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Kerry and the GAA

My last two holiday breaks were in the fabulous Kelly's Hotel and Holiday Complex in Rosslare, County Wexford, and on both occasions a Kerry man and his wife were there too. As is natural you get chatting and the Kerry man was GAA man, Johnny Culloty, who has been involved in Kerry GAA from the 1950's to the present day, though nowadays his main contribution is through his club, East Kerry. I wanted to hear more and we sat chatting GAA and discussing the changes over the years and how he sees the future.

Johnny's first appearance was with the Kerry County Minor Hurling team when at the age of 14 he found himself in goals. This began his GAA career in hurling and he was soon moved to the forward line. In hurling, with Killarney and East Kerry, he is credited with 1 County hurling championship, 3 minor championships and 4 Intermediate championships. However his ability as a dual player became evident and he was taken on to the Kerry Minor Football squad in his final year as a minor in 1954, where he won a Munster Championship. That same year he was part of the Kerry junior side that won both Munster and All Ireland titles. From here on he concentrated on the football though he often had hurling and was a top class player of Basketball and was on the county team for this sport as well. As he says himself - 'if there was no football or hurling there was always another game to play and that kept the fitness levels up'.
In 1955 he was on the Senior Football team and came on as a sub in forwards against Cork in the Munster final and they won. He continued to play outfield until 1959 when he was selected in goals against Galway in the League and he was a Keeper for Kerry until his retirement from County football in 1971. By 1959 Johnny had two All-Ireland medals to his credit. His final tally includes 12 Munster titles, 5 All-Ireland Championships, 5 National League titles, as well as numerous Club titles and he also has 4 National League titles in Hurling.
From 1972 until 1974 Johnny was manager of the Kerry team and although he succeeded in getting League and Munster titles the All-Irelands evaded him. The great Mick O'Dwyer took over but Johnny continued to be involved with the County teams until about 2006 after which he concentrated on Club activity and would still assist at club level in whatever way he can.

I asked Johnny about the dual codes within the county and how resources were shared and he told me there was never a problem as most of the hurling was north of Tralee and football to the south, mainly, but in those days you played any game that was going. Apart from football, Hurling and Basketball Johnny and the others would get involved in other sports and they played snooker, and rowed in Regattas but he pointed out that everyday work came first. Games were fitted in when it did not interrupt work.

Johnny sees vast changes over the years and some of these are taken for granted now. He remembers in All-Irelands and there was no such thing as getting drinks of water during the game - now they are running on with water every break in play. In those days the warm up prior to a match was a few kicks in and out of the goalmouth and a couple of quick sprints. Training nowadays is all very technical and planned with all sorts of reasons for introducing various types of training and diets. There was never any organised training for the League games - it became organised before the Championship. Everyone did a bit of training on their own but playing other games and daily work was sufficient. Johnny enjoyed every game he ever played in and he thinks that is a necessity if you are to play to your potential.

Johnny is also fearful that the GAA is moving ever closer to 'paying the players'. Already there is so much professionalism involved and people getting paid for this and that - 'it is only a small step to making the GAA a professional sport'. This is something which he thinks could ruin the GAA as a community organisation. In his early days County representatives had a big say in decision making but nowadays there are so many Committees in Croke Park and highly paid officials making the rules that - 'the GAA has become a Business and over commercialised'. If the GAA at national, provincial and county level does not recognise and appreciate the volunteer at club level then the organisation will die and it is heading that way.
The introduction of Development Squads at U14 or so is not a good thing according to Johnny. 'It is taking lads from their own environment and many will reach burn out too early in life and others, who develop their own natural ability as a club player, will be lost to the system and never get selected for County teams'.
What about Kerry's chances of taking the 2018 All-Ireland? - Kerry have some great young players coming through and still have great experienced players on the panel but no Kerry team ever went out to play a championship game without being convinced that they could win the All-Ireland. 'If you don't expect to win, then you wont'. This thing of taking two or three years to build up a team is nonsense.
Johnny would also question the type of training or whatever it is that leaves so many players injured at the end of a season and he wonders will they end up any better or worse than the players like himself.

Regarding the type of football played these days Johnny is not a fan. When asked if it were only Ulster teams that he would accuse of this type of play he was non-committal but said that the Cavan teams of his playing time were great teams and had great players and he loved watching them play. Down then came to the fore and again they introduced a few things that Kerry could not handle. 'The new tactics are too negative for me - I don't want to watch players hand-passing back and forth across the field with 13 men defending behind the half-way line. At the moment I love watching Dublin play and their style is exciting', says Johnny but Kerry will still be expecting to win the 2018 All-Ireland. It is getting more and more difficult to get out of Munster but, however easy it is, you still have to meet and defeat the top teams in the country to win the All-Ireland and will Kerry do it - 'Ah yerrah'!!!.
Thanks Johnny and sorry Joan for taking him away from whatever you had planned for that hour. Hopefully we will meet again.