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'Meath and Kerry were toughest opponents'

GAA: St Margarets clubman and All-star Mick Kennedy reminisces about his long career with the dubs

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Dublin’s Mick Kennedy challenges Colm O’Rourke of Meath during the 1983 Leinster Senior Football Championship quarter-final in Croke Park. Inset: Kennedy in the colours of his club St Margarets. Main photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Dublin’s Mick Kennedy challenges Colm O’Rourke of Meath during the 1983 Leinster Senior Football Championship quarter-final in Croke Park. Inset: Kennedy in the colours of his club St Margarets. Main photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Mick Kennedy remembers many battles royal over the years

Mick Kennedy remembers many battles royal over the years

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Dublin’s Mick Kennedy challenges Colm O’Rourke of Meath during the 1983 Leinster Senior Football Championship quarter-final in Croke Park. Inset: Kennedy in the colours of his club St Margarets. Main photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

One could argue that Mick Kennedy's senior inter-county championship career got off on the wrong foot.

It was 1979 and Dublin were going for their sixth Leinster final win in a row, a feat achieved by only two teams previously.

Things, however, had not begun well for the reigning champions as the Metropolitans registered seven wides in the first half.

And with Sean Lowry doing the business up front for Offaly, it was decided to change things around, with the St Margarets man introduced at right corner back for his championship debut in place of Gay O'Driscoll near the end of the first half.

'I was up against a very clever player in Matt Connor,' recalled Kennedy in an interview with the Fingal Independent last week, 'and as a friend recently reminded me, the first thing he did was sold me a dummy.'

That would be the least of Dublin's worries as the half-time whistle blew as their marquee forward Jimmy Keaveney elbowed Offaly defender Ollie Minnock and received his marching orders for the offence from referee Paddy Collins.

What happened in the second half, however, would become the stuff of legend and act as the inspiration for the Wolfe Tones ballad '14 men'.

How Dublin beat the Offaly men despite being minus one of their players was indeed a story to behold as the Metropolitans came back from 0-9 to 0-4 down in the second half to produce the most unlikely of victories.

Bernard Brogan, as he had done in the 1977 All-Ireland semi-final, popped up for the all-important goal with just moments to go to manufacture a famous two-point victory.

And after overcoming Roscommon in the All-Ireland semi-final, Dublin were through to another decider against Kerry, albeit without the suspended Keaveney.

Dublin manager, Kevin Heffernan would persist with the full back line that finished against Offaly, with Mick Holden flanked by corner backs Kennedy and David Foran.

It would be Kennedy's first all-Ireland decider, although three years previously he had lined out for the Dubs in the All-Ireland Minor semi-final against Galway.

By the time 1979 came around he had two years as a minor and three as an under-21 behind him and as such was not too intimidated by the experience.

Nonetheless, on the day he came up against Kerry's legendary corner forward John Egan.

'He had incredible upper body strength and that full forward line of Egan, Eoin Liston and Mikey Sheehy were formidable,' Kennedy recalled. 'You really earned your bread against them.'

Dublin found the Kerry forward line too hot to handle, with Sheehy's blasted first-half effort into the roof of the net laying the foundation for a comprehensive 3-13 to 1-8 victory.

And so for the second consecutive year Kerry had bombarded Dublin in the All-Ireland decider, although Kennedy was not sure if his team could have done anything more.

'A lot of the older lads would have been close to retirement - the likes of Jimmy Keaveney, Pat O'Neill Paddy Cullen. There was a lot of players on the panel that would have been calling it a day a year after that, so the team was getting on a bit,' he said.

'And at that time Kerry were big, strong and skilful.

'Back then it was mostly man on man. You tried to cover as best as you could, you would be talking with your full back line and Tommy Drumm was in front of me. You try to plan as best as you can, but things happen on the pitch and that's where good forwards come into their own.'

That final would be Cullen's last appearance between the posts and by the start of the Leinster Championship the following season Kennedy found himself in goals for the first two rounds prior to John O'Leary's arrival.

So how did he feel about his new-found role?

'You'd probably be looking at it from a different angle alright, but I much preferred playing out the field. I played most of my club football at centre back or midfield,' he pointed out.

