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My Club and I: Kieran O'Leary

Thursday, October 30, 2014

In this week's My Club and I, we speak to Kerry's All-Ireland winning joint-captain Kieran O'Leary about his club Dr Crokes.

He does unbelievable things, but he is a great motivational leader as well. He will give you advice and he will show you the way. He gives you the feeling that if you go with him, he will do the rest.
O'Leary on Colm Cooper

By Arthur Sullivan

Dr Crokes are based in the town of Killarney, Co. Kerry. They play in black and amber and their grounds are at Lewis Road in the town.

Dr Crokes field a hurling team - the only club in Killarney to do so - and they have had some success in the sport, but Gaelic football is undoubtedly the main focus of the club. They recently won the Kerry Club Championship, not to be confused with the Kerry Senior Championship, the final of which was played last weekend.

Dr Crokes have won the Kerry Senior Football Championship on 10 occasions, with only Austin Stacks and Laune Rangers having won more. Dr Crokes won four county titles in a row from 2010-2013, but were knocked out of this year's competition by local rivals Legion back in July. As Kerry Club Championship winners though, they could yet represent Kerry in this year's Munster Championship, should divisional side Mid Kerry beat Austin Stacks in next weekend's county SFC final replay (see explanation below).

Dr Crokes have won the Munster Club Championship six times, including three in a row from 2011-2013. However, their finest hour came in 1992 when they won what is to date their only ever All-Ireland club title, beating Thomas Davis (Dublin) in the final. Their other final appearance came in 2007, when they were beaten by Crossmaglen (Armagh) after a replay.

Founded in 1886, Dr Crokes is the home club of two of the most iconic figures in GAA history - Dick Fitzgerald and Dr Eamonn O'Sullivan.

Dr Crokes

Profile

Founded: 1886
Grounds: Lewis Road, Killarney
Colours: Black/Yellow
Status: Senior
All-Ireland titles: 1 (1992)

However, Dr Crokes' greatest son is surely Colm Cooper. The Kerry legend is revered as one of the greatest footballers of all time throughout Ireland, and he is regarded as an extremely loyal and committed clubman at Lewis Road, where he has won many honours as a player and where he continues to be a central figure.

Alongside Kieran O'Leary, Johnny Buckley and Fionn Fitzgerald, he forms part of a strong core of Dr Crokes players currently involved with the reigning All-Ireland champions.

For more about Dr Crokes, visit drcrokes.com

(Dr Crokes' pitch at Lewis Road, Killarney)

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Q: Dr Crokes recently won the Kerry Club Championship - which is different from the main senior championship, the final of which was played last weekend. Could you explain the nature of the competition you won?

A: We were beaten in the main senior championship - the one that has divisional sides in it - in mid July. But fortunately enough we were going well in the club championship, which is for clubs only and doesn't include divisional sides at all. We beat our local rivals Legion in the final and we will be representing Kerry in the Munster Senior Club Championship if Mid Kerry win the Senior Championship replay next weekend against Austin Stacks, as they can't go forward, as a divisional side, in that competition.

Q: How seriously is the competition that you won this year regarded? Surely the senior championship is the one to win...

A: Yes, it would be seen as a secondary prize because everyone wants to win the main county championship. But the club championship is nice to win. In the first couple of years when we won the county championship (2010, 2011) we were actually beaten in the club championship, which gave us no second chance to represent Kerry if we were to be beaten by a divisional side in the main championship. So it's a good one to win.

Q: If Mid Kerry were to win on Sunday, meaning you would represent Kerry in the Munster and possibly All-Ireland series, would the fact that you didn't win the main competition in Kerry take away from any possible run outside of the county?

A: We would just see it as another opportunity. Because funnily enough, we were beaten in the county championship final in 2006 by South Kerry, but as we were runners-up to a divisional side (there was no club championship that season) we went on to represent Kerry in Munster and we went all the way to St Patrick's Day and the All-Ireland Club final in March 2007. So we didn't even win the county final that year but it was still a great year.

(Kieran O'Leary in action against Crossmaglen in the drawn 2007 All-Ireland Club SFC Final at Croke Park)

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Q: Going back to that time in 2006/2007, that was around the beginning of your time with the Dr Crokes senior team. Can you remember your breakthrough on to the senior team at the club?

A: My first experience with the senior team was in 2005. Pat O'Shea was the manager and I was called up for a county league final. I was on the bench. We were losing by five points and Pat brought me on with five minutes to go. I got a goal and set up another goal. It was a spectacular occasion for me because it was my first ever taste of senior football, but I actually didn't really play again for them for the rest of the year because I was still a minor at the time.

My first involvement then in a county senior championship game was against Milltown-Castlemaine back in Laune Rangers. I was fortunate enough to be playing inside with Colm Cooper and he set me up for 3-2 or something like that! So I had a great start to my senior football career with Dr Crokes.

Q: You went on to win Munster then in 2006 and went all the way to All-Ireland final, where Crossmaglen got in your way...

A: We beat The Nire (Waterford) in the Munster final and we only scored a point in the second half. It was a tough game but it was a great occasion at the same time. As for St Patrick's Day then, I had played in Croke Park as a Kerry minor before, but that was my first time to play there with the club. Crossmaglen had a lot of experience and we were very young. We threw everything we could at them but in the replay, they just were far superior to us. They are a great club side and they have continued to prove that.

Q: Dr Crokes won three Munster titles in a row from 2011-2013 and could well win a fourth this year. But you haven't won an All-Ireland title yet. Is it something that you still see as a realistic aim for this current generation of players?

