GAA Museum Hall of Fame - Jack O'Shea
By Cian O’Connell
It was a familiar sight in Caherciveen. A young Jack O’Shea waited patiently behind the goalposts, watching and acquiring knowledge about Gaelic Football.
Across the road from his home house O’Shea relished the role of ballboy at matches, but also when two South Kerry totems did their own extra training.
Mick O’Connell and Mick O’Dwyer were glad of the assistance, O’Shea monitored their style. Valuable lessons were learned by O’Shea, who subsequently enjoyed a decorated career of his own. At senior level O'Shea concluded with seven All Ireland titles, 10 Munster medals, three National Leagues, and six All Stars.
The first steps, though, on the journey were vital. O’Shea’s imagination was captured. “They used to come to Caherciveen to train regularly,” O’Shea remarked in a beautiful interview with Radio Kerry’s Terrace Talk.
“When they weren't training with Kerry, the days they were off they'd come in for a few kicks. I would go in to be their ballboy, to just watch what they were doing.
“I was ballboy for every game played in Caherciveen, I was always behind the goal. I had my own game kicking the ball back when it went over the bar or whatever went wide. We'd nearly have a contest behind the goal to kick it back. Mick O'Connell and Mick O'Dwyer were two idols, like two Gods.”
Gaelic Football’s basic principles were placed high on the agenda by O’Connell and O’Dwyer according to O’Shea.
“I remember just watching the skills, what they were doing,” O’Shea adds. “The two of them had the same beliefs and always will have in football: if you cannot catch and kick the ball you cannot play Gaelic Football. They are the two basics of the game really. They spent hours at that.
“Mick O'Connell to me had a very unique style. I've never seen anyone kick a ball like him. Dwyer was the one, a forceful man who would always give you 100 per cent. It showed in the teams he trained afterwards, he always translated that effectiveness he had as a player on to the teams.”
In the car travelling to Kerry senior alongside O’Dwyer provided fruitful and productive journeys. The night of the 1976 All Ireland Final defeat against Dublin, Jimmy Deenihan and John O’Keeffe spoke to O’Shea about his potential.
O’Shea heeded their words and became a key figure delivering on his vast underage promise at the highest level.
Returning to the summit was critical for Kerry in 1978. “By 1978 I was fortunate I had three Under 21s and a minor under my belt,” O’Shea stated.
“I remember in 1977 playing the All Ireland semi final I was 18 going on 19 and I was pitted against Brian Mullins, who was the king of midfielders at the time. It was a big ordeal for a fella of 18 or 19 because physically wise I had no hope, but it was a learning process in ‘77.
“We were given no chance going in against Mullins and Brogan, I remember at the time the two of us getting together in the dressing room saying we would give this 100 per cent. That was the beginning of Seanie and myself as a partnership. The game started off, Dublin seemed to be steamrolling us early on in the first 10 or 15 minutes, but then John Egan got a very good goal and the whole thing changed around then.
“Of course Bomber (Liston) then took over in the second half and gave an exhibition. That was a day when our team got the belief in themselves, that we could beat them. Dublin came back to beat Kerry in ‘76 and in ‘77 I think there was that bit of an inferiority complex there and a bit of nervousness in the Kerry team.
“A bit of self belief was missing, but in ‘78 this all turned. From there on Kerry took the initiative from Dublin and that was a very successful run.”
O’Shea is adamant that Kerry’s deep tradition is always a factor. “You get to learn that and you get to know that when you go into other counties,” O’Shea reflected.
“You feel the fear other counties have about Kerry, because they do have a fear. When it comes to football Kerry are spoken about in another world and plateau to any other county. You do feel that.
“I was very lucky that I came on to the scene at a rich time in Kerry football. There was a lot of talent and very, very good footballers on the minor team at my time that didn't get a chance to come through. The Kerry team at the time was a very strong team.
“Those players had to be harnassed and kept together, which was a difficult task in itself. Luckily enough we had a very talented team and a very, very good person in Mick O'Dwyer to keep us together.”
Offaly’s stunning All Ireland win over Kerry in 1982 denied the Kingdom a fifth Championship on the spin.
“I think in ‘82 we were unfortunate to lose the game, I think we were the better team on the day,” O’Shea remarked.
“What I will say, though, is that Offaly team was a very good team. They had come in 1980 we had a great semi-final, in ‘81 I got a goal in the last couple of minutes that put the issue beyond doubt from an Offaly point of view.
“They had been edging and edging closer. Behind the scenes Eugene McGee had been doing a lot of homework on the Kerry team.”
Kerry did respond to that setback with O’Shea a key figure for the remainder of the decade. The green and gold outfit continued to earn silverware.
“Growing up your ambition is always to play for the Kerry team, that begins at minor level if you are fortunate enough to get on to the Kerry team,” O’Shea commented. “We always felt in South Kerry that you had to be twice as good to get on to the Kerry team.”
O’Connell and O’Dwyer’s brilliance inspired so many. O’Shea most certainly occupied a role in ensuring the next generation of youngsters in the region witnessed greatness and the Sam Maguire Cup being brought back to Kerry.