09 December 1994
Across The Cork/Kerry County
Border With KEVIN DILLON
Few rivalries in gaelic football are as passionate, intense and last but not least healthy as that which exists betweens the gaels of Cork and Kerry. Those fortunate enough to be born in either camp exude a pride in their pedigree which is hardly equalled or surpassed in any other part of the country. For a player to have been able to keep a foot in both camps, enjoy and wallow in the good times shared by both tribes was indeed fortunate. Kerry native and former Cork star Kevin Dillon was one such player.
Born and reared in the rabid football territory that is Duagh in north Kerry, the young Dillon had his choice of sporting icons from which to pick his hero from. Before he could kick a ball in anger the likes of Dan McAuliffe thrilled all and sundry in the locality and beyond with his classy performances for the Kingdom. Ironically it was for Kerry's archrivals that McAuliffe's neighbour would play out of his skin.
McAuliffe, the All-Ireland medal winner was in good company at Duagh too. The fifties was a very successful decade for the home club of big Don Kevin Dillon and their ilk. The club was the top club in north Kerry for quite a period and put north Kerry championship titles back to back in the mid-fifties. It was at the latter end of Duagh's purple period that the teenage Dillon entered the adult fray and remembers listening to the commentary of the 1955 All-Ireland Senior final in which three Duagh clubmen were included with the Kerry team which beat the Kevin Heffernan, Ollie Freaney powered Dubs.
The Dillon family of Duagh contributed five fine footballers to the area. Kevin was one of them. One of his older brothers Dialmuid was another and was a substitute on that self-same Kerry team of 55. Meanwhile, Paul Dillon was Kerry's centre-half back on the Kerry Junior team in 1954 which went on to win the All-Ireland title. A clerical student at the time, unfortunately Paul was unable to take his place in the final line-up because of Church rules. Other brother Pat also went on to star for Kerry Juniors as a tigerish defender. The fifth brother Matt was a regular on the Duagh team and a fine player too. For a brief period all five Dillon brothers lined out together for Duagh in the north Kerry divisional league. Unfortunately a combination of injuries, migration etc served to break the Dillon connection with the Duagh team all too quickly for the liking of connoisseurs of football in the area.
A graduate of Rockwell College in Tipperary, Kevin Dillon was a lover of all sports as a teenager but excelled principally at rugby and gaelic football. His fondness for both games got him in hot water though during the reign of the infamous Ban however. For the last two years he spent in College he was suspended from playing gaelic games because of his penchant for playing out half and scrum half with the newly-formed Abbeyfeale rugby team.
"I remember being notified by the County Board for playing rugby for Abbeyfeale and getting suspended for twelve months from the date of the last game. Every time I kept playing rugby I just added to my suspension. I felt very strongly about the Ban and fought to have it removed at every opportunity."
The Duagh born former star footballer eventually made his way as a twenty year old to work in the agricultural field in Clonakilty, an area equally steeped in GAA tradition. "Clonakilty had a very good team back then and being able to play football made a blow-in to Clonakilty very welcome. We should have won the county championship but unfortunately we never did. It was a well balanced team but it had its fair quote of exceptional players such as Tommy Connolly who played with Cork and Kildare, Harry de Long who was a great club footballer and the Hayes brothers Flor and Tim F, both of whom had amazing all-round ability."
Playing for Clonakilty led to Kevin being selected for the Cork Juniors in '65: "I remember being asked by county selector Eamonn Young as to whether or not I minded playing against my native Kerry. All I ever wanted to do was play football though so I jumped at the chance of lining out for Cork.
Even though we lost to them in '65, it wasn't long after that I got promoted to the Senior team."
Generally a tigerish half-back with Clonakilty but the type of athlete who flourished amidst the wide open space afforded him at midfield, Kevin Dillon was a five foot eight inch, eleven and a half stone terrier who could run all day but it was just as well for the Kerry born former Cork star recalls being charged with marking speedsters like Galway half-forward Seamus Leydon.
