Kerry's All Ireland SFC triumph in 2000
By Cian O'Connell
A sweet sense of satisfaction is attached to every All Ireland win, but Kerry’s 2000 triumph matters deeply in An Ghaeltacht.
Providing four starting players and with the late Páidí Ó Sé patrolling the line an early October Saturday evening 17 years ago lingers in the memory.
The backdrop was strange with the Hogan Stand being reconstructed, but Kerry had the requisite craft and character to prevail.
Despite a wretched start in the drawn match, Galway had responded impressively and even squandered a couple of late chances to steal victory.
Kerry were primed for the replay and not even Declan Meehan’s goal following Paul Clancy’s delicious pass could disturb the Kingdom.
Dara Ó’Cinnéide acknowledges the importance and significance of that win for the An Ghaeltacht club. “Hugely, it was one of the big high points of my career as a Ghaeltacht man,” Ó’Cinnéide accepts.
“I have a very distinct recollection of it, being in the parade knowing there was four An Ghaeltacht lads on one side and looking across at two or three Irish speakers on the other side.”
Galway featured two players from Bóthar An Chillín, Seán Ó’Domhnaill and Seán Óg de Paor, who grew up 200 yards apart on a famous road in An Cheathrú Rua.
Gaeilge and its relevance to a proud community had truly started to capture Ó’Cinnéide’s attention. “It was a big thing for me at the time because I had just started working with Raidio na Gaeltachta myself and I was getting a sense of what the Gaeltacht was all about,” he recalls. “Even though I had lived there all my life there was just a sense of it and it was a very powerful force.
“I'd be always watching who Donegal have from Gaeltacht clubs, Comortas Peile na Gaeltachta, with us winning it this year, it has always been a big thing for me. That Gaeltacht identity.
“I would have known De Paor and Sean Ó'Domhnaill, in particular, from playing in Comortas Peile na Gaeltachta and here you are trying to bring them down in an All Ireland Final.”
The stakes were particularly high for a small, but progressive Kerry club. Páidí Ó’Sé’s role in their development hasn’t been forgotten by Ó’Cinnéide, who also highlighted Liam Ó’Rócháin’s sterling service to the An Ghaeltacht cause.
Tomás and Darragh Ó Sé, Aodan MacGearailt, and Ó’Cinnéide were key figures for Kerry in 2000. “It was a huge high point for us as a club, to have four lads lining out in the parade in an All Ireland,” Ó’Cinneide says.
“Marc came on the stage after and Aodan might have drifted away, but you had four starters in an All Ireland Final from a small club that still hadn't won a Senior County Championship at home.
“Páidí was under pressure at that time aswell with the team selection, and Maurice Fitzgerald not starting. Maurice wasn't starting because he was injured and nobody ever said that, including Maurice.
“Páidí was under pressure and hearing that he was picking his own boys and the Gaeltacht lads. There was a famous comment, one day when we came down for breakfast in a hotel, maybe for one of those finals and he said will ye spread out lads to give me some chance.
“The whole county was critical of Páidí even though he got us to an All Ireland Final. He was being criticised for picking his own nephews and clubmen which wasn't the case. He had four other selectors with him, that was a stick to beat him with at the time even though An Ghaeltacht were the up and coming club in the county at the time. All four of us deserved our places at the time.
“It was a stick to beat Páidí with, but it was a source of huge pride that you could have four lads from our club lining out and you could look across to see Sean Óg and Sean Ó'Domhnaill. It was a high point for us as a Ghaeltacht community.”
Now, a couple of decades later hope has returned to An Ghaeltacht. Aided by the emergence of Pobalscoil Corca Dhuibhne, who continue to be trained by Eamonn Fitzmaurice, An Ghaeltacht are manufacturing a fine crop of footballers once more.
“I don't know if it will ever happen again because the population is in decline, but we have a decent team at the moment,” O’Cinnéide remarks.
“Again it is a golden generation with players, who have won Hogan Cups. Eamonn Fitzmaurice has done a lot of work with them inside in the school and a lot of work was done at underage level with them in the club.
“Back in the 2000s we were riding on the crest of a wave with the club. We had played senior in 1999, we got to a County Final in 2000, we eventually won the County Championship in 2001. The rising tide was lifting all boats as far as we were concerned at the time.
“It was great. I was 25 years of age at the time, Darragh O Sé was 25, Tomas and Aodan were what, 22, we were in our prime. Darragh was starting to lead from midfield, it was the first year I had taken over the free taking duties, we were all growing up along with that team.”
Meath and Galway were the other serious All Ireland contenders during the era. “Meath had won in 96, we won in 97, Galway 98, and Meath again in 99, by the time you got to 2000 it was Kerry and Galway back,” O’Cinnéide states.
“The big memory I have is that there was no Hogan Stand. The surroundings itself, it was a strange one. Meath got knocked out earlier in the year, I think it might have been Offaly or somebody, who beat them and Trevor Giles made the comment 'ah, who wants to win an All Ireland at a building site anyway' as a kind of a throwaway.
