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'I jumped at the chance' - the 15 Kerrymen playing for other counties this season

Roscommon, Cork, Clare, Limerick, Sligo, Tipperary and London have all handed game-time to Kerry-born players in the league so far.

Updated Mar 4th 2022, 8:39 AM

kerry exports

“A Kerry footballer with an inferiority complex is one who thinks he’s just as good as everybody else.”

- John B Keane

AFTER FOUR ROUNDS of the Allianz Football League, Kerry sit on top of the Division 1 table.

They’ve started Jack O’Connor’s third stint in charge in strong fashion and are looking likely candidates to deliver his fourth league title as manager. Looking ahead to bigger matters, Kerry are favourites to bring home the Sam Maguire later this summer.

However, the influence of the Kingdom at the elite level of the game extends far beyond the county boundaries. Many Kerrymen are spreading the gospel in faraway fields.

On the coaching front, Tralee native Billy Sheehan is in charge of Laois, Paul Galvin is part of the Kildare backroom team, Donie Buckley is coaching Monaghan, Kieran Donaghy is in his second year with Armagh, Tomás Ó Sé was a recent addition the Offaly set-up and Ray Keane – brother of former Kerry boss Peter – is involved with Cork’s new management team.

Then there are the 15 Kerry natives lining out with other counties in the lower three divisions. 

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Among them are established county stars, a recent call-up hailing from rich pedigree and a veteran of the inter-county scene who came up through the underage ranks of his adopted county.

Some players moved abroad, believing their chance of playing inter-county football had long passed them by, before an unexpected opportunity came their way.

Others starred on underage Kerry teams but failed to stamp down a regular spot on the highly competitive senior panel and chose to declare for their father’s county. 

For each of them, their story is different. Many grew up dreaming of representing Kerry at senior level but for one reason or another, it never materialised. Work and life brought them to distant lands but one thing that remained was their deep love of the game, and their footballing talent. 

You can take the man out of Kerry, but you can’t…

*************

conor-cox Conor Cox played at all grades for Kerry. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Of the 15 players lining out for adopted counties, Roscommon sharpshooter Conor Cox is the stand-out name. He’s the only one that managed to represent Kerry at senior level, making seven league appearances between 2013 and 2016. 

A former county minor and U21, he won three All-Ireland junior titles with Kerry but found opportunities difficult to come by at senior level under Eamonn Fitzmaurice. 

The Listowel Emmets clubman qualified to play for his adopted county through his Roscommon-born father Martin. He’s been their leading marksman in attack ever since his maiden season in 2019, firing Anthony Cunningham’s side to the Connacht title that year where he shot 0-5 in the final against Galway. 

“Conor was always close to the Kerry panel anyway,” says Listowel Emmets clubman and Feale Rangers chairman Christy Walsh. “He was there with the U21s, minors and Kerry juniors. 

“The move up to Roscommon made it for him because he went from being a fringe player to a starter. He really blossomed up there.

“There was a huge sense of pride when he won a Connacht medal. A few of his classmates went up to that game as well. He still has a lot of good friends down here. They’d all follow his progress with great pride.”

Cox missed Roscommon’s league opener but contributed 15 points in their last three games.

“Conor, on his day, is still one of the best finishers in the game. He would get 1-8, 1-10 for Listowel day-in day-out. He won many a match on his own. His stature was already well known before he went up there.”

Another Listowel native, Joe Grimes, was a recent call-up to the Cork senior football squad. Based in west Cork as a Garda, he transferred to Clonakilty in 2020 and stood out as a box-to-box midfielder during their run to the Cork SFC final last season, their first in 12 years.

He worked closely with local strength & conditioning coach Graham Shine over the past couple of years, greatly developing his upper body strength which added to his engine. 

There was big local interest in Grimes’ progress and Walsh’s pub Christy’s Bar in Listowel streamed Clonakilty’s semi-final and final. “A big crowd from Listowel went down to the match as well,” he adds.

Following the one-point defeat to St Finbarr’s, new Rebels boss Keith Ricken invited Grimes onto the county panel. 

“It’s a massive opportunity to play inter-county football,” says Walsh. 

He made his debut for the Rebels against Kerry in the McGrath Cup in January, impressing enough to retain his place for the league opener against Cox’s Roscommon. 

Injury forced Grimes off 25 minutes into that game and he hasn’t featured since. 

joe-grimes-and-gavin-white Joe Grimes fetches a kick-out against his native Kerry in the McGrath Cup final. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Conor Jordan, the Kerry county SFC winning centre-back with Austin Stacks, made his debut for Clare last season and remains part of Colm Collins’ plans in 2022.

Like Cox, Jordan made use of the parentage rule, qualifying for the Banner through his father and former Clare footballer George.

“These opportunities don’t come around often,” says Jordan. “The chance to play at the highest level with a team like Clare, it wasn’t something I had to think too hard about.

“It’s something my father would have been fairly proud of I suppose. There are old teammates and friends of his in Clare that have followed my progress so it’s good for him.”

His father hails from Kilkee in west Clare and represented local club St Senan’s where he won a few county championships, before moving to Tralee. He also played county football with the Banner in the late 80s.

Jordan won a Munster minor medal with Kerry in 2013 and played two years U21. He lists off the current senior squad members he played alongside at underage level: Shane Murphy, Gavin Crowley, Tadhg Morley, Adrian Spillane, Micheál Burns, Killian Spillane. Tony Brosnan, Jack Savage, Greg Horan and Jack Barry. 

During his younger days, the thought of lining out for Clare wasn’t at the forefront of his mind.

“My father would have hopped it off me half-jokingly. But when you’re playing minor with Kerry, and then when I was finished with U21s I was happy just to focus on the club.”

In 2019, Clare’s S&C coach Rob Mulcahy, who is based in Tralee, knew Jordan’s links and first broached the idea of linking up with Colm Collins’s squad. Jordan was open to the move. Then disaster struck: he suffered a torn cruciate for the second time in three years, which ruled him out for the best part of a year. 

“The following year then the pandemic struck so with lockdowns and restrictions I didn’t feel it was the best time to go in,” he explains. 

“Last year they were still interested in having me in so I was delighted to get the opportunity and take it then last year. I was very grateful to get the call from the lads considering me so I haven’t looked back since.” 

Jordan insists making his championship debut against the Kingdom that May “wasn’t too strange.” 

He continues, “In once sense you’re used to playing against those guys with your club you’d be more familiar to playing against them.

“I chatted a few of them after on the pitch, they just said, ‘well done and good to see you playing.’”

Living and working in Tralee made the build-up to the Munster quarter-final interesting. 

“To be fair, people in the club and my friends were all wishing me well, to a certain extent. They were hoping I got on well but were obviously shouting for Kerry. 

“There wasn’t any Stacks lads playing against me. Joe O’Connor would have been on the panel but he wasn’t playing that day.”

conor-jordan-and-ian-maguire Austin Stacks centre-back Conor Jordan gets to know Ian Maguire of St. Finbarrs in the Munster club final. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

He took some time out to rest the body following Austin Stacks’ run to the Munster club final and made his seasonal debut as a second-half sub against Derry on Sunday. Clare train in the University of Limerick during the league, so he makes that three-hour round-trip a few times a week. 

“They’re a great group of guys and were very welcoming to me,” he says of his Banner teammates. “Very down to earth guys and a great group of footballers. It was seamless enough and I was able to hit the ground running.”

In Division 3, Pádraig de Brún – who is a brother in law of Kilkenny star TJ Reid – has been a long-serving player for Limerick both at underage and senior level. A Firies native, his family relocated to the Treaty County during his youth. He opted to remain with his club but represent Limerick on the county scene. 

De Brún lined out with a host of Kerry players – including the Clifford brothers and Paul Murphy – as part of the East Kerry panel that lifted county titles in 2019 and 2020. He has made three appearances for Billy Lee’s high-flying Treaty so far in the league as they top the third tier after four games. 

david-clifford-niall-donohue-and-eoin-fitzgerald David Clifford, Niall Donohue and Padraig de Brún celebrate after East Kerry's county title win in 2019. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

In Division 4 there is the greatest Kerry interest outside of the top flight. Eleven sons of the Kingdom, including an eight-strong contingent in London, feature across three teams in the bottom tier. 

