in seconds. The hijacker was talking to his friends. He was young, strong and dangerous. “Hold on a minute,” I say. “What are we going to do if we catch him?” The three of us turned back without so much as a word. The posse returned to Eamonn with the news we couldn’t catch the ticket thief.
The stories keep our friends alive in these places where yesteryear ghosts meet those who take their place.
I was so happy to see the young Kerry fans take up the Green and Gold banner. Mams brought small boys and girls to the games. Tickets are easier to come by for semi-finals. The first day in Croke Park is never forgotten.
Families had to travel up and down to the game. Seanie’s home place of Kenmare is a round trip of more than 700km. Do the rip-off hotels have any conscience, and when will the GAA fix Dublin games nearer Kerry and the other faraway counties?
Tomorrow, Limerick play Kilkenny in the All-Ireland hurling final, and thousands of young people will cheer on their counties. These are constants. No war or no plague will ever change us. Each county nation provides a new generation. It starts in the cradle and only ends when the county or club jersey is draped over the coffin.
The pandemic could have created a vacuum, but the love of our own place is internal and forever. There is a message here for all of us in every walk of life.
We have serious problems in this country. Sometimes the barrage of complaints without the buttress of practical solutions can be overwhelming. There’s always a way. We just have to keep trying, no matter what. There must be no giving in to giving out.
We shall overcome, as we have always done, by sticking to a code of loyalty, an honour code, the rules of which state that in times of great change, the core will hold and always stay the same.