Ireland Correspondent: Kennelly a very happy man after earning unique double through Kerry triumph

By Peter Lenaghan

The son returned to the Kingdom. He was welcomed home. He gathered up the strands of a life he’d put on hold a decade earlier. He joined the famous county football team in which his father had made the family’s name.

He battled for recognition and form in an ageing and divided side that was fighting a war within. Did his body remember the movements, skills and rhythms learned as a child? He was wounded. A broken hand.

Early in a wet summer, the team was written off. The injured son’s dreams of emulating father and brother appeared dashed, but a series of scarcely deserved wins delivered the Kingdom to the big stage in Dublin.

A quarter-final in the capital reinvigorated the champion team. The much-fancied host was contemptuously swatted aside. The son’s hand was healed and he took to the field, but he was peripheral.

On semi-final day the rain fell in Dublin, but the son shone. He belonged. Victory was comfortable and familiar. The team was in the final.

The big day arrives. Croke Park. More than 82,000 people are there to watch. It is an All-Ireland fairytale in the making, but instead of being Kerry’s hero, a violent bump puts Tadhg Kennelly within a whisker of being the villain.

Emily and I are readying to say goodbye to Dublin. The All-Ireland football final is our last festival day in the city. We catch the bus in to town for lunch and a stroll towards Croke Park. The September sunshine is beautiful. The light catches and highlights the green and gold of Kerry’s supporters, the white and blood red of Cork’s fans. Balloons and bunting hang from the front of each pub along the way. Emily is taking photos. In the Sunday Independent, a Kerry legend, Paidi O Se, urges people to forget their worries and the country’s crippling financial problems “for a couple of glorious hours this afternoon”.

The Big Tree Tavern on Dorset Street is packed. We wedge ourselves into a window box, our feet on a table. The pre-match entertainment on the big screen is a Manchester derby in the English Premier League that is full of preposterous twists and turns. Michael Owen is celebrating his late, late winner when Croke Park replaces Old Trafford on the big screen. The Manchester United fans howl their disapproval, but the cheer from those more interested in the big game happening just around the corner drowns out the protest.

The Cork and Kerry players are in position. The Rebel County is favoured to win its first All-Ireland football title since 1990 after a steadily superb championship. The Kingdom is feared, having played in each of the last five finals, but its inconsistent form this year means the team’s true potential remains a mystery. Hill 16 and the stands surrounding the pitch are full.

The referee, Marty Duffy, throws the ball in to start the match. As the centre-fielders battle for the first possession, there is a flash of green and gold arriving from the Hill 16 end. Whack!

Cork’s Nicholas Murphy is the victim. Tadhg Kennelly is the culprit. The former Sydney Swan, arm tucked in tight beside his rib cage, elbows Murphy on the chin. It is a sickening, unfair bump. Murphy is floored and is holding his face. Slowly, he gets to his feet. A red card and sending-off could be justified. Kerry fans hold their breath. The county’s quest for another All-Ireland title, and Kennelly’s hopes for a dream return, could be over already. Duffy, whose appointment as the match referee was criticised in some quarters, awards Cork a free, but then inexplicably fails to show the perpetrator a yellow card. Kennelly’s match continues when it might have been cut horribly short. The game races on.

The Rebels pick up where they left off in the semi-final win over Tyrone. The tempo is high, the tackling is tough and the scoring is prolific. Cork posts three of the first four scores and is winning more of the ball. A long kick deep in to the Rebels attack finds Kerry’s defence wanting. Colm O’Neill slips away from the full-back, Tommy Griffin, collects the ball and from a tight angle slams a left foot kick beyond Diarmuid Murphy, high in to the net. Ten minutes are gone and Cork’s lead is already five points.

Kerry works its way in to the contest. Colm ‘The Gooch’ Cooper wins two frees in close succession and takes his points. Darragh O Se and Seamus Scanlon start to dominate in midfield. Kennelly kicks two beautiful points over the bar and sets up Tommy Walsh for another score.

Declan O’Sullivan puts another point on the scoreboard for Kerry and the teams are tied. Cork cannot get hold of the ball. Tom O’Sullivan and Marc and Tomas O Se smother the Rebels forwards and drive the Kingdom in to attack. Cork is being overrun. Kerry leads by two at half-time.

After the break, the Gooch takes another free and then Kerry’s captain, Darran O’Sullivan, jinks his way down the Cusack stand wing, past his marker and from beside the goal posts kicks a brilliant score. Tadgh Kennelly is exhausted after a thrilling battle with Cork’s captain, Graham Canty, and is substituted. Any fairytale ending will now be written by others.

