In late November this year, I stumbled across an old photo of a Legion under 12 team that I was part of in 1986. The black and white photo was taken in the ‘small field’ of Fitzgerald Stadium to mark a successful year for the team. Included in the photo are the team mentors who guided us throughout that year. Standing to the right-hand side is Weeshie Fogarty who was the only trainer not to have his own son involved in the team (Although his young son Kieran did make an appearance for the photo shoot!) Fast forward to the present day as I made phone calls, called to houses and met in a car park (true!) to collect medals for the current under 12 boys’ team to mark their successful year. After the medals were distributed, the boys and the coaches gathered for a photograph. The wheel had turned full circle. I woke the next morning to the news that Weeshie has passed away.
Young At Heart
My first experience of Weeshie was at the Saturday morning football sessions with Legion under 10s. Back then, before the Legion had a home of its own, we ran and played and kicked every Saturday wherever we could. The field in Knockreer, the sheep-trimmed grass near St Finan’s or on the field where Killarney Community College now stands – these were our fields of dreams (and sheep poo) in our early years. Weeshie was an ever present back then and would remain so throughout my playing career and beyond.
Being so young at the time, we were not aware that Weeshie had played with Kerry. He was just one of the trainers as far as we were concerned. His status was elevated in my eyes one afternoon when the great Kerry team of the early 80s were playing a challenge game in the field next to my primary school (The Mon). We were in the yard on break when word got out that the Kerry team were playing in the field next door. Some of us braved the bushes (and the Presentation Brothers…) to sneak in for a peak. Sure enough, there was the Bomber, Jacko, Pat Spillane and Páidí in full flow. From our vantage point in the ditch, we were only a few feet away from Mick O’Dwyer on the sideline. Standing beside Micko, chatting away to him with his hands clasped behind his back was Weeshie. I remember the trouble I got into when I returned to class late. It was (almost) worth it to see the great Kerry team up close. But the sight of Weeshie chatting with Micko made an impression on me that day. Maybe he was worth listening to at training sessions! As a young boy, many an hour was whiled away on the floor of my mother’s house, poring over the images and stories in the Legion of Memories which was a publication marking the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Legion club. Weeshie featured in many parts and was also instrumental in the compilation of the book.
Those early years playing football introduced me to some of the famous words of wisdom and tactical approaches that Weeshie imparted on dozens of footballers over the years. Always conscious of the importance of fitness, every session started with a few laps of the field. To distract us from the drudgery of the running, he would sometimes introduce a football to be passed between us. To prevent those of us at the back of the pack getting discouraged from being left in the wake of the greyhounds at the front, he would famously ‘pair us off in threes’ so that we only had two fellas to chase at most.
There weren’t too many sports psychologists around in those days but Weeshie was an early prototype in many ways. During shooting practice, the corner forwards were warded off the mortal sin of kicking the ball wide on their own side of the goals. Wayward shooting was not uncommon at underage level, so safer to aim away slightly away from the goal, as there was always a chance that a miscued shot could make its way across the square for another to capitalise on. Now try explaining that to a 11 or 12 year old, good luck. So Weeshie had a mantra “Don’t kick the ball wide on your own side…Kick the ball wide on the other side” We understood what he meant (although some of us took his advice too literally) and it was an early indication of his unique way with words that would entertain many more over the years.
As I progressed through the underage ranks, Weeshie was an ever present at games, training and social events. Always there with words of encouragement and always willing to take some time to offer some tips and advice. For much of my juvenile years, he was PRO for the club and I always looked forward to the match reports in the Killarney Advertiser or The Kerryman. In the days before social media, these few paragraphs once a week was our window to the world of what was going on in the club. Weeshie had a nickname or a reference for everyone and I walked a little taller when the ‘tall Fair Hill boy’ moniker appeared in print. In my last year in St. Brendan’s College, the ‘Sem’ team won the All Ireland Colleges title. I missed the final stages due to injury, but I remember giving me a boost at the time by saying how important the whole squad was etc. He followed up his words of encouragement with a mention in the club notes the same week. ‘No more deserving recipient of a Celtic Cross’ was a phrase that was more than a little exaggerated, but it did the trick at the time and I’ve never forgotten him for saying that.
