Wednesday 22 May 2019

Billy Keane: 'One pony and 4,000 beach balls: a tale that can save Jim Gavin's Dubs'

Jim Gavin. Photo: Sportsfile
Jim Gavin. Photo: Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

It's that time of the year again, when men and women without any sense make predictions with the certainty of those who are never wrong. I'm lucky in that I am seldom wrong. There's a touch of the Pope about me, with that uncanny ability to be always right.

I have predicted the winners of the All-Ireland football championship for the last four years. And I expect to be right again this year.

The phrase 'five-in-a-row' is banned in Dublin so as not to heap pressure on the players. You would swear they couldn't count.

The lessons learned from the strange but true tale of the Brogans' cousin, the circus pony and the 4,000 Mayo beach balls will surely save Dublin from the hype.

Denis Keane-Stack was a tall, rangy full-forward who terrorised defences during the golden years of Kerry football. I often played in the full-forward line with 'Din'.

At the time I was lighter than a jockey riding at bottom weight in a Flat handicap. Din minded us and fed us all, but he could score too from close in.

It was 1982 and Kerry were hot favourites for the five-in-a-row. The final was to be played the week before the Listowel Races.

The plan was for Sam to be paraded around the town, where the many thousands who attended Ireland's finest racing festival would cheer on the team.

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Din spotted a business opportunity and so he ordered 4,000 green and gold beach balls from a company in Mayo, by the name of Mayco.

The shiny balls had the words Kerry-5-in-a-row printed thereon in bold, black lettering.

Din paid a large sum up front. The balls were stored in various hay sheds and outhouses in the yard of Din's farm, just outside Listowel. Four-thousand balls take up a lot of space. Not one of the 4,000 would ever get kicked by a Kerry shoe.

Din's dad Mick decided to take a walk out to the farm yard on a sunny day in the early autumn of 1982. Michael was getting on a bit and wasn't in the best of health. Din ran the farm and got on famously with his dad.

But Mick was in shock when he saw the 4,000 green-and-gold balls nestling among the hay in the shed, like large dappled duck eggs. But there was another surprise for Mick.

I know I promised a sure-to-come-true prediction. Please bear with me, as the nudist said to his missus when she refused to take off her clothing.

Listowel's version of Goff's takes place in the streets of the town four times every year.

Mick Shea, as he was known around here, was looking out the window of our pub on the first Thursday in July of 1982 when he spotted a handsome Shetland pony.

My late father talked his friend into buying the pony as a present for the kids. Feargal, Darragh and Tomás were living in Listowel at the time.

My dad did not know when he made Mick buy the pony that the purchase could have ramifications far beyond the buying of a miniature horse from the outside of a shop window.

Jim Gavin, take heed. Deeds and actions can have unintended consequences. Mick's kids were happy out kicking ball. More of the same Jim, more of the same.

It was only after another pint or two that Mick realised he didn't have room for a pony.

Mick was in a fix as he did not consult with his wife Joan. Din, ever helpful, offered to keep the Shetland until a suitable stable was built. The Shetland was still lodging in Din's shed come September.

Din's dad Mick said after his walk around the farmyard: "I don't know what that young lad is up to. First of all he bought a circus pony and now he's after buying thousands and thousands of footballs."

Kerry lost. Din was left with 4,000 seemingly unsaleable beach balls in the days before global warming.

But Din did not despair. He sold the 4,000 balls to an Offaly businessman and the two of them made a handy enough profit. I'm only sorry I didn't keep a few myself. The balls would be antiques by now.

The story of the pony and the 4,000 balls links two of the finest GAA families who ever played the game. The late Mick Shea who bought the Shetland on an impulse is Micheál Ó Sé, the father of Feargal, Darragh, Tomás and Marc.

I often wonder what would have happened if the pony found his way to the Ó Sé house. Would the four boys have become jockeys? And would Kerry ever again win an All-Ireland?

Din's father Mick was a brother of the Brogans' grandfather Jamesey.

The story of the pony and the 4,000 beach balls will be told by Gavin many times over in the Dublin dressing-room this year.

It will come to pass that in 2019 a Shetland pony and 4,000 Mayo footballs will save Dublin from overconfidence, and they will now surely win the five-in-a-row.

Din Stack went on to become mayor of Listowel. The same man was never once over-confident, or under-confident.

Din never lost an election. One of his more famous statements was about the state of the roads.

"There's a pothole around here," said Din "and it's deep enough to bathe a child in."

The deepest pothole for Dublin will be the love and over-confidence of their own supporters. The 'Drive For Five' hype will be impossible to escape, but these Dublin players are sound and will cope with the pressure.

What became of the Shetland, you may well ask? Din kept the shaggy pony until a good home was found for the small Scot.

The donee family came from Tipp or Limerick, or some place with more stables than kennels.

Not one of the Shetland's new family ever kicked a ball, but I'm told they were stone-mad about the showjumping, the pony racing and the hunting.

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