Tuesday 20 February 2018

Club loyalty needed now more than ever

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Listowel Emmets was founded 125 years ago this week. I have been involved in our club, one way or another, since the day I was born.

My poor mother could hear the roars from the sportsfield as she was giving birth in the nearby nursing home. Listowel won the North Kerry junior, senior and intermediate championships that very day.

Frank Sheehy Park sits between St Michael's College and St Michael's graveyard, where my dad is buried at right half-forward and my uncle Eamon in the right corner. Our primary school is just down the road as is the Community College. The setting for all the major events of your existence, over all of your life and death, is there in just a couple of hundred yards of street, for such is the topography of a small town.

The club's first quarter of a century was traumatic, with Black and Tans and civil wars.

In 1895, there was a split. The breakaway team was called St Patrick's Temperance Society. The 'Kerry Sentinel' sent a reporter to the game against John Mitchels.


"It seemed that the Listowel men had no chance against their opponents and instead of football play, managed only to break through the rules, and both black-coated supporters and players began to beat the men of the Tralee team." The reporter added: "Not a very temperate performance by a team called the Temperance Society."

We won the amalgamated 1909 and 1910 county championship after two draws, well morally anyway. Laune Rangers objected when one of our boys was found to be a reservist in the British Army. He signed up a few years earlier when he was a kid and promptly forgot all about it.

Laune had secured a letter from the War Office, but our dressing-room lawyers contended the letter was written on British paper in British ink and was therefore inadmissible. The game was replayed and Rangers won but we still claim the victory.

Since then we have won many cups and the next one is always the best. Yes there have been rows over the years but most have been patched up. We are a pretty united bunch. The GAA is a democratic organisation and paradoxically there will be coups, insurgencies, plots and counter-revolution in every club come AGM time. The Emmets are no different but we always support our leader.

As a town team, there are times when we feel surrounded on all sides and it brings us closer together.

We are friends with our rivals off the pitch but we know the whole world is against us and we need to be five points better to win by one. Such is the way with town teams everywhere. Maybe we should form a support group.

There's a history of helping out. If one of our own is down we will do all we can to help out and I was a beneficiary of that legacy. I owe the Emmets so much -- the boy for the playing and the man for the following. There were our trainers who gave us a huge part of their lives and so many more.

You always had some place to go for a few kicks, someone to hang out with, pals who would be in your corner no matter what. Frank Cogan always said 'you'll never see a Nemo (Rangers) man on his own'. We are similar in that you can join anyone's company without invitation. There is a sense of ownership, belonging and loyalty.

The last lines my dad wrote were to John O'Donoghue in support of our application for a grant to drain our pitch. He was too weak to write and this is some of what he dictated: "Vincent Hartnett was sent off in a town league game for sitting on Lofty Kelliher's head in a pool of water. 'Why are you sending me off ref?' asked Vincent. 'Attempted drowning,' replied ref Berkie Browne."

O'Donoghue came good and we now have a fine stadium built and paid for by this generation after years of hard work.

Our brilliantly organised week of celebrations ends tomorrow with underage cups named for Paddy Healy and Jim Corridan.

The kids offer hope. You feel there will be something there when you are gone, something tangible and everlasting. Never before was the GAA so much needed by our kids in these days when every village has a dealer.

The GAA brings newcomers to a parish into the community and with them comes new life and new ideas. We are good at that.


Send your children up to the field. I have seen mothers from anywhere pram forlornly around town and then the kid plays for the Emmets and they have a new family.

This is mirrored all over the country, but it's our birthday.

I don't want in any way to portray myself as Mr Listowel Emmets. I am not. There are many who have given much more. This is a personal view because if I were to mention 100, I would be leaving another 100 out. Thanks, though, to club historians Vincent Carmody and Junior Griffin for the research.

I am now President (for life) of our thriving ladies club which includes several other teams in the area. And proud too of being an Emmets man. The black and gold is still to the good after 125 years but it is the red beating heart inside the jersey that makes us real and true to those who came before us.

I have but one instruction for the funeral, hopefully a long way off. Lay the Emmets jersey on my coffin. And make sure it's not the 16 to bloody 22 that I wore far too often.

Happy birthday beloved Listowel Emmets. May your candles stay lit forever.

Irish Independent

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