Rock of ages as Austin Stacks return to Portlaoise
On Sunday, Austin Stacks return to Portlaoise, where, in 1977, a team packed with legendary players took a giant step towards All-Ireland glory in front of 10,000 in O'Moore Park. Liam Kelly reflects on that team of yesteryear
HORDES of Austin Stacks supporters from the Rock Street area of Tralee will make their presence felt in Portlaoise on Sunday for the AIB All-Ireland club football semi-final, just as their forebears did 38 years ago.
The date was February 20, 1977, Portlaoise were the opposition, and the Stacks were in the semi-final for the first time in the club's history.
Their supporters flocked in their thousands to watch the Rockies, backboned by Kingdom All Stars Mike Sheehy, John O'Keeffe and Ger Power, take on the Leinster champions at their O'Moore Park home ground.
The estimated attendance was 10,000 and they saw a thrilling contest against a strong Portlaoise team.
It was a hard-fought encounter, with the Tralee club only pulling clear in the closing stages for a slightly flattering 1-14 to 2-6 result.
Former Kerry great Power has a memory of that game being played in heavy underfoot conditions.
"It was our first time to get that far and I suppose at that time we were lucky enough that we had a lot of county players," said Power.
The win set the stage for a March 13, 1977 date - no St Patrick's day for the club finals then - against Derry's Ballerin, who gave Stacks a mighty battle before the Kerry side, captained by O'Keeffe, won by 1-13 to 2-7.
Power was delighted that the Stacks broke a 20-year hoodoo to capture the Kerry title last October and the team's progression through Munster to the All-Ireland series has echoes of his playing days
"That win in '77 was great, but the run started in 1973. That year was a very important breakthrough year, because we won the county title for the first time in 37 years," says Power.
"We went on to win a few county titles after that, but it's something similar to the present team, except that our gap for a county title was 37 years, the boys' gap was 20 years."
Slaughtneil of Derry stand between the Kerry champions and a second All-Ireland final, and they won't be easily overcome. In fact, Power reckons it's difficult to make any predictions.
"With a county team you've a fair idea how they're going to play and perform, but on the club scene, I don't think you've any idea," says Power.
"You just have to give them a 50-50 chance, and, from our point of view, hope the Stacks go on to win it because both teams are an unknown quantity to an extent."
Austin Stacks fans will travel by train, coach, buses and cars to Portlaoise, and will parade at 3.0 from O'Loughlin's Hotel to O'Moore Park.
Among the leaders of the parade will be Laois footballer Billy Sheehan, who played with Stacks until 2004, and has settled in Laois. Billy's father, Timmy, played on the 1977 Stacks side.
There are a number of connections that link the panels of 1977 and 2015, starting with current selector Paul Lucey, who is a '77 man.
Colm Mangan, who played in the '77 semi-final and came on as sub in the final, has sons Fiachna and Brian on the current panel.
Denny Long, a former Cork star domiciled in Tralee for decades, has son Darragh on the squad; and Tony and Ger O'Keeffe's nephew Paul Galvin is also a member of the present panel.