Stacks roller coaster on the climb

Famous Tralee club hoping to close a 19-year gap against champions Dr Crokes

As an indication that the club has had a roller-coaster existence the current gap of 19 years in waiting for a county title isn’t unprecedented in the history of Austin Stacks.

For whatever reasons, the heyday of the club’s early years – five county titles in its first nine championships to 1936 – gave way to protracted under-achievement and it was 37 years later before the seventh was added.

Tony O'Keeffe is best known as an administrator but his playing career was distinguished during an era when Kerry ruled the world of football in the 1970s and 1980s. He was on the only Maynooth College side to land the Sigerson Cup and in 1977 played centre back on the Stacks team that claimed the club's only All-Ireland success.

That was under the captaincy of his cousin John, a member of Mick O'Dwyer's phenomenal Kerry team for which his brother Ger also played as well as eight-times All-Ireland medallists Mikey Sheehy and Ger Power.

Between 1985 and 2002 he was Kerry county secretary and went on to chair both the old Games Administration Committee in Croke Park as well as the current Central Competitions Control Committee.

In 1973 he played on the team that finally brought the county championship home for the first time since the great days of the 1930s.

Small area
"In those early years," he says, "you had the Landers and Barretts playing, probably the greatest concentration of footballers in any small area so there was bound to be some sort of fall-off but there was also a lot of politics in Kerry in the 1940s and the area wasn't very populous either.

“We only reached a semi-final in, I think, 1952. That was the extent of it. But when the town grew in the 1960s it grew out that side. There was also a teacher from the club Micheál Hayes who came back to teach in the area and it started from there. I’d say half of the 1973 team came through him.”

The other contributory factor was that the same generation won a county minor in 1969 and many of them graduated to the team that won the senior four years later. It would become a great decade for the club.

Aside from all of the achievement of Stacks’ players with Kerry, the club itself won four county titles during the 1970s.

But the historical trend of sweeping to great success in a short period of time followed by extensive lulls continued and there was only one more title, in 1986, before the most recent in 1994.

On Sunday they’ll be outsiders against the defending county and Munster champions and although they haven’t enjoyed the best of fortunes against their opponents according to O’Keeffe there’s nothing guaranteed.

“We’re outsiders and that’s not surprising against a team like Crokes with the experience they’ve amassed over the last few years but we’ve been impressive in the championship in the quarter-final and semi-final.

“It’s all to play for and it will be interesting to see who can impose their style of play.”

The team features twice All- Star Kieran Donaghy and the veteran William Kirby who won his first All-Ireland with Kerry 16 years ago and has been player manager of Stacks in recent years.

“I think there’ll be great interest in it,” says O’Keeffe about Sunday’s match in Killarney.

“It depends a bit on the weather and maybe what’s on in Cork, as there could be interest there too but 10,000 isn’t unusual at a Kerry final.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times