Cork dominates possession, but like Geelong against Hawthorn in 2008, is kicking itself out of the match. Kerry goes ten minutes without scoring, but at the other end, shot after shot sails wide of the uprights. Partly, it is due to Kerry’s stifling defence, with the Kingdom’s men filing back behind the ball whenever Cork tries to attack. Mostly, the Rebels are bogged down and wasteful.

Tommy Walsh then crushes Cork with two spectacular points. Another from Tomas O Se, 12 minutes from the end, extends Kerry’s lead to four points. It proves to be the final score of the match. Kerry wins its fifth title for the decade, 0-16 to 1-9.

Cork’s footballers and fans are devastated. In the Big Tree, frustration has given way to resignation for those clad in red and white. The Kerry fans are cheering, waving their hats and pumping their fists. Emily is wearing a green and gold headband and grinning.

Inside Croke Park, tradition has won again and the supporters are flooding the turf to celebrate and commiserate with the players and officials. The Sam Maguire trophy sits up high in the Hogan Stand. Kerry’s skipper lifts the silverware high and makes a gracious speech.

Tadhg Kennelly waits on the steps. His father, Tim, who died just a couple of months after Tadhg played in Sydney’s 2005 AFL premiership, won five All-Ireland football medals. Tadhg’s brother, Noel, was a part of Kerry’s 2000 triumph. After putting a highly-paid career in Australia to one side to return to his amateur roots, now it is Tadhg’s turn.

He shakes hands with the officials before turning to face the trophy. He climbs on to a small ledge. Reprising his performance at the MCG four years ago, he dances a jig. How else would you expect him to celebrate? Routine completed, he grabs the Sam Maguire and thrusts it skywards. The crowd down below on the pitch roars, as does Kennelly. I am laughing and have tears in my eyes.

“You cannot accurately measure delight but it seems safe to guess the joy Tadhg Kennelly felt in the heady moments after yesterday’s final was about as pure as it gets,” Keith Duggan would write in the Irish Times.

Kennelly is interviewed on Irish television soon after the presentation. He has spoken to his mother, Nuala. The son is smiling and choking back tears as he speaks with RTE’s Marty Morrissey.

“I can barely get the words out,” he says. “I thought I would be here well before now at the age of 28. But, very, very lucky to come back in my first year and to reach an All-Ireland final, and to go through what we did, and personally, the years haven’t been too easy over [in Australia].”

Morrissey asks, “But to win the [AFL] premiership in 2005 and then to win an All-Ireland in 2009, I mean, it is a unique and fantastic achievement – you must be so proud?”

“I am, but I haven’t thought about it like, Marty,” Kennelly says. “It hasn’t really sunk in. I’ve just been thinking about my father, really, to tell you the truth. It’s good. I’m a very happy man.”

Comments

  1. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    Great report on a great bloke – thanks Peter, you’ve captured it brilliantly.

    I got the chance to see an All-Ireland Football Final in 1984 when Offaly upset the mighty Kerry that was skippered by Jack O’Shea and had in its ranks Tadgh’s father, Tim and the legendary ‘Bomber’ Liston.

    It’s a grand day.

  2. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    It’s just occurred to me that Tadgh Kennelly’s unique record of premiership medals in different codes is matched by Kevin Moran, who played in a couple of winning Dublin GAA football teams in the late 70’s then went over and played soccer for Manchester United that netted him a couple of FA Cup winners’ medals.
    Reckon there have been a few others…?
    Leave out the rugby codes which are so similar in nature and not so fundamentally different.

  3. Peter Lenaghan says:

    Lovely to read that you’ve been in Istanbul, Rod. It’s a beautiful and interesting city – the Bosphorous is an incedible waterway, and the suburb of Besiktas is an exciting place.

    Not sure about players winning an All-Ireland medal and a soccer title, but the verdict seems to be that Kennelly is the first to do the GAA-AFL double.

    The other question being asked over here in Ireland is whether Kenelly will return to Sydney. Most of the sports writers seem to be assuming that he will go back, but Kennelly is saying that he’s still to decide.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed for another year, although that would make it very hard for him to go back to the AFL.

  4. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    Hi Peter,

    My time in Istanbul would have been better if I’d seen the All-Ireland Football Final on TV!

    I’ve read reports that Paul Roos and a few of the Swans boys were at the game to support Tadgh.

    Any sign of them in O’Connell Street post-match?

    Guess Tadgh pretty much went back down to Tralee for the traditional welcome home to the victors.

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