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'I’m so happy now that we’ve won our All-Ireland together' - Kerry's Kenmare double act

Stephen O’Brien on enjoying All-Ireland glory with club-mate Seán O’Shea.

Stephen O'Brien celebrates Kerry's with Seán O'Shea.
Stephen O'Brien celebrates Kerry's with Seán O'Shea.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

A MIX OF the old and the new flying the football flag for Kenmare.

When Stephen O’Brien burst onto the elite inter-county scene in 2014, he was a novice with the number ten on his back celebrating All-Ireland glory.

Yesterday he got his hands on the Sam Maguire again, wearing the Kerry number twelve jersey on this occasion and cherishing the presence of a familiar figure alongside him in the half-forward line.

He has been able to track the progress of Seán O’Shea for years, aware of this precocious talent that was emerging at home in Kenmare.

Present alongside his club-mate and achieving the biggest prize in Gaelic football in tandem.

“I’m so happy now that we’ve won our All-Ireland together,” reflected O’Brien.

“That’s what I said to him after the game! For the next 50 years or whatever, if we’d never won the All-Ireland together, we would have been avoiding each other – kind of. Even if he went on after to win All-Irelands. But to get one with him is just sweet and I’ll cherish that moment.

“He’s been an outstanding prospect in the club, everyone would have said it. I’m lucky enough to have played with him for so many years. Just such an impressive guy.

“Everything he does, he does with class. And if you know his family as well, you’d know that’s where it came from. It’s been a pleasure to play with him. We’re very, very close.”

stephen-obrien-celebrates-after-the-game Stephen O'Brien celebrates Kerry's win. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

O’Brien has sampled the flipside of the game. When Kerry reached the peak in 2014, he fell under the assumption it was sign of the golden days to come. Instead there was a succession of shattering defeats, twice in an All-Ireland final and three times in semi-finals in the interim.

“Myself and Paul Murphy came in that time, and it was like, ‘This going to be it every year or every second year, we’ll be back up here.’ But it’s not how it worked out, and we had so many heartbreaks, so many tough defeats against great teams.

“It was like, ‘God Jesus, will we ever get one?’ We obviously had such a great chance last year. You’re getting older and the body is going and things like that.

“Even Brian Ó Beaglaoích, I’d be travelling with him from Cork. He’s been in since 2016 and he’d won nothing, so you just felt for those lads.

“You definitely have doubts. Of course you have to…I mean, going into the dressing-room after losing those games, you know, it’s apocalyptic inside there. So, to have it like today where it’s just pure joy of release…it’s amazing.”

pa-warren-diarmuid-oconnor-jack-barry-sean-oshea-tadhg-morley-and-stephen-obrien-celebrate-with-the-sam-maguire-cup O'Brien (right) with the Templenoe, Kenmare and Kilgarvan players in the Kerry squad. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

That dressing-room environment was one he wanted to savour, that time in Croke Park last evening after the final whistle had sounded.

“The lads were saying inside in the warm-up room, they were like, ‘Come on, come on, we’ll go, we’ll head, we’ll make shapes here.’

“I was like, ‘Man this is where it’s at, inside in this dressing-room that’s the moment.’

“Dave Moran was funny like, ‘Welcome to the club’, to the boys who didn’t have an All-Ireland as well. It was brilliant.

“I just think the heartbreak and all the training, all the big defeats in big games, this year now is the sweetest. Especially being a more senior member of the panel as well, this is unbelievable.

“It’s changed a lot – which I’ve really enjoyed. Obviously I loved being inside there with legends of the game like Marc Ó Sé and Aidan O’Mahony and Gooch, but it’s nice to have more of a leadership role.

“I’m really happy with my position in the panel and that’s what Jack has really brought in, having a panel spirit.”

O’Brien emerged in a different fashion to illustrious attacking colleagues like Clifford and O’Shea. His minor career was curtailed due to knee injuries, the U21 grade brought Munster final defeats in 2011 and 2012.

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But he stepped up to the senior ranks, becoming a regular fixture in attack. Yesterday he was punching holes in the Galway defence at one end, picking off a point in the 20th minute. There were hard yards made at the other end, diving to deny Johnny Heaney a goal and making another brilliant block as Paul Conroy sized up a point opportunity.

By the day’s end he was a two-time All-Ireland senior winner and the 31-year-old was conscious of another sporting outfit that were crucial in his formative years.

“I really owe a lot of allegiance to UCC. Actually, myself and Seánie both got a text from Billy Morgan just before the game, which I really appreciated because it means a lot coming from him. And he’s such a Cork legend, you know, it probably was hard for him to send a text. So things like that – I really owe UCC and all the guys there, Dr Con and all those guys. We won the Sigerson in ’11 and county championship, that was a great (way to) set things up for me.”

stephen-obrien Stephen O'Brien in action for UCC in 2011. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The miserable recent days for Kerry football like Páirc Uí Chaoimh in November 2020 and Croke Park in August 2021 never broke O’Brien’s spirit.

He was committed to the cause, relentlessly pushing forward and appreciating the chance to be involved.

“It’s a privilege to play for Kerry. Fellas would bite your hand off for that chance so you’re not going to turn that down and it’s definitely not a chore or anything playing, I love it, I absolutely love it.

“To get a chance to play (with) the lads and play some part in it. They’ll go on to bigger and better things now, so it’s brilliant to have played with them this year. They have the ability and they have the character, that’s for sure.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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