To be a county’s greatest footballer is no mean feat, but to be rated as Kerry’s greatest footballer, when they have produced so many down through the years, is an achievement indeed. Jack O’Shea, winner of seven senior All-Ireland medals and an unprecedented six All-Star awards in a row, talks to Seán Creedon about his stellar career.
I to get an idea of what the build-up is like for a player on All-Ireland football final day, then it’s probably best to ask a Kerryman.
‘The Kingdom’ has won 37 All-Ireland senior football titles and Jack O’Shea was a member of seven of those winning teams. The Cahirciveen native won seven of his eight senior finals; the only defeat was in 1982 when Offaly ended Kerry’s hopes of that elusive five in-a-row.
In total Jack played in 13 All- Ireland finals, eight senior, four under 21 and one minor and lost only twice, to Offaly in ’82 and the under 21 final against Roscommon in 1978.
So what was the build-up to a final like?
‘‘I’m probably not a great example as I have worked in Dublin since 1978 and the Dublin-based players were trained in Belfield by GAA commentator Micheál O Muircheartaigh. For a final the team would normally travel from Killarney to Dublin by train on a Saturday evening. I lived in Leixlip back then and I would drive out and meet up with my colleagues in the Grand Hotel in Malahide around eight o’clock on Saturday night. We would have a meal, there were no dieticians in my time, we ate whatever we wanted.’’
‘‘We would have our team meeting around half ten on Saturday night. Mick O’Dwyer would take us out of the hotel down on to the beach and we would sit on a wall and listen to O’Dwyer. It would normally be dark at that stage and you could hardly see who was sitting next to you. It was the same routine every year.’’
‘‘On Sunday morning I would normally get up early and play 18 holes of pitch and putt in Malahide which took my mind off the final. Normally my playing colleagues would have been four or five of the subs. Again there was no special meal before heading into Croke Park, just sandwiches.’’
‘‘The squad, manager and selectors travelled on the coach to Croke Park, but as I had my own car out in the hotel in Malahide I always drove into Jones Road. My passengers were the same every year: Charlie Nelligan, Tommy Doyle and the late John Egan. We didn’t listen to the radio or read the papers, but John had a friend Willie who he knew from his days when he was a Garda in Kildorrery in North Cork. Willie was a great singer and he would sing songs all the way in and that certainly helped to keep our mind off the game. After the game it was back to Malahide for what was mainly a victory banquet in my time.’’
Jack was born in Caherciveen in November 1957, just across the road from Con Keating Park. He has one brother and five sisters. There was no history of Gaelic Football in the family, but two uncles on his mother’s side – Dan and Mick Lucey – played club football for St Michael’s Foilmore. Jack, Maurice Fitzgerald and current Kerry star Bryan Sheehan were all reared within 50 yards of one another in the South Kerry town.
‘‘My house was across the road from the football field and in the sixties the two Mickos, O’Connell and O’Dwyer, used to come in to the field in the evenings and do a bit of training. But it wasn’t training as we know it nowadays, just kicking a ball to one another from various angles and distances for a couple of hours. I was their ball boy, so I suppose you could say I got good training.’’