John Scally chats to the Kerry Gaelic football legend


He is not what you expect.

Having watched Pat Spillane for 30 years on television when I met him in the flesh the last thing I expected was to meet someone who is thoughtful, calm, intelligent and a devoted family man but that was exactly what I got.
Watching Gaelic football this year has felt like Hamlet without the prince without his presence as a pundit after he stepped down last summer from The Sunday Game. However, he has not gone quietly into the night.

He has now joined up with two of his old comrades from The Sunday Game – Michael Lyster and Tomás Mulcahy – for a new GAA podcast The Game on Sunday. He uses the platform to vent his opinions about the national games, such as his frustration about the current Championship format and his disappointment at seeing teams like Wexford and Waterford gone by the end of May.

In any discussion on the greatest players of all time, Spillane’s name is sure to figure prominently. He won eight All-Ireland medals, nine All-Stars, was one of the biggest stars of the legendary Kerry team of the 1970s and π80s and was chosen on both the Team of the Century and Team of the Millennium.

In rural Ireland parlance he didn’t pick up his talent ‘off the trees’. His late father, Tom, was himself a Kerry footballer and his uncles the Lynes – Jackie and Dinny – won All-Ireland medals for Kerry.
To add to Pat’s treasure trove of golden memories, he was joined on the great Kerry team by his brothers, Mick and Tom.

The Spillanes were not just part of Irish sporting history, they were also centre stage in one of Ireland’s greatest religious occasions.
Early in 1979, news broke that the Pope would visit Ireland that September. During the Papal Mass for the youth of Ireland, Mick Spillane made a presentation as part of the giving of gifts.

In a career that had so many highs, Spillane can see the silver lining in his biggest disappointment.
“In 1982 Kerry were going for a five-in-a-row. As everybody knows we famously lost to Offaly. Yet if we had won, I would have retired and missed out on winning three All-Irelands in ‘84, ‘85 and ‘86. In fact, winning the All-Ireland in 1986 is probably the happiest memory of my career because it was my best performance in a final.”

Spillane was one of the many players who made trips to America to play in the New York championship. It was an ideal opportunity to make a few dollars and have a holiday.

Big-name stars over from Ireland were always subject to ‘robust’ play on the field. On one occasion this necessitated Spillane visiting the medical room with blood pouring from his nose.

An Italian doctor was on duty and was more interested in reading The New York Times than attending to Spillane. Without looking up from his paper he asked Spillane what was wrong. The Kerry star said, “I think I’ve broken my nose”.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own