Keith Moynihan’s roots are in Annascaul in West Kerry, but now living in Mallow he is taking the local football team to new heights. Diarmuid Sheehan spoke to him
Football in Mallow has been in a strong position in recent years. A good successful underage system has fed into a senior structure that has been improving year on year over the last decade or so.
After competing for far too long at Intermediate, the club finally made the jump to senior back in 2017, their third time winning the premier crown, and their first since 2007.
Mallow were able to boast a host of top class players on that title winning team with players of the quality of James Loughrey, Mattie Taylor and Cian O'Riordan firing on all cylinders but few could ignore the influence of a man that grew up on the "wrong side" of the Cork/Kerry border but found his home on the banks of the Blackwater.
Keith Moynihan may well be living in Mallow and teaching Irish in Christians in Cork city but his roots are firmly planted in Annascaul in West Kerry where he learned his craft as a footballer.
After moving to Mallow a decade ago the Kerry native gave a couple of years on the field for his adopted town before taking over the club's intermediate side in 2017 guiding them to senior almost immediately.
"When I took over at Mallow I really was lucky. It was great timing for me," said Moynihan, who is now in his fourth year at the helm. "I had played with them in 2016 and the position became available at the end of that year and I after talking with a couple of the older players we said we would give it a go.
"I was in the enviable position that I knew what I was taking on and I knew this was a very good team - it has a very strong nucleus and I knew if I could get the planning in place and get lads fit then winning the intermediate was definitely achievable and when we all bought into that it happened pretty quickly.
"You can't stand still in this or any sport so as soon as that (winning premier) happened the next thing to do is to establish ourselves as a senior team and that is what we set out to do.
"Unfortunately in the first year we really didn't do that. We acquitted ourselves well enough against Valley Rovers and then we lost to the Bars but for me the manner of that defeat was really disappointed because internally we felt any team can be beaten on any given day. We just didn't perform."
A hard year on the field was followed the next year by a more encouraging season for the Mallow manager as 2019 provided him with many more challenges but also more signs that the club were heading in the right direction.
"Last year was very encouraging. We came back up from Division 2 and for us to beat Castlehaven was a very big thing - because they are such a traditional club with great players and great management so that was a really confidence boost for us."
Many local players and fans would have disappointed that the new structure brought in to tidy up the Cork club football scene resulted in Mallow dropping to the second tier of senior however the man that got the Avondhu side to the top flight was happy enough with how things panned out for his side.
"I saw the new structure with senior football as an opportunity for us rather than a demotion as it gave us another steppingstone to strive for. Competing at the Senior A level for a period before making that step up again to the senior proper should help us get used to playing at a higher level - but I'm sure the teams that we will be battling against like Fermoy, Kiskeam, Éire Óg, O'Donovan Rossa and Clyda Rovers are all in the same boat as us and all see this as an opportunity.
"It looks to me like everyone at Senior A is at equal level and it was likely to be marvellous competition in the group stage - whenever that may be.
"Six of the eight teams will feel that winning Senior A in the short-term is a realistic goal so we are up against it. This year we got off to good start with a winning game in the league so I still believe we are going to right direction but now, like everyone else, we will have to wait-and-see."
It is obvious that for Moynihan the relationship he and his back-room team have with his players is hugely important to his side's success but the manager is around long enough to know that there is a time to stay and a time to leave - although he definitely hasn't come to the latter point yet.
"In this team the players feed off me and I feed off the players and that is how we know whether this is still working or not. Last year John McGuinness came in with me and Mick Lucy. Vincent Murphy has also been key to everything we are trying to do with Gavin O'Sullivan also doing a phenomenal amount of other work with us in the area of data analysis and he gives us a lot of good ideas. Tadgh Carroll is also working with us so we have a great team here.
