GAA Museum Hall of Fame - Mikey Sheehy
By Cian O’Connell
Mikey Sheehy supplied so many grace notes during a splendid career with Kerry.
Iconic GAA moments continue to be debated with Sheehy a central character in the 1978 Paddy Cullen chip and 1982 All Ireland final penalty miss.
Those cameos, though, are only part of Sheehy’s story which featured silverware, success, and scores. During a decorated stint with Kerry Sheehy won eight All Ireland medals, 11 Munster titles, three National Leagues, and seven All Stars.
It is a considerable haul, but Sheehy stresses the value and importance of Mick O’Dwyer in the Kerry football story.
“All my success with Kerry, the players of that era, owe it all to that man,” Sheehy remarked in an interview with Radio Kerry’s Terrace Talk broadcast in 1999.
“When I came on the squad, I played in a Munster final in '74, Micko took over the team in March '75. It was only then that I knew what fitness was, he changed the whole scene then.
“I think basically when he took us over he instilled discipline into a team, he commanded unbelievable respect.
“Another thing was the way he was able to motivate us, we were with him from 1975 until 1987 when I was there, and some other lads were there with him until he finished up. You got the same buzz from '75 until '86 or '87.”
Reflecting on his career Sheehy acknowledged that watching another Micko – Mick O’Connell - left a lasting impression during his youth.
“When I was a young fella football was a religion in my house, not alone in my house, but also in my grandfather's house, my mother's father,” Sheehy recalls.
“I remember when we were young we used to be listening to the games on the radio, Micheal O'Hehir. From a very young age it was my ambition to try to play in Croke Park, to play with Kerry. The first time I was in Croke Park was in 1962, the All Ireland semi-final between Kerry and Dublin.
“Kerry won that game, I remember Mick O'Connell gave a fantastic exhibition of Gaelic Football that day. I suppose himself and Mick O'Dwyer were the two Kerry players I looked up to. Mick O'Connell number one, I thought he was an absolute genius, I thought he was probably before his time, in that era of football he played.
“I think the way he carried himself, he was always like a thoroughbred. He always had the collar up, he was a beautiful two footed kicker. Another thing about him, he always played football.
“Guys often tried to rough him out of it, I believe he was well able to handle himself on the qt, but he never had to resort to those tactics. He was a pure artist, left and right.”
Valuable lessons were learned monitoring O’Connell with Sheehy adamant about the requirement to carry out improvements on his own game.
“It was always my ambition, to get on the Kerry team,” Sheehy admitted. “I've often spoken about coaching, about coaches can coach guys to a certain extent.
“I think the one thing you have to do is if coaches tell you to do A, B, C or D, you will actually learn a lot more yourself going out kicking a ball against the wall, working on your weaker foot. That is one thing I picked up watching Micko, in particular. His left leg was as natural as his right leg.”
Such devotion to skill and development was a constant in Sheehy’s career. The ’78 encounter against Dublin frequently tops the agenda when Sheehy has to discuss football.
“There is no doubt about it, at the particular time, poor Paddy Cullen, there was no question of a foul,” Sheehy remarks.
“It was due to a previous incident with himself and Ger, because the Kerry crowd were jeering when Paddy got the ball. He just passed it out to Robbie Kelleher, he was perfectly entitled to stop and argue.
“There was a gap, I don't know to this day, was it the man above that directed me to do it and it went in. It was just one of those things. I knew if I missed it Dwyer would probably have killed me, he would have said there was a point for the taking.”
That win put Kerry back on the summit of the Gaelic Football world again. In 1982 Kerry were seeking to land an historic five in a row, but a doughty Offaly outfit had other ideas.
Sheehy had a penalty saved by Martin Furlong in the closing stages. “I felt when I missed the goal I could sense something happening,” Sheehy recalls.
“I think we were three or four points up at the time, had I got the goal, it definitely would have killed the game. I remember Matt Connor got two points from two frees to bring it back down to two points.
“I just had this feeling that these fellas could sneak a goal. You just hoped that the ground would open up and swallow you. It was very hard to take that defeat.
“It affected all of those lads. You get over those things, one thing I would say is it probably cost us five in a row and that team deserved to make history.
"I don't think we would have won the three in a row after had we won the five in a row.”