GAA Museum Legends Virtual Tour - Dara Ó Cinnéide
The former Kerry forward reflects on:
- The importance of Gaelic Football in Kerry
- Driving to training with the totemic Paidí Ó Sé
- Entering Croke Park on matchdays
- Winning All Ireland titles with Kerry
- An Ghaeltacht's memorable journey to GAA headquarters
By Cian O'Connell
Few people in Ireland can capture the mood and relevance of Gaelic Games better than Dara Ó Cinnéide.
Since retiring from the inter-county game a decade and a half ago Ó Cinnéide remains a most admired broadcaster on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, a station that continues to afford passionate and respected coverage on all matters GAA.
Reflecting on his career Ó Cinnéide offers perspective on the medals, memories, and near misses. The importance of remaining positive is discussed with football’s central role in Kerry life a key theme also.
“Like so many other people in our parish in Kerry there wasn't a whole lot to do other than play Gaelic Football,” Ó Cinnéide says in a Bord Gáis Energy Legends Virtual Tour.
“We didn't have hurling, we didn't have soccer, we didn't have rugby, that has changed in the meantime. My father was very interested in the GAA. I was born in Dublin actually, but we moved down from Dublin when I was two years of age, my brother was four years of age at the time.
“My father played a little bit with Ballymun Kickhams in the 70s when we were living in Dublin. The conversations were all football, the minute you went into junior infants in school, it was all football. It probably afforded you a certain status after a while if you were any good at football.”
Ó Cinnéide’s subsequent accumulation of silverware certainly placed him in that category. Three All Irelands, eight Munster titles, two Allianz Football Leagues, a couple of Kerry County victories and a provincial club was a considerable collection.
Being captain of Kerry in 2004 when Sam Maguire was hoisted carries relevance. “Of course it was a huge privilege, you'd often hear kids and adults say it is something they had dreamed about as a child,” Ó Cinnéide states.
“I'm not necessarily of the belief that is true, you want to win your next game always. Of course it is a huge privilege. It is hard to talk without referencing the game itself. We beat Mayo in the final, the game was one sided enough.
“Mayo didn't perform on the day and we performed really, really well. You knew with 10 minutes to go that we were going to be winning it, whereas a lot of games go down to the wire and you don't know until the last minute or so or injury time. You knew the game was up for Mayo.
“It just struck me, I came off with nine or 10 minutes to go, I was getting physiotherapy on the sideline, the physio, Aoife Ní Mhuirí, as Gaeilge, said to me you are going to have to start thinking about your speech. Genuinely you are so vested in the game you think you are right.
“I didn't want to jinx myself by having a pre prepared speech so we had a brief conversation, myself and the physio.”
Climbing the Hogan Stand steps was a significant achievement for Ó Cinnéide, who also fondly recalls An Ghaeltacht’s All Ireland club adventure.
Six months previously the Meehan inspired Caltra secured the Andy Merrigan Cup when defeating An Ghaeltacht at the Jones Road venue.
“Representing An Ghaeltacht in Croke Park I would probably consider to be the greatest achievement any of us ever had in our football careers, including the Kerry jersey,” Ó Cinnéide comments.
“Playing for Kerry is a different thing altogether, you reach a certain level, you try to stay at that level. You make wonderful friendships, it is a bigger scale of things playing with Kerry. With the club it is so personal. I would say it was one of the biggest crowds at a club final.
“We played Caltra, in the hurling it was Dunloy and Newtownshandrum so you had four big communities all supporting their club. To this day, of all the things I've ever done on a football pitch, it is the one I'm most proud of.
“It didn't end up the way I wanted, we lost the All Ireland Club Final in 2004 by a kick of the ball. I had a chance in the last minute to maybe rescue it for the club, but it went over the bar instead of under the crossbar.
“It was heartbreaking, Daragh Ó Sé was the captain and we really wanted to get him up them steps. I've reconciled myself with it over the years, we were beaten by a club, who are very similar to ourselves. A rural club, who were probably going to be there on a once off, that has proven since - Caltra.
“They were there in 2004 and they will probably be never there again. I think we knew at the time as we were watching Noel Meehan lifting the cup that we wouldn't be back. We weren't big enough.
“In Kerry we came from Junior B level to Senior level, we won the Senior Championship twice. We got one shot at glory and it didn't happen for us. It did happen for Caltra and I identify with their story. It would be different if we had been beaten by one of the super clubs.”
An Ghaeltacht, though, still possessed tradition and one of the most iconic footballers in Kerry, Paidí Ó Sé. Ó Cinnéide recalls Ó Sé’s influence.
“Paidí Ó Sé and I spent 10 years travelling in the same car together to training,” Ó Cinnéide laughs. “He was eight years Kerry senior manager and two years Under 21 manager. For all of those years either I would have been driving or he would have been driving.
“It was an hour and a half journey each way so you had three hours in the car with him as well as on the training ground with him. Paidí was a wellspring of stories and just yarns, a huge source of knowledge and information to us.
“There was a very serious side to Paidí, one of the few things he was serious about was football. I suppose he instilled in us certain values and made a huge impression on us about how to behave and carry yourself as a Kerry footballer.
“He will be forever credited I think with turning the fortunes of Kerry football when it had reached its lowest ebb in the mid 90s. He gave us that confidence and misneach to drive it on and become half decent Kerry footballers.”
On September 18, 1993 Ó Cinnéide received a letter in the post from the Kerry County Board inviting him on to the senior football panel. The next dozen years of Ó Cinnéide’s life were spent travelling the roads of the country wearing the green and gold with distinction.