Top man O'Mahony reflects on four in-a-row
Jason O'Connor spoke with the 2017 O'Donoghue Cup player of the year Aidan O'Mahony about his club's remarkable achievement
Maybe the look upon his face when Rathmore won last year's championship says it better than his words, but for Aidan O'Mahony 2017 was the best win of the five he has now won.
Joining former Kerry team-mates Seamus Moynihan and Johnny Crowley of Glenflesk in reaching that number of East Kerry triumphs is significant, but for O'Mahony this win was special for one reason.
"I thought it was a great tribute to the team because of the grit and determination that was shown to pick everyone up after a disappointing loss to South Kerry in the County Championship, something we had put a lot of work into beforehand.
"For everyone to put in the same effort for another O'Donoghue Cup afterwards stood out for me," the five time All-Ireland medal winner said.
Growing up O'Mahony observed the significance of O'Donoghue Cup games whether in Fitzgerald Stadium or around the district.
"I watched County Championship and O'Donoghue Cup games and I always felt that the rivalry between clubs and what it meant to them came out more in the O'Donoghue Cup, particularly for ourselves with it came to the likes of Gneeveguilla and Glenflesk at the time," he said.
The latter would be the first side O'Mahony would face in an O'Donoghue Cup Final in 1999 and, while it might be remembered more as the match which decided who would be captain of Kerry in the year 2000 between Seamus Moynihan and Declan O'Keeffe, for O'Mahony it was about something much closer to home.
"My family has a farm in Glenflesk, I had relations on the Glenflesk team, but it all went out the window for that match and even though Paud O'Donoghue put over a great free from 40 yards out to draw it the first day, a few of us felt it was a bit dubious!
"When we lost the replay the disappointment afterwards in the dressing room stuck with me and I learnt a lot about what it means to win the O'Donoghue Cup that day," O'Mahony said.
Losses to Dr Crokes in the 2002 and 2004 deciders set the scene for Rathmore to end a twenty one-year wait for an East Kerry title in 2005 when they edged a tight encounter with Kilcummin, a decider that seemed never ending on the day for O'Mahony.
"Kilcummin were tough to beat at the time and had a big win over Crokes in the semi-final beforehand. Mike McCarthy was driving them on and I remember him hitting the crossbar before half-time with us just about going in front at the break.
"We stayed ahead for the second-half but it felt like it went on for forever with what Kilcummin threw at us and I was delighted afterwards to see players who had put a lot of effort in during the 21 years since the last O'Donoghue Cup for the club finally getting their reward," he said.
Dr Crokes' record setting dominance of the competition kicked in the following year setting both a competition and club record of eight-in-a-row between 2006 and 2013 with Rathmore defeated in four of those deciders (2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012) bringing O'Mahony's total number of lost deciders to seven!
It wasn't so much of a fear of the Crokes by everyone that allowed them to dominate for that long in O'Mahony's opinion.
"They just had a great knack of winning games when it mattered during that run. It was Senior Championship standard when you played them in a final and I remember in 2010 when it looked like we had done enough for a draw, but they kept going and Chris Brady fisted over a winner from the resulting kick-out.
"In 2012 we gave them a massive test as well when we were being trained by Liam Kerins, but they were flying at the time and were heading over to London the following week to play an All-Ireland club quarter-final," he said.
Come 2014 the hoodoo not only with trying to beat Dr Crokes, but also ending the near decade long wait for the district's biggest prize was over as they beat the Killarney side not once but twice in separate spheres.
"We started to push doing better in the County Championship around then and it worked in our favour as even though it wasn't straight knock-out when we beat them in the County Championship back in June, a monkey was off our back in proving we could actually beat them in Championship.
"The belief came from there when it came to the O'Donoghue Cup Quarter-Final back in Rathbeg later in the year and while we got a bit of luck that day with late goals, we gladly took it after the hurt we had gone through in the years previously."
O'Mahony was persuaded by then manager Denis Moynihan to postpone a scheduled operation in pursuit of the title which he duly did but O'Mahony says that their semi-final experience with Spa brought them back down to Earth.
"That match going to extra-time was important because it told us that just because we had beaten the Crokes, the title wasn't automatically ours. Legion had made massive improvements under Peter Keane when we see what they were contributing to Kerry as well and we went through the rigours again with a replay being needed after they got a late draw.