"My small physique left me at an awful disadvantage but I could run forever. I needed to because I was up against some great footballers. Unfortunately I became overly negative in my play and because too much of a man to man marker which meant I was out of the action for long periods of the game which, to be honest, slightly lessened my enjoyment of the game. Some of the great wing forwards I played on at that time are Derry and Thorney O'Shea, Brendan Lynch of Kerry, Galway's Cyril Dunne and Seamus Leydon, Joe Corcoran Of Mayo, Meath's Tony Brennan, whom I played on in the 1967 All-Ireland,
Jackie Donnelly of Kildare - all players of exceptional skill and vision and a bit ahead of their time as were my old Clonakilty clubmates Flor Hayes and Pat Griffin. The ball was not played as they would have liked it, which made it easier for backs to mark them."
Despite putting in fifteen years of loyal service with Clonakilty, Kevin Dillon found himself with nothing to show for his efforts in terms of silverware. In 1968 he both trained and captained the Clonakilty side which lost the county final to Carbery that year after a replay. "We were the only Senior team in west Cork at that time and we had a great team spirit, better than what most of the divisional teams had at least. We were unlucky in the replay though because it was only a great goal by Donal Hunt which separated us in the end," explained the man who trained the last Clonakilty side which reached the county final. Carbery at that time included Castlehaven an O'Donovan Rossas and many other clubs which now have their own Senior team.
Married to Maria, Kevin's family have all inherited his love of sport. His son Terry regularly lines out with Highfield Rugby Football Club in the Centre while his Clonakilty outings see him togging out on the forty for his beloved Clonakilty .
Reflecting back on his days in the county colours with Cork, Kevin recalls the joy of playing with the county Seniors for a four year period between 1964 and '69. The joy of it all comes flooding back to him in waves of nostalgia. "We had a well-balanced team with tremendous team spirit and comraderie. Many of those friendships are still intact today".
Executive Secretary of the Irish Holstein Freisian Society, a full-time job which sees him based in Clonakilty, Kevin Dillon's business involves him running the pedigree section of the Black & White breed which produce 99% of the milk we drink here within the Society and he loves every minute of it. Still the game he graced in the deepest south excites him like nothing else.
"One of the greatest memories I have of my time playing gaelic football was when I was playing with Cork Seniors. We beat Kerry in two Munster finals in a row, in 1966 and '67 which was unheard of at the time. In fact I think we were the first Cork team to achieve that distinction," Kevin added.
But just how good were the Cork teams of '66 and '67? The team's ace defender goes for the jackpot. "The Cork team of '66 could and should have one the Sam Maguire Cup. There was definitely an All-Ireland title in that squad but we were beaten by a great Galway team in the All-Ireland semi-final which included the likes of Enda Colleran, Noel Tierney and the Donnellan brothers and a host of other really exceptional players including of course Seamus Leydon. That Galway team was possibly the best team I ever played against. They must have been one of the best football teams ever."
Kevin disappeared off the county scene when is free time was curtailed by the purchase of a small farm in 1968. Reflecting back on Clonakilty's failure to make the breakthrough in his day, Kevin is remarkably philosophical about the conspicuous absence of silverware. "It was naturally disappointing. Maybe we stick too much and too long to the old traditional catch and kick type game. Pat Griffin was one of the best players I played with but his style of play wasn't adopted by the club for a long time. Dave McCarthy was another great Clonakilty stalwart at the this point in time also, small but great hearted and superbly fit, who had a tremendous work rate which justifiably earned him an All-Star."
Still living in the GAA heartland of Clonakilty, Kevin Dillon has a bank-full of memories. Memories of one of the most talented players he ever played with, Eoin O'Mahony, are there too. "He was a special footballer with Clonakilty and the county team but he never fulfilled his potential unfortunately."
Clonakilty at present are going through a lean period at Senior level but tremendous work is being done at underage and this year's all-conquering Under 14 team has some great prospects. Having won seven county Championships in the 40s the club has a proud past. Another one is well overdue and anything would give Clonakilty people, particularly Kevin Dillon, more pleasure.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
9th December, 1994