“It was important for us in a way and even at the time it was mentioned, even more so now, it was a landmark, the 2000 Final, the Millennium Final, it was built as such. Kerry had won in 84, the Centenary Final, these things you come up with so it was a small bit of extra motivation.”
Distinguished figures in the decorated history of Kerry football were dotted all over the field and even on the substitutes bench. Seamus Moynihan, stationed at full-back was the captain, leader, and inspiration.
“One of the great players we had at the time was Moynihan, who was captain,” O’Cinnéide says. “He was getting better and better and better with every game. That is a big memory from the games Moynihan versus (Padraig) Joyce, I know Paul Clancy went in on him at different stages, but Moynihan was very much our leader on the field in those days.
“He was inspirational altogether that year. I know from the first game we streaked ahead, but we got hauled in. We were very lucky to stay alive at the end of the drawn game.”
During a gripping end game Kerry, who had been so strong initially, were clinging on. Galway just couldn’t deliver the knockout blow.
“I have a very clear picture of Tomas Ó Sé chasing one of the Galway lads, I think it might have been Michael Donnellan and he was trying to grab his jersey,” O’Cinnéide laughs.
“If he grabs that jersey it is a kickable free, Niall Finnegan kicks it, and Galway win the All Ireland. I've said it to Tomas that if he was half a yard faster we would have one All Ireland medal less because he wasn't fast enough to catch Donnellan and Donnellan miskicked it and we got away with it.
“Galway had chances at the end of the game, but we were dominant early in the game, it just slipped away from us as a game.
“I think we were eight points to one up, Johnny Crowley was on fire, we were getting the scores handy and all of a sudden we are struggling for oxygen at the end. It was just that kind of a game and it was a habit we had for all of that year, letting big leads slip.
“It happened again and that was a big thing going into the replay, trying to atone for that, trying to get that out of our system for once and for all.”
Within minutes of the sequel starting Declan Meehan roofed a goal for the ages, but Kerry recovered.
“It was as good a goal as you'd get in an All Ireland Final,” O’Cinnéide admiringly admits. “Paul Clancy's over the shoulder pass and Meehan steaming up along the Cusack Stand side and he nailed it into the corner. Declan O'Keeffe didn't even dive, it was such a perfect shot into the back stanchion.”
Ultimately Kerry powered to a deserved win, but during the autumn O’Cinnéide watched the action once more.
“We can romanticise about it too, though, in ways,” O’Cinnéide replies. “I never really do this, but when there was going to be a replayed All Ireland last year, this was the first one since the 2000 game and RTE put it up on an archive slot on their website.
“I was idle one night and I went watching it, I think it was the replay they put up. Some of the stuff we did, both teams, was brainless. At the time both teams had a respect for each other and there was a perception outside the counties, Kerry and Galway, that these were just two teams who play football.
“Just throw the ball in, let them get on with it and there was no real tactics as such. When you look at it in late September last year heading into the Dublin and Mayo replay, just for pigiron I watched it, and I just cringed thinking I can't believe I did that or he did that.
“As a coach now, as somebody who is on the sideline with a club team now you'd be thinking why did you that? It is very humbling to watch that again, we weren't half as good as we thought we were,” he laughs.
From those tussles Declan O’Keeffe (Roscommon), Kevin Walsh (Galway), Eamonn Fitzmaurice, Liam Hassett, and Maurice Fitzgerald (Kerry) will all have some coaching or managerial involvement in Sunday’s All Ireland SFC Quarter-Final double header at Croke Park.
O’Cinneide always felt that Fitzmaurice would make a mark when his playing career ended. “Absolutely, Eamonn Fitzmaurice in particular,” O’Cinnéide adds. “He was only a kid in those teams, he was a year or two younger than us. One thing about Fitzmaurice as a player, he mightn't have been a great League player, but the bigger the game the better he got. History will back that out.
“He cracked a point against Armagh when it was needed, he did the same against Galway when there was nothing happening upfront, he took the initiative, he bombed forward to bomb a point.
“He always had that aura about him. It is easy to say it now when he becomes a respected manager, but it is unusual to have a lad two years younger than you that has your respect straightaway. He had that.”
Fitzmaurice could cope in any company. “I don't know what it is, but he had it. Hassett similarly, more so in subsequent years after 2000, he became a strong voice and a leader. Of course Fitzgerald, Fitzy was a genius.
“Everyone knew that three years previously we had a medal in our pocket because of him. We won't say single handedly, we all contributed in some small way, but nobody contributed as much as him in 1997.
“He has that status still until this day. I would love to be inside in the dressing room myself 20 years younger listening to what he is saying to the young lads these days. Maurice is like a God in Kerry, very few people have that status.” Kerry’s annual quest for Sam Maguire always excites, but the 2000 odyssey brought an extra layer of greatness and glory to Ard A’Bhóthair.