Wednesday 18 September 2019

Billy Keane: 'Kerry always have a chance in Croker where hope springs from the eternal'

Peter Keane’s supermarket in Killorglin is likely to have plenty of traffic this week in the build up to next Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC final against Dublin. Photo: Don MacMonagle
Peter Keane’s supermarket in Killorglin is likely to have plenty of traffic this week in the build up to next Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC final against Dublin. Photo: Don MacMonagle
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

We speak in whispers. Always the same question. "Have we a chance?"

No one asks if we will win. Have we a chance? It's as if we seek reassurance our young team will not be slaughtered. Some say Paddy Kennedy was the greatest of them all. He won five All-Irelands and played in nine. Kennedy said: "You never know what is going to happen in an All-Ireland final."

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Kerry are not without hope. Dublin are only 75 minutes or so away from stealing our history. They are the team of these times. Dublin stand at the gates of glory and most say all they have to do is walk on through.

We were denied the five-in-a-row 37 years ago by Seamus Darby, who has a new book coming out this week.

The young me was there. If Dublin win the five-in-a-row, the scar tissue will turn in to an open wound. I am very fond of Darby. But he did nudge Tommy Doyle.

Rocket

His goal was a rising rocket. That winning Darby score was a close call. Offaly were awarded several soft frees in the run-up to the goal and that kept them in touch. Offaly were magnificent and we couldn't have been beaten by a more decent bunch.

Get well soon, Brian Cowen. You will be missed at Listowel Races. We would still be stuck in traffic but for the highways you built.

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Still though for all the friendships, the pain never goes away. Eugene McGee was the genius who masterminded the Offaly win. He brought the ball to John B's. I think Eugene must have some sort of premonition of his own death. He passed away last May. We had a lovely time on his last night in Kerry.

Several of the Kerry team he defeated came to honour him in John B's. Eugene took the ball from a shopping bag. The O'Neill's was hardly broken in and the still-white ball smelled of new leather after all those years. Yes, it was the same ball Charlie Nelligan picked out of his net when Darby tumbled Kerry's castle to the ground. We stood in for a photo.

Mick O always maintained Jimmy Deenihan would have stopped Darby if he was fit to play. Deenihan grabbed the most historic ball in GAA history from Eugene, as if to say that's what I would have done in 1982. When Darby's goal went in the sky turned the blue black of a haematoma. It was Golgotha. Paddy Kennedy was right.

My dad was out walking in the bog. He couldn't stick the excitement. Mam went out to meet him. He knew by her face. Mam told me dad was crying. I never saw my dad cry.

Do we take the game too seriously in Kerry? Definitely. Anne, my daughter, had a baby for Micheál Finucane from Bally about six months ago.

Hugo was kicking away like mad in the womb. Anne was delighted. She said: "Dad, the baby's a footballer." Football unites us, keeps us together, keeps us Kerry.

Dublin are maybe the best team of all time. I say maybe. If our Kerry team from the Golden Years could take the youth serum, would they beat the Dublin of today? I played with four of that team and against the rest of them. The best I can do for this Dublin is to say they would have beaten us in at least one of our four-in-a-row wins.

I stopped in at Peter and Siobhán Keane's supermarket in Killorglin on Saturday. The shop was busy. Siobhán has presence, a big smile and a word for everyone. I'd say she would be a great woman to come home to if you were worried. Her customers were her friends. Every one of them told her they were praying.

Praying

Dublin are praying too and like us football unites. Dublin dipped their multicultural city in the sky blue wash. We saw a small boy with Mannion on the back of his Dublin shirt kicking a ball to his mom in her burqa. The Dubs are not white or brown or black. They are blue.

I'd never cut funding for kids' coaching in Dublin. The GAA should include and not exclude. Dublin's greatest achievement is the unification of Dublin.

I used to be Pat Griffin when I was a boy. Keep well Pat. Don't worry if you can't get to the game. All of Kerry know you will be there in spirit.

Up at the top we asked if Kerry have a chance. The bookies think it's one in six. The final will be played in Croke Park, our Rock of Gibraltar, impossibly stuck on to another entity with whom we share joint sovereignty.

Kerry have a chance because we have a hungry, fit, fast, skilful and improving young team. Kerry will not discount spirituality or the forever fealty to those who came before us.

You have back-up boys. You are never alone in Croke Park. The greats of the before are there with you. Ask the old players. They will tell you this is true. Do not be afraid. You have nothing to lose.

No one thinks you are going to win. No one except yourselves that is, and the ghosts of All-Irelands past.

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