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Billy Keane: Kingdom playing for the living and the dead


'Donegal have evolved into an exciting, counterattacking team. Michael Murphy could win the game on his own.' Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

'Donegal have evolved into an exciting, counterattacking team. Michael Murphy could win the game on his own.' Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE


'Donegal have evolved into an exciting, counterattacking team. Michael Murphy could win the game on his own.' Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

My grandfather Bill Keane was a primary teacher and he taught in his beloved country school of Clounmacon, just outside Listowel.

Bill was forever thinking up innovative teaching plans, and the thinking took his mind off the long, steep hill he had to scale every morning on his way to class.

Jim McGuinness and Eamonn Fitzmaurice have climbed their own mountains and they will understand the grandfather's desire to keep the lessons fresh. His mission was to bring the best out of his pupils and so it was that Bill put up a prize of a bar of chocolate for the best essay of the day.

Back in those post-war days of rationing, the bar of chocolate was the equivalent of the Booker Prize. The topic for the essay had to be a tough one. The simpler titles like 'A Day at the Seaside', or 'My Dog Spot' wouldn't do at all.

Before we go back to the point, it just dawned on me that if we win tomorrow there will be the usual outbreak of Kerry jokes by way of keeping us in our place. My favourite is, what did the Kerryman call his pet zebra? Spot was the zebra's name.

And here's a new one for you which we have just composed to commemorate the occasion of this the first All-Ireland final between Kerry and Donegal. What name did the Kerryman give to his beloved tortoise? The answer is Rover.


Bill Keane the first gave out the title for the essay. It was 'The Hawk and the Rat'. There was much head-scratching and the word conundrum was used by mentoring parents on knuckly bohereen, baldy haggard and lush meadow.

It wasn't part of the prize back in 1946, but we will now publish the winning composition. The entire essay comprised just the one line. Here it is: "The hawk is a hoor to fly and the rat is bad article to have around the house."

The footballing qualities and weaknesses of friend and foe will be parsed, and as with the small child who won the bar of chocolate, the trick is to reduce the answers into the succinct.

So what then does it take to win an All-Ireland final? The winners will have to forage, harvest, create little and great masterpieces. There will come a time when the match will turn as surely as the tides of Ballybunion and Bundoran.

Eamonn and Jim are not playing, though, and the players will win the game. For me there is only one tactic and that is get to the ball first. Kerry are good at that. Donegal will try to take the ball off Kerry and counter with speed.

In my lifetime I have never seen a Kerry team so written off so often and by so many. I always knew we would be there or thereabouts. Our boys are ravenously hungry. They will play at a relentless pace and they play the North Kerry way. The Kerry-Mayo game was the most intense match ever. There was no time on the ball and the hits were frequent and ferocious.

Kerry are as fit as they have ever been and I believe the bookies have it wrong. Donegal are hot favourites.

The men from the north-west are every bit as up for the game as we are. Donegal have evolved into an exciting, counterattacking team. Michael Murphy (below) could win the game on his own. Donegal will be well schooled and there will be no lack of courage.

Yet I still think Kerry will win. There are those of us who believe Kerry's name has been inscribed on the broad base of the Sam Maguire ever since we lost in the last minutes to Dublin in that famous semi-final of 2013. The hurt and the sense of loss can either finish off or make up a team.

Kerry rode their luck against valiant Mayo but there was more. In the end Kerry won because we refused to die. We love the infinite gentle friendliness of Donegal and I hope you do not take offence from our praising Kerry but there's no point in feigning mock impartiality. And if Donegal beat us, we will give them due credit here on Monday.

In Kerry, football has been the glory game and it has always been this way. For us there is no purer expression of the love we bear for our native place than the winning of an All-Ireland.

The All-Ireland isn't just played on the third Sunday in September in Croke Park. Our kids play the All-Ireland final several times a day every day. The final is played on by-roads with a Mohican of grass running up the middle and in and out through goal-post front gates in busy urban estates.

Here is a true maternity story. The pregnant Kerry mother feels the kick. She smiles, and says to her partner, "a footballer".

The dad asks "which leg is it?" The mother replies, and this is what she actually said to the father of her child, "I can't see from here."

Later, after the baby bursts out from defence in to the light of day, the child will kick off the blanket in the cot. "A citeoig," the dad will say, "like myself."

It goes from the cradle to the grave.

There is an older Kerry lady in exile, who is half-way between this world and the next. The lady is an excellent judge of literature. She reads this column every week. We called to see her a few weeks back and she's still to the good.


"I'm in the departure lounge," she whispers with a smile. Death holds no fears for her. The wise lady sees her endgame as no more than a portal to a new and enhanced life after life.

The rosary beads are wrapped around her thin fingers as she prays for Kerry. Her weak voice masks a fighting heart. The words spoken are barely audible above the gentle autumn breeze, lilting in through the open window of her bedroom .

"I'm praying Kerry win one more All-Ireland before I go."

You'd think the Kerry woman would be praying for a premium level seat in heaven. The team always comes first.

Donal Walsh, the brave teenager, spent his final days trying to save lives of those who are in danger of dying by suicide. He supported our boys in Croke Park when we last played in an All-Ireland final and now they're backing him. Our senior and minor teams wear his wrist bands, night and day.

Donal is their hero from their own time. The young men of Kerry are loyal to those who have gone before. The words engraved on the bands are Donal's. "Livelife. A door will open."

Kerry it is then to honour Donal and to give a fitting send-off to the faraway lady playing her last match, in time added on.

Irish Independent