"It is important that we can regenerate and rejuvenate the message that we are giving the lads while at the same time making sure you were not outstaying your welcome and that when I leave I leave them in a better position than they were in when I took over. It is important that the systems are in place so that the next person that comes in can carry things forward again but I am living in the community and not going anywhere right now. "
Like everyone else, Moynihan finds himself in limbo right now without much of a clue as to what is going to happen the 2020 GAA season.
"Really at this stage I just don't know. When we got a lot done about eight weeks ago we would have had a plan in place going forward for something might start happening again in May or June but we know now that that's not the scenario.
There are plenty different ideas being thrown out there but the more you think about social distancing the more you realise just how difficult it is going to be to implement social distancing on a football pitch. It would be difficult in a dressing room never mind in the crowds.
"If you just think about it around the dressing room you are in the shouting, the passion, the sweating at half time and full time. How do you get distance, how do you get kits cleaned, dressing room sterilised, it just seems very difficult to imagine. We will just need to wait and see."
Being a teacher, father, husband and football manager Moynihan is experiencing this current shutdown from all sides but is still trying to find the positives within.
"Yeah, with two small kids at home and they of course are full on. Up to now we have been offering online classes and that kind of thing to the students so it is quite busy here in the morning. With a one and half-year-old and a four-year-old in your life they give you structure duty and that's good.
From a football side the management team and myself are a rather similar age and are all doing the running with the lads as well so we are enjoying that. I suppose been part of the setup ourselves helps us stay motivated so I suppose a few of us are probably fitter than we have been in quite a while. So that is a little positive from me."
Moynihan may well be an honorary Mallow man by now but his heart will always be on the Kingdom side of things.
"As a player you always want to play at highest level you could and test yourself and while management is a little different the same thing applies really. Of course it is coming at it from different angle.
"I moved to Mallow about ten years ago and then I made the decision to play the last few years of my football life with the club. What was heart-warming from me is that I was welcomed so warmly which committed me to the club.
"This is my fourth year managing. When you start off something like this you usually commit to two years and you don't think that it will go on for longer but here we are. This project definitely on a few occasions last year was difficult because the panel was a little bit stretched with injuries and some fellas doing the leaving cert but once the leaving cert cleared up we a lot of younger players back on board and now we have a very young passionate group who are trying to do the best they can together - while staying apart.
"Annascaul is forever my first club but Mallow is certainly my club now and hopefully the club my sons will play for. I want this club to be a strong as it possibly can be. It's a big town with fantastic facilities so there is no reason I can see why Mallow cant establish itself as one of the top clubs in the county."
And the future for Moynihan on the line?
"Well let's let the future look after itself but if you're asking me would it be Cork or Kerry, you really don't need to ask."
Moynihan's influence on the local GAA club has never been more evident than in recent weeks when he came up with the idea of running a charity event this coming weekend to raise funds for local charities.
Moynihan's efforts will see GAA players from all age groups in the town taking to the roads around Mallow for what they are calling 19 V 19 - which will see players and management running 19km each for Covid-19.
"This is a charity run with the main idea being that each participant taking part will run 19 km within the 5km limit safe distancing limit. The way we did it was that every member that agreed to take part got to vote on what charity they would like to donate to and that is where we came up with the three that we will donate to.
"We launched this on the club's social media platforms a week ago and since then the nursery club are also joining in to either run or walk 1.9km each which is a lovely gesture by them. They will then link on to the same GoFundMe account.
"The idea really behind this event is that the lads who have been training away all season can now put some of that training to good use and to do something for the local community.
"We all know that fundraising has become really difficult for local charities with the Covid situation yet there are still a lot of people around locally with greater needs than our own. We spoke about it together and the lads were keen to give back to the community that supports them year in year out both on and off the field.
"The people of Mallow and surrounds support our fundraising efforts each year so it was nice for us to be the ones that are giving rather than taking for once. We are starting (this) Saturday at 6am and finishing the following day at 6pm. Those involved can do their 19km anytime between those two times. We have about 70 adult players between hurling and football lined up already with plenty more sure to join in. It is all for very worthy causes so hopefully the people of Mallow will get behind the lads and donate to the fund."