Rathmore players celebrate their Munster final win. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Aidan O'Mahony

'Huge buzz around the place' - The 42-year-old Kerry winner chasing a Croke Park return

Kingdom defender Aidan O’Mahony and his Rathmore team-mates face an All-Ireland semi-final today.

WHAT HAS BEEN the motivation to keep going?

Aidan O’Mahony cut his playing ties to the inter-county game six years ago this month.

Five All-Ireland senior medals, two All-Star awards and over 70 senior championship outings in Kerry colours, represented a healthy honours list to take with him into retirement.

Club football with Rathmore was something to immerse himself in, yet it has been a pursuit that continues to endure.

At 42 years of age, he is adamant that he is entering the home straight.

Early January and facing into an All-Ireland club intermediate semi-final this afternoon, with a final place in Croke Park on Sunday week on offer.

It’s not a prospect he countenanced for a closing act but the desire to push on was fuelled by a more local occurrence.

When Rathmore won the Kerry intermediate football title back in 1999, O’Mahony was a teenage defensive anchor. They gripped determinedly onto their senior status for two decades until relegation hit them in October 2019.

It took until November 13th last year before ensured the club was back at senior level.

“I seem to be walking away from it every year, but the biggest thing was to get the club back up senior,” says O’Mahony.

“Denis (Moynihan) took over (as manager) the start of 2022, I had a phone call with him. It was with me that I was one of the players that took the team down to intermediate, so needed to be one of the lads that bring the team back up.

“It’s funny, I look at a lot of the lads in the dressing-room now and I’d have played with their Dads. Rathmore were junior in 1998 and we beat Finuge in that county final. It took us 28 or 29 years to win the junior and then the following year we won again to go straight from intermediate to senior.

“It’s a fantastic group there now, we’re very close.”

aidan-omahony Rathmore's Aidan O'Mahony after the Munster intermediate club final win. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Taking shortcuts in preparation was not something he was interested in. He hasn’t been a first-team regular but didn’t want panel status or previous achievements to be used as insulation from the work required.

“Look I’m no different to any other player, I want to play every game. The week after the Kerry county final, we played Spa in the local O’Donoghue Cup here. I knew it was probably a game where I’d get gametime but I’d an exam (in strength and conditioning) above in Belfast. So I’d to drive to Belfast the Friday night, had the exam the following day, get into the car and drive back down to Rathbeg to play.

“I think I landed ten minutes before the game started. I train as hard as the rest of them and I love that part of it, training collectively as a group. The harder the better and getting through it. I’m still enjoying every minute of it. I was delighted the last day in the Munster final to get the run.”

eamonn-fitzmaurice-celebrates-with-declan-osullivan-aidan-omahony-and-barry-john-keane Aidan O'Mahony celebrates Kerry's 2014 All-Ireland final win. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

For plenty years Rathmore operated in the bearpit that is the Kerry senior football arena and held their own. Sometimes they came close to something momentous. In 2015 they lost a senior semi-final to Killarney Legion by three points. 2016 was more difficult to absorb, another semi-final defeat but this time only by a point at the hands of Kenmare District. The memories of the near misses linger.

“They’re the games we look back on and say, ‘What if?’ A lot of that group and panel are still involved now. It’s getting back up there and really being competitive and I think Rathmore have a group of players coming through now again.”

When they dropped down they received first-hand evidence of the cut-throat nature of the intermediate grade. 2020 and 2021 brought disappointment, before the third attempt yielded a two-point success over An Ghaeltacht in last year’s final in Tralee.

It marked O’Mahony’s second Kerry intermediate medal, both achieved 23 years apart. He’s not the only one with that distinction, Kenneth O’Keeffe is now the goalkeeper after pointing the way from full-forward back in 1999.

The current talent at their disposal stands out. When Kerry lifted Sam last July, the trend of two Rathmore players being involved was maintained.

paul-murphy-and-goalkeeper-shane-ryan-celebrate-with-the-sam-maguire-cup Paul Murphy and Shane Ryan. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

O’Mahony began his Kerry triumphs alongside club-mate Tom O’Sullivan, finished them with Paul Murphy for company, and then watched Murphy along with goalkeeper Shane Ryan, climb the steps of the Hogan Stand in celebration.

“It was great. I’ve seen the amount of work those two lads, Paul and Shane, put in. For the club they’re brilliant. When they’re with Kerry and we were training over, they’re always around the place. They’re two positive guys, two huge players for us.”

For all their experience they have stockpiled and the bright young Kerry talents emerging in their ranks, it is curiously a Derry native who shot the lights out in the Munster club final, Chrissy Spiers dazzling in Mallow before Christmas against Limerick’s Na Piarsaigh.

chrissy-spiers-and-shane-walsh Chrissy Spiers. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“He’s been a huge addition. His wife is from Rathmore, they were in Australia and then came back here. He’s a beautiful kicker of the ball, off both feet, takes the frees. He got married the Friday before the Munster final and then two days later kicked 0-12 for us. That player is worth gold to any team.”

Locally they do not require an education on the merits of these provincial and national bids for glory. 

The Rathmore parish encompasses three clubs – Gneeveguilla joining Rathmore on the Kerry side with Knocknagree stationed across the border in Cork.

Two out of the three have contested All-Ireland finals in Croke Park, Knocknagree winning the junior showpiece in 2018 and Gneeveguilla falling narrowly short twelve months ago.

The prize dangled in front of themselves and Wexford’s St Mogue’s (Fethard) is considerable today in Páirc Uí Rinn. Croke Park beckons the winner.

“There’s a huge buzz around the place,” admits O’Mahony.

“We watched Gneeveguilla last year and Knocknagree previously and the runs that they went on. That’s the brilliant thing about these club championships. When we won in the late ’90s, there was a Munster championship then but I think it was only played off in one game. Theer was no real hype about it. But now you see the day of our Munster final, the size of the crowd that was there with David Clifford playing for Fossa. It’s great for clubs and communities.”

O’Mahony’s GAA career has moved into coaching, he was with the MTU Kerry Sigerson Cup team last year and recently has taken the hurling reins of Dr Crokes.

That will soon consume his sporting focus but this playing challenge is to be embraced, particularly with his young daughters able to appreciate this chapter.

“They were at the county final, it’s nice, they’re three and a half, and five and a half. They get to see what their Dad did for the last 20-something years. It’s nice to have those memories to look back on. My Dad, Lord have mercy on him, had a scrapbook and was brilliant for cutting out stuff. Now I have it at home and just looking back at it, it’s unreal.

“I’m based in Killarney, working in Tralee, two young kids as well, you’re conscious as well that your priorities change. I love coaching, I love the strength and conditioning side of it.

“It’s just the time involved and I’m one of those players that I’m conscious if I’m not training and not setting a good example, it’s gone to a level now where you’re training three nights a week, gym two nights.

“The priority for this year was helping get Rathmore back up senior and it’s about pushing on now.”

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