"I know my point in the replay probably still rankles with them a small bit but it looked over to me!"
That win was Rathmore's fifth in total, but a new challenge came in 2015 in trying to retain it for the first time and O'Mahony feels the semi-final success over Kilcummin was the crucial point of the campaign.
"I said in the dressing room beforehand that this would be the most dangerous game that we would face because there was an air of expectancy about us for the first time and Kilcummin were going to have a lot of belief themselves after seeing us win the year before.
"There was a bit of a sideshow with Paul [Murphy] and the helicopter, but we didn't let it affect us in focussing on the task at hand."
2016 saw a rejuvenated Dr Crokes side back in the East Kerry decider, fresh from County and Munster success, but O'Mahony agrees that the time Rathmore had to prepare for the match beforehand was crucial to them hanging onto their title.
"We were in an ideal position I felt in a lot of ways because no one expected us to win after Crokes winning Munster the week before. The one thing we have though is a group of players who have beaten Crokes a fair bit at underage level coming up and they don't hold the same fear others might have about playing them.
"That game took on a life of its own that day and thankfully we managed to get the better of them in the end," O'Mahony said of their third consecutive triumph.
2017 was a busy one for O'Mahony at a personal level with his inter-county retirement, becoming a father for the first time and winning RTÉ's Dancing with the Stars competition in an interesting change of scenery for the Tralee based Garda. But when it came to the O'Donoghue Cup the drive was still there as ever as for local success.
Matters off the field might have dominated the 2017 staging, but O'Mahony feels the club did well both on and off the field in how it conducted itself.
"When it became apparent Gneeveguilla weren't in a position to play the semi-final we sat down as a group and in consultation with Donal Murphy [our Chairman] we decided to offer to play the game and not accept it being awarded to us.
"It was the right decision in hindsight and we blocked out a lot of the talk about the Legion and Crokes issue and focussed on ourselves. Even after winning itself, the fact the club were still mindful of the Crowley family and the terrible tragedy in losing their daughter not to have any celebrations returning to the village spoke a lot about the GAA as a community to me."
The decider was a drama in itself with Rathmore coming from 0-10 to 0-7 down at the three-quarter mark to reel off four unanswered points to triumph and make it four-in-a-row, but as the focus now turns to celebration and reflection, O'Mahony doesn't feel the events of 2017 are any real to radically change the competition.
"I still feel it is a special time of the year when the O'Donoghue Cup is played because it is that last chance at success for a player or a club in the year and it's against everyone who live and work with as well giving it a big derby feel.
"I don't think it would have the same buzz during the summer if there are fellas abroad for that time of year. It's a massive boost to a community as well to win it in the run-up to Christmas," he said.
Since the Awards initiative has come in by the East Kerry Board, O'Mahony has been one of those duly honoured and feels there is a more sustaining feeling in being honoured at local level as opposed to All-Ireland level.
"The inter-county All-Stars are really only a bonus for a player if his county has won Sam Maguire. Also when you are there, you only might have one or two invited guests with you.
"At the East Kerry Awards though, your whole family is more likely to be there and a player has a better chance of being recognised if he has a good game in the opening rounds of the O'Donoghue Cup than a player from Clare or Waterford might do if they have a good game in the Munster Championship.
"That game in June will be forgotten by September when the All-Star team is up for consideration whereas a good performance by a player in the O'Donoghue Cup is still fresh in everyone's mind," he said.
O'Mahony has been honoured as the Player of the Tournament and where the award actually rests at the moment might surprise people with everything else O'Mahony had achieved in his career.
"It has pride of place in my mother's mantelpiece at her home in Rathmore. Again that's the effect the competition has on people maybe much more than winning an All-Ireland with Kerry does.
"Even though it's a new award [Player of the Tournament] it's great to be alongside the likes of Seamus [Moynihan], Colm [Cooper] and Eoin Brosnan in winning it," he said.
While he is unlikely to ever catch either Cooper or Brosnan's record setting haul of medals (11), joining his relation Pat 'Dunn' O'Donoghue and also Kieran O'Sullivan of Glenflesk in winning six medals looks to be a lot more realistic in 2018. The ambition and attitude will be the same for O'Mahony however when it does come around.
"We will approach it the same no matter if it's five-in-a-row or our first time ever trying to win it. We'll take nothing for granted, when you are on top you are there to be knocked down and we will have to give everything if we want to hold onto it."