Wednesday 17 January 2018

Joe Brolly: I admire Eoin Liston (Kerry footballer)

Eoin Liston in action for Kerry
Eoin Liston in action for Kerry

Joe Brolly

Many years ago in Killarney, a woman approached me and told me she worked in the Park Place Hotel in Killarney when the "great Kerry team" used to eat there after training.

"I am a Cork woman, but my father was a Kerryman. There were three children and he used to say: 'I'll give you all a sweet if you shout Up Kerry.' The other two always buckled but I never did. I refused to say it. I never did get a sweet!"

Beatrice Houlihan recalled those Kerry men with glowing eyes. "Ger Power was very quiet," she said. "All he ever said was 'steak'. Bomber Liston could eat two steaks. They always left the hotel eating giant ice-cream wafers. Bomber had two, one in each hand. There were no nutritionists then. Great days. All lovely fellows."

I was at a fundraising lunch for Austen Stacks a few months ago and was joined on stage by the great man. Having started by remarking that he came into the team at "a time when they were struggling", Bomber recalled a league game against Roscommon in Hyde Park. Himself and Mikey Sheehy were darting left and right, making smart runs. Meanwhile, Pat Spillane was soloing furiously and taking long range potshots.

"After he had five wides, I could see Mikey getting cross. The next ball, Mikey made the perfect run across me into space. Pat never looked up, just kept soloing, then drove it wide again from 50 yards out, near the sideline. A moment later one of the Roscommon lads went down injured. Myself, Pat and Mikey went into a small huddle. 'We need to start working the one-twos lads,' said Pat. 'Pat,' said Mikey, 'I'd be happy with the one.'"

After the formalities, I sat drinking in the hotel bar with Paudie Lynch, Ogie Moran, Seán Walsh and the rest. I counted 64 All-Ireland medals in the company at one point. The Bomber directed proceedings.

"You see these hands, Derryman? Most human beings are born with skin on their hands. I was born with silk." I nearly spat out my pint.

Shortly after that, he reached for me and held me under his armpit. "The Derryman will sing a song now," he announced. "Shut up lads. Go on Derryman, away you go."

"I'd be more comfortable sitting up," I said.

"Fair enough," said the Bomber, who released me. When I'd finished, he said: "Jaysus, I thought you could sing better than that."

Seán Walsh (seven All-Irelands) was sitting with us. The Bomber recalled Seán struggling with nerves in the run up to big games.

"I used to pick up Charlie Nelligan. We'd meet Seán down at the pitch. Charlie would kick balls in on top of me and Seánie. I let him win every one. 'Jaysus Seán,' I'd say to him, 'Thank God I don't have to mark you on Sunday.'"

Kerry's first sports psychologist was also their greatest player. Huge, quick, two-footed, brilliant in the air, possessing every gift, he was unmarkable. In his first All-Ireland final he scored 3-2 from play. I asked Micko once who his greatest player was. "Without question, the Bomber."

Derry's Tony Scullion shared a room with him on an Aussie tour. By then, Bomber was a dilapidated veteran. On the first morning, Scullion awoke to see Bomber, naked from the waist up, standing in front of the mirror, caressing his pot belly.

"You see that Scullion?" said Bomber. "International football sensation."

Who would dare to disagree?

Sunday Independent

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