Tuesday 21 November 2017

My father the hero of 1953 Intermediate final

He couldn't watch an All-Ireland. Off with him then. Out to Dirrah bog, where he walked at speed for the 70 and prayed for Kerry until the rosary beads nearly fell off the chain from the constant erosion between his thumb and index finger.

My dad always knew the result of the match before he ever got back to the car. If Kerry were beaten, walkers would be out on the wetlands within minutes of the final whistle. They couldn't bear to watch another county lift Sam. Their forlorn faces and funeral gait told their own story.

If not a soul appeared on the bog, on would go the car radio and Micheal O Muircheartaigh or Weeshie Fogarty or Liam Higgins would tell him Kerry won.

Then, he'd watch the recording. And he'd watch it again every couple of days after that until the following May when the championship started and there were new games to be savoured.

His 10th anniversary was on Wednesday last. I'm not as sad as you might think. Not that I don't miss him. He was great sport.


It was about a fortnight before dad died that another John Keane passed away. John's sister Nora is married to Tadhg Moriarty and the Moriartys are our friends and allies. Eugene Moriarty, who finished fourth in the World Cycling Championship, is one of the clan and is a true Corinthian.

Dad insisted on going to the graveyard. He was weak and very wobbly on his feet. On the way out he looked at me and said: "Sure it's hardly worth my while going home."

We broke down laughing even though both us were fully aware the ref was lifting the whistle to his mouth and that he would be back here for good, sooner rather than later.

We planted in the left half-forward position. There is no dice-throw of pebbles over his grave. It's grass, like the small square in the football field over the wall.

On Monday night he will hear the shouts of players and spectators in the John B Keane League. He'll be sitting on the arch of a Celtic Cross, legs dangling as he looks out over the graveyard wall into Frank Sheehy Park. He'll be cheering on his grand-daughter. In continuity there is a kind of here and now immortality.

The Listowel Emmets were always part of his life. His three sons played for the club. Conor and John made the Kerry minors and he was so proud, but he never let on in front of me.

On the night I was cut from Kerry minor training, he handed me a fiver and said: "Find a nice girl in Ballybunion and tell her your troubles."

He made no attempt to have me restored even though the trainer Seamus MacGearailt was a good friend. Which is as it should be.

But he would always back you up when the going got tough. I was a senior at 16 and was propelled into orbit with a cowardly punch from an opportunist assassin who specialised in taking out young lads. Dad ran on to the pitch to save me.

I was mortified. Someone tried to hold him back but it would have been easier to mop up the Feale and squeeze it into a bucket. The bully bolted. Later he said he was more afraid of what my dad might say to him than any physical punishment.

I was about six and he was coming to the end of his career at 36. Some lad hit him a shoulder and down he went. I started to bawl crying and ran on to the pitch. And he was mortified. I'm told he was a very good player. Fast, if furious, with a great leap for the ball.

He was 70 and was recovering from several courses of chemotherapy and radiation. Dad invited a young buck round the back of the stand in Listowel to sort things out. He was president of Listowel Emmets at the time and felt he should avenge every insult to his beloved club.

He kissed me when I won all of my one North Kerry championships back in the days when there wasn't much paternal kissing or hugging. Dad argued with half of Tarbert that day in the stands and 10 minutes after the match he was off drinking and singing with them.


That was him. The temper lasted no longer than a lightening flash but it was thunderous and spectacular.

He had a dark secret. Every family has one but this is very, very bad. Couldn't be worse in fact.

My dad spent some the happiest days of his life in Doneraile in county Cork, where he was a chemist assistant.

Dad played for Cork in a National League game against Waterford. The game was abandoned when the pitch became flooded -- with blood. The next round was against Kerry and he retired from Cork football before the game, undefeated.

Somewhere in the everywhere, he is with us. Exactly where or how, I do not know but I sense his presence. When I go to dad's allotment in the lea of the stands I feel he's advising me and I tell him my problems.

The days of rapid-fire Hail Marys merging like a closing concertina have passed. Now I talk to him. Maybe I'm some sort of medium ventriloquist and it's me talking to me, but I'm pretty certain he's there in that somewhere over the rainbow.

Dad died at 6.27am on May 30, 2002. On the 10th anniversary of his last act, I was up until nearly three getting ready for Writers Week but I woke early. At 6.27am. And I didn't set my clock. I wouldn't mind but never once in his life did he call us for school.

When asked how he wanted to be remembered there was no mention of Oscars or doctorates. "I want to be known as the man who scored the winning point in the Kerry Intermediate final of 1953."

Yes, I am happy we had him for so long and for the dad that he was. He was a great man for bringing small boys to big matches. It was Croke Park 1963 at the Grounds Tournament final between Kerry and Dublin. My first time. You never forget even if it was all those years ago. Dad lifted me up in his arms to show me the long drop from the height of the top of the Hogan Stand.

"What if I fall, dad?"

"Don't worry Bill, boy," he said. "You're safe here with me."

And I still am.

Irish Independent

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