The Exiles boast Conor O’Neill (whose home club is Dr Crokes), Cathal O Luing (An Ghaeltacht), Bobby O’Regan (Ardfert), Matt Moynihan (Spa), Chris Farley (Dromid Pearses), Fiachra Griffin and Thomas Lenihan (both Churchill), plus Ruadhan McCarthy (Dingle) among their ranks. 

Their accents have grown more prevalent in the dressing room in recent years, swelling from two players to eight in the space of a few seasons. Even then, they have a further two with close Kerry links.

“There’s a couple of lads that have Kerry parents, so there’s a good influence there,” explains Moynihan.

“My own cousin Stephen Dornan, his mom is my dad’s sister. He has a bit of Kerry blood in him as well. He’s playing under the Cork flag at the moment.”

Corner-forward Farley scored 0-7 against Waterford and struck a goal against Leitrim. Cathal Ó Luing is a regular in the full-back line, where O’Neill has also appeared. O’Regan is a talented inside attacker who has mainly featured off the bench.

Lenihan started against Carlow at midfield but a calf injury has forced him to miss their recent games. Also rehabbing injuries are Griffin and McCarthy, who are expected to play a part as the season progresses.

Moynihan has been a mainstay at centre-back or full-back for this electric start to the season Michael Maher’s side have enjoyed. 

“I’m usually getting the bigger fella, wherever he’s playing,” he says. 

matthew-moynihan Matthew Moynihan in action for London against Galway in the 2019 Connacht SFC quarter-final. Source: ©INPHOGerry McManus

He played a bit for Kerry at U14 and U16 grades. He moved to London in December 2017 without plans to even play club football.

He interviewed for a job as an accountant with a construction company. “The first five minutes was about the job and the next 30 minutes we talked about football,” he recalls of the interview. 

“I fell in with a club over here and went training with them in February 2018. I used it as a social element first to get to know people over here and it kept gaining momentum. I’m lucky the club I’m with Tir Chonaill Gaels is an elite club and there’s no half-measures taken with training. Being involved with a dedicated club rubbed off.”

Before the 2019 season, Ciaran Deely called to see if he was interested in joining the London panel. “I jumped at the chance,” he says. He played a full campaign that year and logged a few games the following season before Covid shut things down. 

The trips back home to play Carlow and Leitrim have seen a convoy of cars from Kerry make their way up the country to attend them. 

“Every kind of game we have in Ireland there’s there’s always a good crowd. Even up in Leitrim my sister, brother and two aunties were up there bearing the storm so it’s nice.

“That first game in Carlow we had a big contingent because it was my cousin (Stephen)’s first game for London as well. We had a good family contingent up in Carlow, there were nephews and cousins there. It was lovely. The added one as well is my mother is actually from London so I’m playing for her hometown as well.”

Moynihan and Dornan are first cousin of Kingdom forwards of Dara Moynihan and Micheál Burns. 

“We have a cousins group chat and after we beat Carlow (in the first round) on the Saturday, they were playing Kildare on the Sunday. So we gave them a bit of stick that we did the job on Saturday so it was up to them on the Sunday. But unfortunately they fell short in Newbridge.”

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Finally, last Saturday’s tie between Tipperary and Sligo featured three Kerrymen.

The Premier boasted former Kerry minor captain and U21 defender Sean O’Connell, who recently transferred to Loughmore-Castleiney from Cordal, and Teddy Doyle.

sean-oconnell Tipperary's Sean O’Connell during his days with Kerry U20s. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Doyle, a Limerick-based Garda, transferred to Ballina where he lives, after years of travelling down to play with his home club Templenoe. 

Incidentally, Doyle won an All-Ireland junior club championship alongside Pat Spillane Jr, who lined out against him for Yeats County in Semple Stadium.

Spillane, the man with the famous name and son of one of the greatest footballers of all-time, declared for the county of his mother Rosarii after shining for St Judes as they reached the Dublin SFC final last November.

When Templenoe played the All-Ireland intermediate final in January 2020, Spillane was only introduced as a 58th minute substitute. An assistant brand manager with Lucozade in Dublin, his lengthy treks home for training were hampering his chances of maximising his ability on the pitch.

“He was looking looking for club in Dublin, he just couldn’t do it anymore and that was his feeling,” recalls Gareth Roche, who managed St Jude’s to last year’s Dublin SFC final.