Another player to depart around that time was his fellow St Margarets clubman Paddy Reilly and Kennedy was certainly sad to see him go.

'I had great time for Paddy. He was a real hero of mine, being my own clubman. Paddy played wing half back for Dublin from 1974, although he had played under-21 and minor before that, but after 1979 he packed it in.'

In 1980 Dublin would return to the Leinster final for a seventh successive year but were upstaged by Offaly who, under Eugene McGee, would eventually claim the Sam Maguire courtesy of Seamus Darby's dramatic late goal against Kerry in 1982.

In '83 Dublin would bring the Sam Maguire back to the capital after a dogged win over Galway, and although an injury earlier in the season would see Kennedy lose his spot on the team, by 1984 he had reclaimed his spot at corner back where he played in the next two finals against the old enemy Kerry.

Same opposition, and unfortunately the same result, as Kerry picked up where they left off with two more wins over the Metropolitans.

Their 2-12 to 2-8 win over Dublin in the 1985 decider would end Kevin Heffernan's second spell in charge of the Blues, but Kennedy certainly had good memories of the St Vincents great.

'He was straight down the line. If you were doing your job he would treat you fairly and if you weren't doing your job you were unfortunate.'

Those two defeats to Kerry were certainly hard to take, but there was a bit of merriment in the dressing-room after the 1984 centenary final, following an incident during the second half of the game which had seen Mick Holden rather forcibly pull a shaken Barney Rock off the ground.

'It was just a spur of the moment thing. I wouldn't look to much into it now,' said Kennedy, 'but we laughed about it after. Mick would have been a straight sort of fellow. He would be 'like get on with it'.'

And while Kerry would beat Tyrone a year later, their dominance was coming to an end. So how did Kennedy recall those contests with the Kingdom?

'I've often said keeping my concentration would have taken the most out of me in matches. You were one-on-one and the ball came in so quickly. But you couldn't afford to be making too many mistakes around the full back line because you didn't have that much cover.

'People often ask me would I like to be playing now. You don't really know, but the game I played back then - we really enjoyed it. The ball was coming in much quicker. People have a lot more time to get back now and cover you.'

Entering the second part of the Eighties, Dublin were forging new rivalries with Sean Boylan's Meath team and over the next few years the two would play out some epic games, culminating in that four-in-a-row epic in 1991.

Kennedy by now had picked up a well-deserved All-Star in 1988 and would play in all four games in that 1991 saga, and the third of the replays which were played before bumper crowds over consecutive weeks, would eventually be decided by Kevin Foley's late goal.

'There was a surreal atmosphere in the dressing-room after the game, and remember, that was only a preliminary round - it wasn't even a Leinster final,' said Kennedy.

'But look, we had our chances - we had no one to blame but ourselves and I suppose with Kevin Foley's goal you can't dwell on them things.

'To be honest I found 1989 more disappointing than anything. I really thought it was going to be our year.

'We had finally gotten one over Kerry in the league final in 1987. Gerry McCaul had taken over the team and he had brought through an awful lot of good young talent - Paul Curran, Keith Barr, Niall Guiden, Eamon Heery, players like that.

'But Cork beat us in the championship in '89 and we were just unfortunate to have come up against probably the best Meath team ever and best Cork team ever between 1987 and 1988.'

By 1992, after a 13-year spell at the top level, Kennedy finally decided to pack it in.

'I couldn't get into that team,' he recalled. 'The years had started to catch up with me at that stage - I was 32 or 33 when I gave it up - but I was looking forward to playing with my club.'

Now of course, like everyone else, Kennedy has a lot of time to reflect on things past and present.

Asked about his hardest opponents, he settles for the full forward lines of Meath (Brian Stafford, Colm O'Rourke and Bernard Flynn) and Kerry's front trio of John Egan, Eoin Bomber Liston and Mikey Sheehy.

And having played in three All-Ireland finals against the Kingdom, he is asked to compare that team with Dublin's current crop.

'With Kerry it was just one of them things. It was the skill and the talent - every now and again you get a team like that. It's like this Dublin team at the moment. You get an exceptional panel of players coming through.

'They've been lucky. Like every year they have one or two players coming through that are just pushing to get on the panel and pushing to get on the team.'

Fingal Independent