Thursday 13 December 2018

Billy Keane: 'Maybe' often the first word in the story of Kerry hurling

John Lennon of Laois attempts to get away from Kerry’s Darren Dineen during their Leinster SHC clash in Tralee. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
John Lennon of Laois attempts to get away from Kerry’s Darren Dineen during their Leinster SHC clash in Tralee. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Kerry played Laois in the Leinster Championship in Austin Stack Park in Tralee yesterday. Yes, Tralee is in Leinster. New York and London are in Connacht and The Glens of Antrim are part of Greater Leinster.

The hurling world has been realigned in the much the same way as Europe was after a world war.

Kerry had to beat Laois to get through to the next round of the Leinster Championship. The maths are beyond me; it seems Laois didn't have to win, but they did.

Kerry went it at half-time to a huge ovation. Shane Nolan scored two brilliantly worked goals. A Laois man, in the toilet, told me he was thinking of heading home.

We met up with Mary Dunphy from Ballybrophy "where the train stops". Mary married off her son Michael to the lovely Eileen Ryan on Saturday. But she wasn't going to miss the game. Her boy William would have been playing but for a concussion picked up against Meath. The hurling people in the minority counties are staunch.

Fair play to Mary. She wasn't going anywhere, even though she was dressed up in her post wedding day, going-away finery.

Laois took over after half-time. Eamonn Kelly used to train Kerry and he is now in charge of Laois. His team talk would raise the Titanic based on the evidence of that early second-half charge. Kerry came out flat. Maybe it was down to losing concentration. 'Maybe' has often been the first word in the story of Kerry hurling.

Laois took over with clever hurling and well-taken scores. That was that.

Kerry had a player sent off and down below us a man asked who would be the next Kerry hurling manager.

Kerry have had more managers than Aston Villa. One or two in the past have been removed by player revolt. This was the curse of the coup.

In times of turmoil we always talk about the weather. The rain held off all through the game. The groundsmen and the farmers were praying for rain all week.

The San Andrean cracks in the scorched earth were such that a small bird or a badly tossed referee's coin might fall in to a crevice and never be seen again.

The hurling people were worried. The more pagan of the farmers danced naked under the yellow rays of the waning moon and paid homage to old weather Gods from the far distant Celtic twilight.

Then, on match day, there were showers to take the hardness out of the field.

In Kerry, hurling is the game of the country people from the left bank of the River Feale. The big towns of Tralee and Listowel are only a short journey away from the hurling lands, but there is little, if any, hurling played in either place. Football is the religion.

There is a story of a man who said hurls were only used for "baten lazy donkeys out of the bog". So all the more credit is due to the hurling folk for keeping the game alive. They carry on regardless, from generation to generation.

As we drove through the hurling lands on the way to Tralee, the wavy pastures of the North Kerry pampas stood no taller than the top of a soft sweeping brush. The land is mostly good, as good as anywhere, with cornfields and cows' udders swinging with the weight of the milk.

Ballyduff is the gateway. The land of my ancestors won an All-Ireland hurling championship back in 1891. They hurl hard and never take a backward step.

Ballyduff is home to the Boyles, who are excellent at every sport. Two of the clan played yesterday. Mikey and Padraig would grace any team in any county.

Padraig caught a high one and let go a rasper, but Enda Rowland in the Laois goal made the flying save of the year in the first-half.

For Laois, Patrick Purcell's runs caused trouble throughout. Like a good Cossack rider, he can shoot on the run.

Kerry fought back to get within a goal from a Mikey free. No Kerry player gave in.

You would have to be proud of them, but Laois were the better team. Kerry missed six frees, though, and conceded too many.

They were in it right until the last puck. Kerry used to run out of gas, but these lads trained hard and played hard throughout.

For Laois, Ross King was deadly accurate. They are a tidy team, but on yesterday's showing they will be up against it in the quarter-final. You would fear for them.

They had great support and I'd say the second day of Mary's young lad's wedding was a double celebration.

I have half a mind to head off for Ballybrophy.

We will drive home instead through the village of Ballyheigue on the Wild Atlantic Way. And then on to the lush lands of Kilmoyley, the county champions.

Neither place has a Gaelic football team. They prefer hurling around here in these North Kerry enclaves and the greatest game of all is given as much respect as in Bennetsbridge or Holy Cross or The Glen itself.


Our team care. People strive to keep the game alive and for that alone they deserve our support. And Kerry did manage to retain their Leinster status. There will be no Kexit.

Since time immemorial Kerry hurlers preferred to best the neighbours with pyrrhic victories in local wars.

Parishes are separated only by jumpable streams, low ditches and Brehon Law.

The hurling kids mostly go to the Causeway Comprehensive, where hurling is the big game in this excellent school. Their united Kerry team have had great success, winning several All-Irelands and playing open hurling.

Kerry, the county, are well respected now in the hurling world. We have some fine hurlers. If only we had more.

Mikey Boyle was sad and heavy-legged as he walked off the field following an interview. The stands were cleared and the mask was gone now. He did his best. And more than that

Outside the ground, in the Dunne's car park, four young lads from Laois were pucking the sliotar up against the back wall of Austin Stack Park. One small lad had a hurley no bigger than a wooden spoon.

Mikey won't be giving in any time soon and the youngsters from Laois will keep on knocking down walls. Hurling is in the blood, you see. It's bred in to them and the hurling people will keep on going, as long as there is a maybe.

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, a trip to Old Trafford to watch Man United take on Liverpool in the Premier League, tickets to Ireland's home games in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport