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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 24 October, 2019

'I'll be 93 in April, the same day as the Queen of England' - hoping for All-Ireland club final glory

Dr Crokes patron Donie Sheahan on a life of football, racing and his club before tomorrow’s All-Ireland final.

BEFORE LOOKING FORWARD to tomorrow, he can look back to when it all began.

Donie Sheahan maps out his itinerary for the weekend. He will board a train today from Killarney, land in Dublin where he’ll be collected by his daughter and base himself in the capital.

For a starter he’ll be watching the footage from Tralee later as Kerry and Mayo square off before the main course of his sporting weekend tomorrow afternoon. Dr Crokes make their latest assault on a national title against Galway’s Corofin.

WhatsApp Image 2019-03-04 at 19.34.08 Donie Sheahan (centre) celebrates Dr Crokes' victory in 2017 with players Mícheál Burns and Ambrose O'Donovan. Source: Dr Crokes GAA

The patron of the Kerry club will lend his support, a figure who provides a neat symmetry between the 2019 All-Ireland club instalment and the original version back in 1971 when he coached East Kerry, the maiden victors and the only divisional team to have achieved that honour.

In the interim he acclaimed the Dr Crokes breakthrough in 1992, savoured their return to that summit two years ago and is profoundly grateful to be witnessing their bid for a third All-Ireland crown.

“I’ll be 93 in April, the same day as the Queen of England. She’ll be 93 as well. The 21st of April 1926, I was born.

“The one thing I’ll say is I didn’t drink or smoke all my life, I’d say twas a help. I kept working all my life. I’d an interest in everything.

“And I’m very lucky, I’ve people and my family organising for me. To be going up to an All-Ireland final now with my club, it’s a big thing. I thought ’92 was the end of it and now here I am.”

Before there were recognisable club heavyweights, TG4 cameras documenting every step through the winter and the doors of Croke Park being opened up on St Patrick’s Day, the grassroots game lived in a different world.

The clamour for club All-Irelands to be introduced grew louder in the 1960s. Provinces took matters into their own hands in organising meetings between county champions and by the 1970 GAA Congress, there were two motions on the agenda from Galway and Wexford looking for an official national competition. The vote swung 92-74 in favour of All-Ireland recognition for clubs.

If the thorny issue of GAA fixtures continues to generate a feverish debate, consider the schedule in 1971. In the spring East Kerry won a Munster final against Cork’s Muskerry before they were placed in cold storage until 5 September.

In a year where Offaly lifted Sam Maguire, Gracefield flew the Faithful flag in that All-Ireland semi-final but East Kerry prevailed by five points and then struck five goals against Down’s Bryansford in the final. Croke Park was the setting on Sunday 21 November but the win was greeted with little fanfare as outlined by Murt Galvin, the Kerry county treasurer at the time in Jack Mahon’s book ‘For Love Of Town And Village’.

“When we arrived back that night in Killarney at about 11.30pm, there were two people at the railway station, the father of one of the players and the player’s brother. Coming home that night we might as well have been out playing a club game in Duhallow or Rathmore.”

Listowel native Donie Sheahan marvels at the explosion in stature since.

“I never thought it would come to be such a good competition. I thought there was only once or twice they’d have it but they deserve great credit for it.

“There’s lads there winning All-Irelands in Croke Park and who could you win it better than with your own fellas? There’s great pride in it.”

Johnny Buckley poses for photos with the cup Donie Sheahan with Johnny Buckley after the 2017 Munster senior final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

He can cherish that East Kerry victory, the products of five clubs blended together to make a formidable outfit. They stitched together a local three-in-a-row between 1968 and 1970, conquerors of a south Kerry team who had a famed figure in their ranks.

“You see, we beat Waterville in three county finals.

“And I’d always say to (Mick O’) Dwyer, ‘Three-in-a-row Mike’.

“Ah shag you he’d say, ye had the pick of the county.

“True but I had to put them together. They were there three years in a row in the final, the last time we beat them was close now alright. Dwyer always maintains he should have got a penalty. But I thought it was no penalty anyway.”

They only got one shot at All-Ireland glory and seized it. Divisional sides were soon exempt from competing as it became the preserve of the clubs.

“We’d have won more I think. We’d a great team. We were giving four or five to Kerry at the time, we’d great players like Mick Gleeson, Dan Kavanagh, Pat Moynihan. If the players weren’t Kerry seniors, they were Kerry juniors.

“I had the two best fellas ever behind me. There was Brendy Walsh, chairman of the board, he was from Glenflesk and he was a great organiser.

“And Denis Fenton was out from Spa there, he was the best secretary I ever met. Now that’s his nephew Brian that’s playing for Dublin at the moment. He’s a very good footballer, very good.

“Brendy I suppose must have asked me to train the team. I knew Dr Eamonn (O’Sullivan) well, he was the trainer of Kerry, I learned from him.

“He used give me a formula to make up an old bottle for the team, as a rub for my own fellas. There was no physios then. I mostly fixed them up myself. It was different times. We plodded away anyway.”

His affection for that winning class of 1971 is clear. One player would go on to provide the voice that chronicled the feats of Kerry teams for years, Weeshie Fogarty finding a natural home in the radio gantry. He passed away last November, a week before Dr Crokes lifted a Munster title.

“Weeshie would talk the leg off a pot of course! Ah but he was a fine fella. I was Crokes and he was Legion but we were the best of friends.

“They were all great friends of mine. A lot of them are dead, I mean it’s sad for the likes of me. I do miss them, chatting about football and that.”

If he had been a foe of Mick O’Dwyer’s on the club scene in Kerry, their careers would soon intersect to see them work side by side.

“In ’75 I was one of the fellas elected (as Kerry selector) and Dwyer was elected. Dwyer had a meeting and said he’d train the team and we all agreed. That’s how he started. It was a lot of running. I always think of Dwyer in ’75 and he said there was only one way we’d beat Dublin and that was if we were fitter than them.

“I worked with him for about three years. You’d thrash out before the match whatever it was. In ’75 I met him the morning of the final in the hotel. I was saying if a fella gets hurt, who’ll we bring in. He said Ger O’Driscoll from Valentia and I agreed with that. Anyway when Mickey Ned (O’Sullivan) got knocked out, Dwyer called in Ger and he got a goal and a point.

“Dwyer was cool and tough. He never got ruffled. They were great rivals that time, Kerry and Dublin. There’s a son now of Tony Hanahoe’s, he’s working with my son above in Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin. It’s amazing that you come across fellas after.”

Mick O'Dwyer 17/6/1983 Kerry's multi All-Ireland winning manager Mick O'Dwyer.

They supervised the Kerry U21 side in 1975 as well, a collection of players that would go on to be such dominant forces in the sport. Scan an eye over that star-studded teamsheet and the surnames leap off the page – Nelligan, Ó Sé, Kennelly, Spillane, Walsh, Sheehy, Moran, Doyle and O’Shea.

Sheahan spent three years in Kerry senior dressing-rooms. They discovered gems in different ways around the county.

“I’ll tell you how we found the Bomber. The chairman of the Beale club was a fella called John Francis Aherne. I knew him well.

“That time to be elected for a selector, you had to go around and meet the clubs and get voted by the clubs. So I was out canvassing one winter and I met John Francis. I said, ‘Have ye any fella?’

“Then he said, ‘We’ve a fella, they call him the Bomber.’ I said to send him in. Now he was a big, strong, awkward man. But by God, he went down to Waterville for 12 months and Dwyer definitely made a footballer out of him down there.

“We’d have debated in ’77 whether we’d play him or not. We didn’t play him but we did in ’78 and that was the start of him, he got three goals (in the final against Dublin). He was a big active fella and had a great football brain.”

John O'Leary and Eoin Liston Eoin Liston with Dublin goalkeeper John O'Leary.

Another player from that part of North Kerry been in his thoughts from earlier.

“Ogie (Moran) was in Rinn in the Irish college with my lads when he was younger. One of them came back, I don’t know was it Liam or Kieran, and told me there’s a fella called Ogie Moran and he’s a great footballer. And when I became a selector, I had him in the back of my mind the whole time.”

Those were chapters in Sheahan’s GAA tale but the overarching theme revolves around Dr Crokes. He settled in Kerry after a circuitous route around the country. Work as a chemist kept him on the move, wherever he landed the GAA was a comfortable outlet to slip into.

“I worked in Thurles for nearly a year. I was football naturally. I tried to get an old junior team going there in Thurles Sarsfields. The one thing they were interested in was hurling.

“And from there I went up to Dunleer in Louth. I played with St Mary’s of Ardee, they’d some great players for Louth like Paddy Markey. One day the Mary’s represented Louth in the O’Byrne Cup, they were that good. They were mad for football, like myself.”

He opened the doors of Sheahan’s Pharmacy in Killarney in 1953. It’s still going on 34 Main Street under the running of his son Liam. They expanded in Kenmare with another son Paul opening a pharmacy there in 1994.

“I got a job in Killarney first, I was dispensing the medicine in two hospitals and the county home as well. I knew a lot of the patients, they were fine fellas. The nurses were great, looking after them.”

He had been roped in to play for Dr Crokes for a summer in 1946, fell back in with the club when he returned in the 50s and has never left.

“I was around 20 years chairman. My wife used to say to me every year, ‘Did you give up?’. But sure at the AGM, every fella would be saying that I was doing a great job and no fella wanted the bloody job. One year finishing up, I talked Tom Long into taking it over. I stayed on as the delegate of the county board for nearly 50 years.”

His mind is crammed with rich football tales that tumble out. That seismic win for Dr Crokes in 1992 against Dublin’s Thomas Davis.

“An official went to stop me from going down and they were getting the cup in the Hogan Stand. I shoved him out of my bloody way. I was excited. You do things that you wouldn’t do normally. Ah to see the Crokes win in Croke Park was great.”

The corner-forward that day is now in the control room, expertly pulling the levers to ensure the Dr Crokes trophy cabinet has been heaving in recent years.

Pat O'Shea Pat O'Shea will be at the helm of Dr Crokes tomorrow in Croke Park. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I see Pat (O’Shea) there could get 30 fellas out a few days after Christmas to go out training. There’s no one else who’d get that. He’s a great trainer and he has great command. He’s respected by the players, they think highly of him.

“He’s no nonsense. I remember one day we were above after beating The Rock (Austin Stacks) in the final of the county league. I went in to congratulate the lads because I knew a lot of them and Pat was inside and he making a show about all the mistakes they’d made. He has high standards.”

After 1992, Dr Crokes only managed one county senior triumph in the next 18 seasons. But the autumn of 2010 kick-started an era that has left Sheahan marvelling. Since his 84th birthday he has seen a title collection comprising of seven in Kerry and five in Munster along with national treks to see games against Armagh, Dublin, Mayo, Galway, Derry and Longford opponents.

The 2017 All-Ireland was special for Sheahan in seeing the Dr Crokes goalscorer that day get his moment of club joy.

Colm Cooper celebrates with Pat O'Shea Colm Cooper celebrates with Pat O'Shea after the 2017 final.

“I was delighted for the Gooch, I put my arms around him above in Croke Park that day. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. He’s a great football brain, he’s in the right spot at the right time. He can do amazing things.

“If he was below there in the bank years ago and a fella came into me wanting to meet the Gooch. I could walk down to the bank and he would be upstairs and he’d come down to me and shake hands with whoever. A great man that way.”

As we talk in a small room at the back of the pharmacy, he is regularly switching his gaze to monitor the Saturday afternoon running at Gowran Park and Sandown Park. This week was never just about the GAA clubs finals, Cheltenham always set to command his interest as he hoped Willie Mullins could end his pursuit of the Gold Cup.

Horse racing has always been a passion. He sent For William to the Kerry Grand National in Listowel and finished second twice. For Bill gave him many afternoons in the limelight, a victor under Davy Russell at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival in 2010.

For Bill ridden by Davy Russell For Bill ridden by Davy Russell triumphs at Fairyhouse in 2010. Source: James Crombie

“I used to go to Cheltenham when it was only a two day meeting. There’s a big meeting there in November and I had one (Dromhale Lady in 1998) there alright and I was beaten in a photo finish by a horse called Lady Rebecca, I’ll always think of it, and she went and won nine races after.

“(Michael) Hourigan used to train for me at the time and I’d a runner in a big National Hunt trial stake above at Punchestown one time and we won. Robert Hall was interviewing the two of us after the race and he said, ‘I suppose there’ll be big celebrations Michael after this?’

“Says Hourigan, ‘Well I’ll tell you, Donie has the free travel and he came up on the train, and Done’s going home on the train and I drove up and I’m going home in my car. So that’ll be the celebrations. And he was right, that was it!”

“I was very lucky, I’d a lot of very good horses. I enjoy Cheltenham a lot.”

Home is on the Lewis Road just across from Fitzgerald Stadium.

“They all say to me if I could I’d have built inside in the stadium! It was pure fluke, I got a site there. I’m at the front of the Crokes as well, I walk around the corner and I’m into the pitch.

“Liam my son was secretary of the stadium and I was treasurer for a bit and I was stuck a lot in the stadium.”

Anytime there is a match in the Killarney venue he ventures over, slipping into the press box to watch on. He has five children, 13 grand-children and 3 great grand-children. His family and football have always consumed him and kept him active.

“It’s been a great interest all my life and I’ve met a pile of friends and a pile of people. My wife (Carmel) often said there’s nothing in the house but football and horses. And I always said to her I can’t dispute that!

“Football was always like a drug for me I suppose. I never thought I’d live to see the day the Crokes club on their own would win an All-Ireland club. Well I did in 1992 and again two years ago. I’m hoping I can see it a third time.”

48 years on from his first trip, he’s back on the All-Ireland club final trail.

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey on The42 Rugby Weekly as Ireland bid to spoil Wales’ Grand Slam party in Cardiff, and the U20s target their own piece of history.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Fintan O'Toole

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