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Legends of '70s setting the standard for Austin Stacks

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Austin Stacks manager Stephen Stack and Kieran Donaghy celebrate after their Munster SFC Club semi-final victory over Ballincollig. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Austin Stacks manager Stephen Stack and Kieran Donaghy celebrate after their Munster SFC Club semi-final victory over Ballincollig. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Austin Stacks manager Stephen Stack and Kieran Donaghy celebrate after their Munster SFC Club semi-final victory over Ballincollig. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Cork Constitution rugby club is the meeting point tomorrow for their '16th Man.' Every connoisseur of Gaelic football knows of Rock Street in Tralee, a road virtually paved with All-Ireland medals.

Austin Stacks' footballers have already amassed 89 senior medals, and if you throw in minor, U-21, junior and ladies - plus John Barry's junior hurling one - it rounds up to a neat 200.

Cheering them on in tomorrow's Munster final against The Nire will be their famous '16th Man' supporters' club, providing a tumultuous wave of noise.

Eleven buses of supporters will arrive at Con, grab a bit of grub, and then head off on their now-traditional parade to the ground, complete with band and well-rehearsed chants.

The tradition began around the time of their last Kerry senior title, 20 years ago, a gap they finally bridged this year, and now it's the kids of '94 that lead it, including Billy Sheehan.

He is best known as a Laois footballer but his heritage - his dad Timmy was wing-forward on the famous Rockies team that won the 1977 All-Ireland club title - means that on big-match days Billy is the man with the megaphone, the chief cheerleader of Stacks' fantastically vocal supporters.

His father still marvels at the memories of some of their glory days, like the 1975 Munster final which went to a second replay against Nemo Rangers, all three games played in Limerick.

"One of the most significant things about those games is that 10 All Stars were involved," Timmy Sheehan recalls. "Five for us and five for Nemo!"

The Rock's stellar line-up in the '70s was truly blinding, featuring Mikey Sheehy, Ger Power, Ger and John O'Keeffe as well as Cork's All Star midfielder Dinny Long.

Nemo were their nemesis on more than one occasion, packed with their own superstars like Billy Morgan, Dinny Allen, Frank Cogan, Brian Murphy and Jimmy Barrett.

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The Cork giants beat them by two points (2-6 to 1-7) in the '74 Munster final and again (by 1-9 to 0-10) at the end of that epic three-game tussle in '75.

A year later, in their third Munster final in a row, Stacks faced another Cork team, St Finbarr's, and Sheehan still recalls the dramatic last moments.

Scored

"We got a penalty and Mikey scored it with the last kick of the game. Everyone was thinking, 'Ah, he'll put it over' for a draw but he went for it, like only he could," he says.

"If he'd missed we wouldn't have won Munster or the All-Ireland, everything hung on that kick."

Sheehan points out what a huge work-load Stacks' '70s superstars had.

"In '76 John O'Keeffe also captained Kerry. They were beaten by Dublin in the All-Ireland final and, a week later, all those players lined out for us in the county final, and we played in the first round of Munster another week later. And people talk about 'burnout' nowadays!" he says.

They went all the way that season. Sheehan provided a vital goal against Portlaoise in the semi-final but they didn't have it all their own way against Derry champions Ballerin in the All-Ireland, winning 1-13 to 2-7.

"We had a marvellous game with Portlaoise and we conceded two goals very early to Ballerin and gave them a seven- or eight-point start," recalls Dinny Long.

Stacks' Cork star, a native of Millstreet, crossed the border because his cousin was vacating a job there and offered it to him.

"He asked me if I'd be interested in going to Tralee and I told him I'd no notion of it but I said I'll give it six months and see how it goes. It's 44 years later and I'm still here," Long chuckles, quipping that to officially qualify as a local he'd still need to "take out a 'country membership' and add another 50 or 60 years to my life."

He'd already played against and alongside (in the Railway Cup) the club's Kerry stars but his first digs in Tralee proved particularly fortuitous, just a few doors away from Sheehy's home, and the pair became firm friends.

"It's quite a small area," he says of the club's heartland. "Even though Tralee is quite a big town you have four clubs playing out of it and Rock Street is a very tight-knit community.

"The players all live quite close to each other and that helps to create that tightness, and the supporters are the same."

His son Darragh is part of this year's glory run.

"After playing 16 or 17 years he finally won his county championship medal this year and I was delighted for him. It would be wonderful if they could do it in Munster too," says Long.

The Rockies won in Kerry in 1979, '86 and '94, so this year's success has been long-awaited.

Timmy Sheehan went on to become one of the great pillars of Tralee Tigers, another club that put the town on the national sporting map. His basketball passion meant the small white ball never appealed to him, but Long, now retired from his electrical business, plays off eight and his regular golfing buddies are often a cast of ex-All Stars.

Tomorrow, he says, is not just for the next generation of standard-bearers like Kieran Donaghy but for all of Rock Street's "unsung heroes, the people who've been looking after the juveniles and keeping the club going in bad times as well as good".

"They have their day out when the team plays in a county final and whenever we produce players who line out for Kerry at any level. That's their reward, to go to Cork tomorrow and see the team play in the Munster final and I hope they have the luck that we had there," says Long.

"There's great camaraderie between all the lads," he adds of his great buddies from the golden team of '77.

"You'll get a phone call from Ger Power or someone asking you to play (golf) tomorrow and we'll head out and that's lovely. Like they say, it's more about the people that you meet than the medals or trophies that you win. They're friends for life."


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