A: We still have a young side and I would be hopeful that the future is bright. I still believe that we are good enough to win the county championship again. Unfortunately it didn't go our way this year, but I definitely think that the players are there. We just need to jump that semi-final hurdle to at least give ourselves a crack in an All-Ireland Club Final, because we haven't gotten past a semi-final since 2007. We're going to assess things now soon for the new season and hopefully we'll be able to give ourselves a chance in the future but we're not ruling out this year yet. You don't know the way it's going to happen with the final replay next Sunday. We're still training, just in case it does happen.

Q: How did your underage career progress with Dr Crokes? Did you ever play with a divisional side during those years?

A: At U14 and U16 level I played with East Kerry because Dr Crokes couldn't cope on its own at that stage but after that I always represented Dr Crokes alone. I didn't have massive success underage. We won league titles and I got to county finals and stuff but I never won an underage county championship. We usually lost finals to divisional sides because they were so strong. But when we got to minor level, it changed. We got stronger and fitter and a few of us started playing with the senior team and that was the making of a lot of us.

(The 1992 All-Ireland winning Dr Crokes team, with Colm Cooper, the team mascot, kneeling in front)

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Q: Do you have any memories of Dr Crokes winning their one and only All-Ireland back in 1992? You were only four years old...

A: Funnily enough I can remember the open top bus in the town after the game but I was so young, I can't remember much else although I was at the game with my mother, I know. My father was secretary of the club at the time and my uncle was playing and I still know a lot of the players from that game - they are still being spoken about.

Q: You mentioned your father and your uncle there..do you have a strong family connection with Dr Crokes?

A: My father John was the secretary at the time in 1992, he wasn't playing. He was a major influence on my career. My uncle Noel O'Leary was midfield on the 1992 team, he also played a bit for Kerry, and he was captain of Dr Crokes at one stage I think. He was our manager at Dr Crokes in recent years. Then I have two brothers involved. Johnny is still minor, he's a goalkeeper and then David, who plays corner-back with the senior team. So I have big family links with the club and that's the way it has always been for us.

Q: Colm Cooper is an icon not just of Dr Crokes, but of Kerry, Gaelic football and Irish sport in general. What is it like being the clubmate of one of most iconic figures in Gaelic football history?

A: For me, it has been a huge learning curve. In my opinion, he's the best of all time. I might be biased in that because I play with him and I learn off him. But he's an inspirational leader, a great clubman, great for advice to young players, and someone who does everything for the good of the team. He's also brilliant with the young kids at the club on Saturday mornings. He's working with them every weekend and he's just a pure clubman. I have nothing but admiration for Colm Cooper.

Q: It's often said that what players of Colm Cooper's stature do away from the cameras is even more impressive than what we see in public. Is that the case with Colm?

A: Without a doubt. When he speaks, you listen. He has done it all. He's achieved unbelievable things personally and he does unbelievable things, but he is a great motivational leader as well. He will give you advice and he will show you the way. He gives you the feeling that if you go with him, he will do the rest. That's the kind of character he is.

(Colm Cooper jokes with O'Leary and other teammates after the 2011 Munster SFC Club Final win over UCC)

**

Q: How is he physically at the moment after his knee injury? Is he training fully with Dr Crokes?

A: The rehab is going extremely well for him. He is still concentrating on building up the strength in his leg. He's not training with us at the moment but he's training extremely hard on his own. He's going to give it absolutely everything so that he can make a big contribution next year both for Kerry and for Dr Crokes. He's very eager to get back into a Kerry jersey and he's giving himself every chance.

Q: Colm has a lot of older brothers who played for Dr Crokes in the past. Are many of them still involved with the club?

A: His brother Markie Cooper is still involved with the juvenile teams at the club - he trains the U12 and U14 teams because he has a young fella playing. Then there are few others scattered all around the place. They are great supporters and club people and they always try and do what they can.

Q: What's your set-up like at Lewis Road?

A: The main pitch is in phenomenal condition. We have a stand overlooking it and there's a terrace on the opposite side. We have a fully floodlit field which is great for training in winter. We have a fantastic juvenile area then behind the main field, and that's a good area to use for the juveniles when the main pitch is being used by the senior team. We also have a huge gym with great facilities including ice baths. There's constant work being done at Dr Crokes. We're always trying to be better and so I have no complaints about our facilities - they are top notch.

Q: Dr Crokes have some illustrious figures in their history, Dick Fitzgerald and Dr Eamonn O'Sullivan among them. Is history a big thing at the club?

A: The history of the club is a major thing. There are pictures everywhere. Dr Crokes is an old, proud club and we are very proud of what we have achieved down through the years. The things that past players have done are always remembered and to have someone like Dick Fitzgerald associated with your club is something to celebrate.

(Kieran O'Leary with the Sam Maguire Cup last month)

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Q: You lifted the Sam Maguire Cup this season for Kerry - a direct result of being from Dr Crokes. How did the club celebrate your achievement with the county team?

A: The club always gives great support to the county players and myself and Fionn Fitzgerald were just lucky that we got the opportunity to be captains this year. We decided last year that Colm Cooper would be the captain but unfortunately he picked up that nasty injury. I was nominated in his absence and because I found it hard to break onto the starting team, Fionn was often the captain on the day so we decided to make it a joint captaincy for the year. The support we got from the club was unbelievable. When we won the Sam Maguire, they held a massive night for us on the Tuesday after. All the Kerry players were there and they threw on a massive spread for everyone. It was a huge social gathering and I would be forever grateful to the club for what they have done for me over the years and I can't wait to get stuck into the club fully when I retire. Hopefully I can help other young fellas experience the same things that I have.

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