It’s a bleak, cold, grey Sunday in March. March 24th 1985 to be precise. A small town in North Kerry is empty. You can almost see the straw blowing on its wide main street. There isn’t a sinner to be seen. Flags hang from every shop front, pole, and house in this town - their blue and white boxes wrestling with the swirling wind.
This town is a town called Castleisland in Co. Kerry. Today, March 24th 1985, every man, woman and child has travelled 75 miles up the road to Tipperary Town. Castleisland Desmonds are in the Senior Football Club All Ireland Final. It’s their first – and only winning appearance at a Senior Club Football All Ireland Final.
Desmonds face the city slickers from Dublin, St. Vincents. St Vincents have all the swagger of a city team, the long hair and confidence of growing up in the capital. They have the players, all stars like Brian Mullins, Tommy Conroy and Pat Canavan. Desmonds are men of the countryside, summers of their youth spent in bogs and meadows. City v countryside. Big club v small club.
It is the first time in their history that a Desmonds team has made it to such a lofty stage. They tasted success locally with, but they have never dined with such prestigous company. St Vincent's, by contrast, had won 24 Dublin Senior Championships, 3 Leinster Senior Championships and 1 All Ireland Senior Championship title in their illustrious history.
Castleisland Demonds appearance in the final didn’t come out of the blue. They had been progressively developing over the previous 10 years - 3 county Intermediate Championships and 4 North Kerry Championships. In a dour tough All Ireland Final struggle, Desmonds manage to score only 4 times. 4 times in 60 minutes! One of these scores is in the very last minute.
It is now 30 years since Desmonds captured that All Ireland title and brought so much joy to the people of Castleisland. In ‘Documentary On One – Once Were Champions’ we revisit the team of that time, hear of their journey to the final – and the impact on their lives. In the economically bleak mid 1980’s, this footballing journey took this small community on the journey of a lifetime. We meet the players and trainers – and hear what happened before and since that All Ireland win.
In many ways, this documentary encapsulates everything about club GAA – community spirit, team ethic, belief - and a GAA legacy that this small town is proud to have.
Narrated and Produced by Dan Kearney with Production Supervision by Liam O'Brien.
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.