In January 2020, Roche met Spillane for a coffee in Sandyford near his office to discuss a move to the Dublin giants. 

“Templenoe had gotten to the All-Ireland final that year but he hadn’t played many matches. I asked him the usually questions, why did he feel he wasn’t getting a shot. He just said, look travelling up and down to Cork and Kerry for training sessions, he just couldn’t do it. He was getting hamstring and all kinds of soft tissue injuries. 

“He just wasn’t doing himself self justice when he was going down to Kerry to play for Templenoe.”

Spillane’s presence at an AFL Combine in 2015 showed he always had athletic talent. Like they do with all players who transfer in, Jude’s placed him on the intermediate panel.

His “cannon of a leg” and ability to “kick a ball over from 45 meters” caught Roche’s eye and before long he was promoted to senior ranks.

pjimage (7) Spillane has developed into a powerful athlete since the AFL Combine in 2015. Source: Inpho

“He thought because of the stuff he’d been told over the years we were just fobbing him off with bullshit,” says Roche. “He played two or three inter games and then we brought him into the senior squad for the quarter and semi-final stage of that year.”

“It’s been tough, I won’t lie,” he says of Spillane’s journey to becoming a regular on the team. The player received constant “coaching feedback” from the management by rewatching clips from training sessions and games, looking at aspects like positioning and decision making.

“It was just about tracking back and finding space and just giving him clips of games and asking him if he had the ball back would he do anything different,” continues Roche, who stepped down as Jude’s boss at the end of the season. 

“Then championship came along and he got an opportunity at midfield.”

The role allowed the dynamic Spillane to drive forward and he kicked three points in last November’s semi-final win over Lucan Sarsfields, claiming man-of-the-match in a game that was televised live on RTÉ. 

“It was nice for him. I have to say it was great from the Lucan game getting man of the match, because, to me, it just showed if you’re willing to listen to what you’re being told, you will come on. You will get that opportunity and you will improve. That’s the ride he was on last year.” 

Roche hadn’t even realised Spillane’s Sligo connections until a call arrived informing him of interest from the county. Roche phoned Spillane and they discussed the possibility of linking up with Tony McEntee’s squad. 

“It was more a conversation around how flexible they could be. He gave up Kerry because of the driving down and made sure that there was flexibility there for him and training and things like that.

“Which to be fair, most inter-county teams do. I pointed out his fellow fellow countyman, Conor Cox in Roscommon, and how much of a name he’s made for himself.”

That was the last he heard of it until it broke in the media that Spillane had been called up to the Sligo squad. 

“I’m delighted for him and his parents, they are very nice. It’s nice to see him in a different jersey than Kerry,” laughs the Dublin native. 

conor-mc-cormack-and-pat-spillane Spillane in action against Wexford during the league. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

Spillane has appeared as a substitute in all three of Sligo’s games so far, scoring a brace in their demolition of Carlow. He declined an interview for this article, and has turned down other local and national print and broadcast media outlets in recent weeks. 

For the moment he is focused on establishing himself on the Sligo team before he starts discussing the move in the press. A son of one of the most outspoken pundits in the GAA, Spillane’s desire to let his football do the talking must be respected. 

“He seems to be a really genuine lad who is fitting in very well with the group,” says a source close to the Sligo squad.

“He has a good attitude to training, is eager to learn with a good work ethic. He’s a natural athlete who is in no way out of place so far.” 

So there are the 15 Kerry men taking the road less travelled and donning the jerseys of their adopted counties this season.

The Kingdom has always been a fertile ground for talent, and seven other county teams are now reaping the benefit.

Kerry exports representing other counties this season

  • 8 - London: Conor O’Neill, Cathal O Luing, Bobby O’Regan, Matt Moynihan, Chris Farley, Fiachra Griffin, Thomas Lenihan ans Ruadhan McCarthy
  • 2 – Tipperary: Sean O’Connell and Teddy Doyle
  • 1 – Clare: Conor Jordan
  • 1 – Cork: Joe Grimes
  • 1 – Limerick: Padraig de Brún
  • 1 – Roscommon: Conor Cox
  • 1 – Sligo: Pat Spillane Jr

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Kevin O'Brien

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