Wednesday 21 March 2018


Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There's a cardboard box every GAA secretary dreads opening. It's the one with the black armbands. When you open that box it means one of your clubmates has died.

Brendan O'Driscoll collapsed while playing for Annascaul last Sunday in the West Kerry Championship. His life support machine was switched off on Wednesday at the Cork University Hospital. His loved ones were with him at the end. That is some consolation, but the final whistle was blown far too early. Brendan was only 28.

Brendan 'Bawney' comes from a famous sporting family. His uncles Tommy and Johnny Doyle played for Kerry. Tommy, some of you might remember, was one of the Golden Years team.

And, yes, he was the Tommy Doyle who was nudged by our good friend Seamus Darby back in 1982, when the Offaly supersub scored the dramatic winning goal in the five-in-a-row final.

Brendan's cousins, also O'Driscolls, grew up with him. I've never seen a bad O'Driscoll, either on the pitch or off it. Genie and Bingo won senior county honours.

Brendan was a fine soccer player too and won a junior international for his country.

There will be a minute's silence at tomorrow's Kerry county final for Brendan and Kerry goalie Garry O'Mahoney, who was one of the heroes of the Kingdom's famous win over Dublin in 1955. And we must not ever forget the bravery of Wicklow's Garda Ciaran Jones, who died trying to save others from the floods at Ballysmuttan Bridge.

GAA men know the games have to go on.

Crokes of Killarney take on Mid- Kerry from the surrounding parishes in tomorrow's final.

Mid-Kerry play a quick-ball game and, unlike most teams, they are not afraid to shoot from far out.

They are the outsiders, but I think it might be their year.

The Gooch from Crokes was the Kerry captain and there was massive sympathy for him around the county when Kerry lost to Dublin. If Crokes win tomorrow, he will get a second chance at the captaincy.

The inquiry continues into our defeat to Dublin. The referee will hardly be voted Kerry Man of the Year. If he was Native American, he would be named He Who Blew Too Soon.

Sarcasm aside, the Kerry consensus is, ahem, Dublin deserved to win, but we threw it away. We blame ourselves.

Mid-Kerry's Darran O'Sullivan was a nominee for Player of the Year, but well done to deserving winner Alan Brogan. No better lad and a credit to Listowel -- just like flying winger Billy Dennehy of League of Ireland winners Shamrock Rovers, whose dad Willie is one of ours, as is Alan's mother Marie. Am I biased? How dare you?

Darran, who was in Listowel for the races, opted to start with Mid- Kerry rather than play with Ireland this weekend. He had no other choice. If Darran went to Oz he would have let down his neighbours. The GAA must introduce a rule whereby a player picked for his country can have a club championship game postponed.

The county final is still the biggest club game of the year, but alas no longer a 'day out'. The drink-driving laws are very strict and have killed off an age-old custom. The smell of it now would put you over the limit. Research shows even small amounts of drink slow down vital decision-making. You can't argue with that.

Several of tomorrow's county final players played for brilliant UCC in the Cork final, when the students beat a brave Castlehaven side -- and there was a GAA first when UCC were awarded a penalty. In my day, us Kerry UCC exiles were only ever given a free in front of goal if we were 22 points down against a force 11 gale, with three seconds to go, and we had to kick it with a leg ravaged from woodworm. Referee James Dorgan was right to give the penalty. He's a fair and courageous man.

But football, important and all as it is in the fabric of our lives, is still but a game. Brendan's family would swap every medal they ever won if it would bring him back.

Young Brendan will be laid to rest today after 1.30 mass in Annascaul Church. The blue jersey of Annascaul will be draped across his coffin. There is no more heavenly route for a funeral cortege. The last sad journey home takes Brendan through a green valley with a row of old and noble mountains on either side, up then and over and through the glory of the purple West Kerry peaks, down to the coast at Camp where the sea is azure, the sands golden and the soft ocean breezes caress.

The GAA will march by the coffin, and so too will Brendan's soccer friends. There's no divide at times like this. I barely knew Brendan, but I have seen him play many times. He was honest, skilful too, a man who never let his team down. His friends say he had a gentle way about him and he loved his own place.

Surely there's an All Star in heaven for all that.

Irish Independent

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