"He's the best athlete I've ever played with" - How Kerry's one that got away won it for mid-men in '08 3 months ago

"He's the best athlete I've ever played with" - How Kerry's one that got away won it for mid-men in '08

'Watch your mouth,' says Darran O'Sullivan when, by mistake, this journalist asks him about winning the 2008 county final with 'East' Kerry.

'I'm mid Kerry,' he says, quick as a flash. Obviously a point of note.

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When you consider that the purpose of this phone-call was to talk about mid-Kerry, and their last county championship win in 2008, it goes without saying that it was an innocent, albeit silly mistake to make.

But it wasn't a silly mistake to ring Darran O'Sullivan, because, as you'll soon discover, his memories of that county final replay win are absolute golden.

That game was as dramatic as it was controversial as in the dying light of winter, and on the first Sunday of December, a last-gasp and hotly-contested injury-time penalty gave the divisional side the edge on Kerins O'Rahillys, and sealed a one-point win.

It was their first county championship in 17 years. This Sunday, when they take on East Kerry in the final, they'll be going for their first in 15.

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O'Sullivan was on the field for their last, he kicked 0-3 in a low-scoring game that day in '08, but he remembers little about the penalty.

"I was nowhere near the penalty because I was too busy at the time. I'll never forget it.

"We were pushing hard and I was trying to run up the sideline.

"But the corner back Danny Sullivan was pulling and dragging out of me.

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Darran O'Sullivan in action during the 2008 Kerry senior championship final

"I got sick of it. I thought the game was gone at this stage. So I gave an auld swipe, right across the shin-bone, absolutely buried him. The umpire comes in, he's telling me to calm down.

"Next thing I hear a whistle, I look across and there's a penalty. I go from kicking him to jumping around celebrating. It was deep in injury time and we had a chance to win it."

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There was never a doubt in Darran's mind that they were going to win it then. Because, as a club-mate, he knew Aidan O'Shea better than anyone. And he knew him well enough to know that he was never going to miss.

"Aidan O'Shea, who's Jack O'Shea's son, was going to take the penalty. There's no-one else you'd have wanted.

"He put the foot through it, down the middle, and he nearly took the net off its hinges with an absolute rasper of a shot."

We would say, in normal circumstances, that the story of Aidan O'Shea is one for another day but why not tell it now. O'Sullivan labels him, among other things, as the best athlete he's ever played with. But unfortunately for Glenbeigh-Glencar, and unfortunately for Kerry too, the man was retired by 25.

"He got a couple of bad injuries. He got misdiagnosed. He got surgery which he didn't need, and just couldn't get back after it. But I'd go as far as saying he's the best athlete I ever played with. He was full back that day but he could have been full forward the next day.

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O'Shea ended having four hip surgeries, one consultation in America, but none of them worked out, and that was how he became Kerry's one that got away.

30 November 2008; Mid Kerry players Aidan, left, and Kieran O'Shea with parents Mary and former Kerry footballer Jack. Kerry Senior Football Championship Final Replay, Kerins O'Rahilly's v Mid Kerry, Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, Co. Kerry. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

"He was 6 foot two two or three, could play anywhere, could go all day. Pace to burn. Never had an inch of fat, he looked like a swimmer.

"He was unbelievably unlucky then with those injuries. He was one that got away from Kerry, the only bother with him was you could play him anywhere, I've seen him play everywhere except the goals. And he would have been brilliant anywhere.

"He won an All-Ireland with Kerry in '09, he's the Spá manager this year. But he was my Gleneigh Glencar club-mate, he trained our club team to the junior All-Ireland in 2017 when he was 31."

Back to the scene of the crime.

"I'll never forget what happened afterwards," O'Sullivan recalls.

"An auld boy came onto the field afterwards, and he gave me a whack with an umbrella, and he called me a thug!

"It was one of the politicians, gave me the rap in the middle of the celebrations - 'yerra, go f*ck yourself' is what he got in response!"

"What was funny afterwards, then, was that we went back and spent the evening and the night in the Kerins O'Rahillys clubhouse. I spent the day kicking Danny Sullivan in the shin, and I spent the night drinking with him at the bar!"

O'Sullivan went onto win a county junior championship with Glenbeigh in 2017 and while some might say that winning with your club would have to mean more, O'Sullivan struggles to split them. That's because the team spirit they had in mid-Kerry felt just like the spirit of a club team.

29 January 2017; Glenbeigh-Glencar players including Darran O'Sullivan and goalkeeper Rory O'Connor applaud supporters after the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Junior Club Championship Semi-Final between Glenbeigh-Glencar and Louisburgh at Cusack Park in Ennis, Co Clare. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

"I knew that was my last game when we lost the county final with mid Kerry in 2020. We were well beaten by East Kerry. I remember in the huddle, I knew I was done, I told the lads that I was done but I also said 'there's a county championship in this group lads.'

"But it was emotional too because I started playing with mid Kerry when I was 17/18. If we didn't have this system in place, novice was the highest level I could play. So if we didn't have this system, how would lads like me break through?"

From the outside looking in, it's easy to say that a divisional team could never have the soul of a club team but O'Sullivan disagrees.

"There was always a good unity, a good buzz with mid Kerry and there's a great togetherness in the team.

"Comparing them to the rest of the district teams, I would even say that it seems there's a lot more togetherness there.

"That's why I believe they could win on Sunday. Look, they could lose by ten points either, because East Kerry are so good, and they're so star-studded, but you'd be foolish to write our lads off."

A mid-Kerry man 'til the very end.