I’m an Adult Now
And so, on I went to the senior ranks of the Legion. A rite of passage for any young player is to throw them into the junior team at a young age to learn the ropes of playing with and against ‘real men’. For reasons only known to those privileged to play junior football, it was not always a certainty that a full complement of players would be available for the match at the weekend. At one such glamour tie on a wet and windy afternoon, we were short a few players. In the days before mobile phones, cars were dispatched to various homes around Killarney to rouse a few unwilling participants to answer the call of duty. Meanwhile at the game, we needed to field the minimum number of players before half time or risk forfeiting the fixture. Cometh the hour, cometh the man as they say. Weeshie had come to the match that day expecting to serve as an umpire and was dressed for the occasion. Hat, coat, oils, wellies and brolly. – the standard uniform for those posted at the goal. The team was complete with one A. Fogarty at top of the left. The addition of a Legion jersey over the coat and a repositioning of about 10 yards from the goalpost inside the field was all that was needed. As the teams left the huddle, the young corner back on the opposition headed over to his station and eyed his opponent suspiciously but resisted the temptation to give the traditional corner back ‘welcome’. A wise decision on his part, considering that Weeshie was wielding a golf umbrella over his head. The late arrival of our sleepy corner forward saw Weeshie take a few nonchalant steps to his left to resume his position by the white flag at the post.
Kerry football is generally viewed as conservative and any new-fangled tactical development is viewed with suspicion at best. Weeshie didn’t have a negative bone in his body and his football philosophy was traditional, simple and positive. Not for him would there be a swarm defence or a sweeper. Let the ball in long, let it in early was more to his taste. But there was a time when he did adopt a novel tactic during a senior match away to Glenbeigh on (another) wet and windy afternoon. For those not familiar with the location of the pitch back then, just imagine a field with a road on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The other key historical fact to note is that footballs were not as abundant back then as they are now. These days, coaches are weighed down with bags of footballs with one for everyone in the audience. Back then? There was ‘the ball’. At the half time break, Legion were trailing by several points and facing into a storm force wind in the second half. Things were looking bleak. It was then that the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ tactic was conceived. Realising that in the absence of a match ball, the game would be abandoned, and we would live to fight another day, Weeshie revealed his plan to the shivering players. All endeavours for the second half were centred around kicking the ball as hard as possible in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean!
Weeshie’s Second Half
I was lucky enough to witness the early days of Weeshie’s first steps into what would turn out to be a long and successful career in broadcasting. In the early days of Radio Kerry, the results of the County League games would be broadcast on a Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon. Representatives from each club would phone the station and when they were all collated, they were broadcast on the next sports bulletin. Weeshie was our man to phone in the scores when I was playing with the seniors. Always the innovator, Weeshie was not satisified with phoning in a mere scoreline. He added a match report outlining key incidents, top scorers etc. Radio Kerry were quick to spot this talent and began recording and broadcasting the match reports that Weeshie provided. Many a bus journey home (yes, we had to take a bus, not everyone had a car!!) was delayed while Weeshie sought out a payphone on the way home so he could phone in his report. Before long, the listeners of Radio Kerry were treated to match reports from many more games as Weeshie ‘phoned them in’ from games all across the county. The arrival of the mobile phone has transformed our society in many ways. For Weeshie, it enabled him to get the reports in during and after games and opened the doors for what turned out to be an award-winning career in broadcasting.
During my years living away from Kerry, I never lost touch with what was going on with the Legion and Kerry teams. The arrival of the internet meant it was possible to listen to a county final anywhere in the world – as I did in Sydney, London and San Diego. The common denominator in all those broadcasts was Weeshie’s colourful commentary. Many have mentioned Weeshie’s commentary at the final whistle of the 97 All Ireland Final as one of the highlights of his broadcasting career. I was lucky enough to the be in the Canal End of Croke Park that day, so I didn’t hear it until a couple of days later. In those famous comments he compares looking down at the sea of Kerry supporters on the pitch to looking down on the lakes of Killarney from the famous viewing point at Aghadoe. While Weeshie was making those famous comments, his fellow clubmate and friend, Mickey Culloty passed away in the Hogan Stand. Mickey is laid to rest in Aghadoe looking down on those same lakes.
When I returned to living in Killarney, my first visit to Direen was on a sunny Saturday morning. One of the first faces that greeted me was the beaming smile of Weeshie. Happy, no doubt to see someone he could nab for a job, but also happy to see one of the many, many players that he coached and encouraged, returning to the fold. Over the following years, I met him many times in Direen or on his many walks in Killarney National Park. He presented medals to my kids and I listened to him again on the radio. He watched from the sidelines as I helped out with the young kids on a Saturday morning. The wheel kept on turning…
A couple of weeks before his passing, the Saturday Academy had their last session of the year. Fun games were the order of the day with the under 10 girls who would be ‘graduating’ from the Academy. For one of the games, I was not 100% au fait with some of the ‘rules’ and looked to the girls for guidance. One of the girls came to my rescue and stood up next to me, turned to the rest of the players and explained the rules, split up the groups and set them all up to go. I smiled and turned away as Weeshie’s granddaughter got the game up and running. “Briseann an dúchas trí shúile an chait”