Kerry heavy hearts | 

Roy Curtis: The touching stories of Spillane, Clifford and O’Connor show why the GAA works

Kerry manager Jack O'Connor celebrate at the final whistle of the All-Ireland SFC Final win over Galway in Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile

Kerry manager Jack O'Connor celebrate at the final whistle of the All-Ireland SFC Final win over Galway in Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Roy CurtisSunday World

The deluge that burst the banks of each of these three towering Kerry hearts was prompted by the GAA’s most powerful and enduring weather front.


Amid a gush of tears, Spillane’s final Sunday Game appearance was elevated by the gorgeous, profound eloquence in which he spoke about his late father.

Opening the cover of himself to reveal thoughts carved on to his soul in the calligraphy of unbreakable love, Pat provided a few moments of authentically beautiful and spellbinding TV.

He removed his eyeglasses and dabbed at tears as his entire being was engulfed by an abiding ache his late father had not lived to see his three sons – Tom, Mick and, of course, eight-time All-Ireland winner Pat himself – announce themselves as kings of September.

Spillane’s words were like a beginner’s guide to the sense of identity and place that sets the GAA apart.

As with any instruction manual, the advice is to read carefully over every line.

“Just from a personal point of view, in 1964, my father was a selector for Kerry against Galway and the night before a game, he had a pain in his chest.

“He wouldn’t go to the doctor, went to the game the following day as a selector and was dead on Tuesday.

“Kerry-Galway matches to me always bring back this memory and my father never saw us play, the three sons. And today, the three sons have 19 All-Ireland medals and his two grandsons, Killian and Adrian, today have two more and he would have been proud of 21 senior All-Ireland football medals in his house.

“It’s just a special, special day.”

As he struggled for composure, there was an exquisite moment when his fellow panellist, Ciarán Whelan, consoled Spillane with a rub of the back.

Without speaking, Whelan was articulating the message of the hundreds of thousands watching the broadcast: We’re here for you.

As he stepped into untouched terrain, Jack O’Connor also had the spirit of a fallen parent by his side.

En route to becoming the first man to win a championship/league double in the first year of each of three terms as manager of his home place, O’Connor was in communion with his late mother.

All those years ago, fearful of the colossal pressures and attention that accompany the position, she had advised her son against accepting what is comfortably the most high-profile job in Kerry.

So as Sunday’s final unspooled towards its conclusion, he turned, as sons always will, back to the woman who brought him to life.

“Look, I was very close to my mother, the youngest of nine children, and she’d have been very sensitive to any of us getting criticism, but me in particular, I suppose, because I was the baby.

“She knew I was in line for the job, but she knew also what Kerry is like when you don’t win. So I think she felt I’d be better off if I didn’t take it.

“And it was amazing, the night that I was ratified for the job, she was being taken to the funeral home, so yeah…she got a few calls yesterday when the heat came on.”

Life and death and family and GAA, the thread uniting so many stories, so many lives.

Fascinated to observe how the most talked about footballer of his generation would react to his moment of deliverance, my eyes remained clamped on David Clifford during the final minutes of the game.

At the final whistle, liberated from an expectation he has shouldered since his teenage years, Clifford trampolined exuberantly between the Galway 45 and the halfway line, fists at full mast, deliriously punching the air.



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