Kerry’s Aidan O’Mahony retires still ‘at the very top’
‘His aggression and never-say-die attitude was an inspiration’ says Jack O’Connor
Aidan O’Mahony: “I have utmost respect for every player whom I have played against as we all put on our county colours with a common goal in mind.” Photograph: INPHO/James Crombie
Of the many wordy and worthy tributes paid to Aidan O’Mahony on his retirement, perhaps Jack O’Connor’s is the most telling. “Teak tough and fearless,” said the former Kerry manager. “The tougher it was, the better he liked it.”
Indeed, O’Connor reckoned that O’Mahony “often sailed close to the wind but that was the only way he knew how to play”, which of course is meant as a compliment. Only sometimes that cost O’Mahony, and perhaps even Kerry, the most recent example being his black card in the 2015 All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin.
That game was 58 minutes old, Dublin leading by two points, when O’Mahony dragged down Kevin McManamon close to goal. It was a clumsy tackle as much as cynical one; just how much his absence cost Kerry in the end will never be known.
Not that he’ll be remembered for that, of course. Rather, it will be for his five All-Ireland senior medals, eight Munster championships, three National League titles and two All Star awards over a brilliantly consistent 14-year career.
O’Connor who gave him his first start in 2004, the year after Tyrone’s fairly poisonous victory over Kerry in Croke Park, and O’Mahony’s style of play provided the perfect antidote.
“When I took over as Kerry senior manager in 2004,” O’Connor said, “it was fairly obvious to me that we needed to go in a new direction. Kerry had been bullied by the likes of Tyrone, Armagh and Meath three years in a row, so we needed a new harder edge if we were to compete at the top table.”
“Aidan O’Mahony fitted that bill perfectly,” O’Connor said. “The likes of himself and Paul Galvin set the tone early on that year in our two battles in the Munster championship with Limerick. Aidan had a great temperament for the big day, and he marked some of the best forwards in the country over the years.
“His aggression and never-say-die attitude was an inspiration to those around him. To be still playing at the very top at 36 years of age is truly remarkable in this day and age, and is a tribute to the physical shape he kept himself in. In an era when many players are finished at 30, Aidan has defied the odds.”
O’Mahony’s enthusiasm once got the better of him in another way when, ahead of the 2005 final against Tyrone, he exceeded the permitted amount of asthma medication. As a result, he tested positive for Salbutamol in what was an anti-doping offence, although he was cleared with just a warning.
He is one of the last links with O’Connor’s All-Ireland winning team of 2004 (now only Colm “Gooch” Cooper remains). Current Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice also outlined his influence on the team in the years since.
“Over the years, he has played in every defensive position for Kerry and performed every role to distinction, from man marker to attacking half back, from a holding centre back to a sweeper in recent years. He was the ultimate pro in terms of the way he prepared himself for training and matches on and off the field.
“He led by example and was a driving force in the gym and on the pitch. He took pride in excelling at any physical work. Throughout his career he defied western medicine when returning from injury. He pushed himself to the limit and beyond to get back as quickly as possible. For the medical team trying to hold him back as he fought to return to play, it was like trying to keep the tide out.”
Passed the baton
Said Fitzmaurice: “His leadership was of particular importance in the last few years as a lot of younger players have been integrated into the panel. He passed on the baton and helped these players to understand what it means to be a Kerry footballer. Honesty underpinned everything he did and his selflessness manifested itself in the way he was happy to advise and encourage everyone, even the players he was in direct competition with for a position; a rarity.
“Aidan was a warrior for Kerry right up until the last minute of his last game last August” – that semi-final defeat to Dublin.
O’Mahoney made 70 championship appearances and featured in 85 league games.
“It’s been an absolute honour for me to wear the green and gold jersey for Kerry for the past 14 years at senior level,” he said, “but time is now appropriate for me to step away from the Kerry team. I have utmost respect for every player whom I have played against as we all put on our county colours with a common goal in mind.”
O’Mahoney isn’t quite finished chasing glory – he’s a contestant on RTÉ’s Dancing with the Stars. Not that he’ll be remembered for the eventual outcome of that either, of course.