Seán O’Shea believes winter championship a ‘real positive for people’

Kerry player looking forward to Sunday’s Munster semi-final clash with Cork

Every player had to find their own little moment of peace with the intercounty season resuming in the face of another lockdown and for Seán O’Shea it was sealed somewhere outside a hotel in Monaghan.

After driving individually to Inniskeen for the penultimate round of the league, the Kerry players then made their rendezvous before the game, where O'Shea was waiting alongside team-mate David Moran.

“As a player, I was always comfortable going back, and I know my team-mates felt the same,” says O’Shea.

“Then up in Monaghan, I was outside the hotel before the match with David [Moran], just passing time, and a lady walked past, keeping her social distance obviously, and she just said ‘thanks lads . . . ’


“She was a Kerry woman based in Monaghan for 20 or 30 years, and hadn’t been able to get home lately. She almost had tears in her eyes, talking about what it meant to be able to watch the game on TV that evening, and that was really striking. She was there later when we were leaving with the Kerry jersey on, with the Kerry flag, waving us out.

“That was really striking to me, that especially the older population have something to look forward to, which I know is massive in Kerry too, even the build-up to the game, that’s all great for them. I really do believe, in the dark evenings, with a lot of bad news around, it can be a real positive for people.”

A week later, after beating Donegal at home in Tralee, Kerry were league champions for the first time since 2017, having lost last year's final to Mayo. The celebrations may have been suitably muted but it was a first national senior medal for O'Shea, the Kenmare player who turned 22 last July.

“That’s the way things are, everything about this season is different, the whole country is adapting, but we were still delighted to win it. It was a strange one, starting in January and finishing in late October, but it was a great one to win, just a bit quieter than usual, when David [Clifford] got the lift the cup.

“It’s going to be a very different championship as well, but a win is a win, and whoever wins will be delighted.”

Kerry's championship campaign begins this Sunday against Cork, in the Munster semi-final, familiar terrain for most involved and especially for O'Shea given he's been based over the border the last number of years, currently out of UCC on teaching practice in Ballincollig.

Although well fancied to progress, as they were last year, Cork hit them with 3-10 in last year’s Munster final, O’Shea helping himself to 0-8 of Kerry’s 1-19. It being a straight knock-out adds intrigue to the usual pressure.

“That [Munster final] does feel so long ago now, but we’re very aware of the challenge Cork will bring, this year more than any other year because it’s back to knock-out, do or die, back in Páirc Uí Chaoimh too.

"You're always trying to learn, after every year. And being away from it for so long, we're looking forward to working as hard as we can together. Travelling up and down to Killarney, there was usually a good gang of us living in Cork, and we might car-pool down, but we're all travelling alone, that's one of the main differences, it makes it that bit more lonely.

“Living in Cork, teaching here, there’s been plenty of slagging down the corridor, so I know how up for it they are down here in Cork.”

There is one notable addition to the Kerry team from last year's meeting, Tony Brosnan from Dr Crokes featuring prominently in Kerry's last two league matches, scoring nine points, eight of them from play and one a mark.

“He’s been flying, in fairness, has been really sharp for us, and a great addition,” says O’Shea. “He’d been doing that for his club, was there around Kerry since 2016, but is getting his opportunity now, and is really taking it.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics