August 27, 1993
Former star of the 60's, and intercounty selector during the glory days '78 - '81 and now one of the brains behind the successful Kerry Under 21 team.
The task of keeping up the good name of Kerry football this year has fallen not to the Seniors but to the Under 21 lads. They are under new management this year and one of these selectors who have added a breath of fresh air to the set up down in the southwest is Kerry player of the 60's, Bernie O'Callaghan.
Since the Senior footballers from the Kingdom made an early Championship exit, all eyes have been on the young lions as they made their way through the Munster Championship and an All-Ireland semi final clash with Galway. Bernie O'Callaghan has had a major role in this extended run and should Kerry go all the way and beat Meath in the All-Ireland final, will be generally recognised as having played an important part. The trainer of the team is Paidi O'Se so there is certainly no shortage of expertise around to influence the Kerry team. Bernie O'Callaghan says that when Paidi became trainer, a notable change occurred in the Kerry players. "He is making a big difference to the panel. The players would definitely respect him because he's a recent star. They would hold him in a certain amount of awe".
Up until this year, Bernie was coaching his local team at Beale and brought them to six North Kerry Championships in his time. With this success rate, it was no wonder he got the call up for intercounty duty. "Paidi O'Se was appointed trainer of the Under 21's this year and he asked me to become involved and I was delighted to do so". Last year the team had got to the All-Ireland semi final but this summer they've already gone further. They beat Cork and the Larry Tompkins trained Waterford in the Munster Championship and then overcame the Under 21's from Galway in the All-Ireland semi final to earn a place in the decider against Meath. "We played well against Cork in the Munster semi final but not so well against Waterford in the final". In that Munster semi final, the Kerrymen beat footballing rivals Cork by five points in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. They had a lot to thank wing forward Pat O'Driscoll for as he drilled home the vital two goals in the second half which Cork could not recover from. Kerry had to travel to their opponents back yard again for the Munster final - to Walsh Park in Waterford. However, this didn't prevent them from taking their fourth provincial crown in a row at Under 21 level as they comfortably beat the Waterford lads by 10 points thanks to a late flurry of points in the second half.
Although Kerry were Munster champions, many had thought that Cork would prove too good for them and even when they reached the All-Ireland semi final, their form was still in doubt. "Cork were supposed to beat us easily and I think Galway were confident about beating us before the match. We have been underdogs all the way through the Championship". This didn't prevent O'Shea's XV from defeating the Tribesmen in an exciting semi final in Ennis, thanks to a late goal from ace scorer Pat O'Driscoll when the teams were level at 0-12 apiece. "That goal was a great boost alright", says Bernie. "It was the team that got the goal that was going to take the match". The footballers from the Kingdom finished up four point winners after a very tight game to set themselves up for the decider against Meath, who were victors over Ulster champions Derry after a replay. The Ballybunion-based hotelier is in no doubt as to who would be regarded as favourites going into Sunday's final in Portlaoise. "We'll be going in as underdogs against Meath. Two of our selectors went to see the replay of the Derry/Meath game and they were very impressed. They went up to pick out weaknesses but couldn't find any. They seem to be playing with great spirit and it looks like they will be strong favourites". These words sound like those of a crafty Kerryman, trying to play down his team's chances. The Kerry team have been noted this year for their impressive style of play in the traditional fashion of the great teams of the 70's and 80's, and their scoring ability.
Teams from the Royal County have a reputation for toughness but Bernie doesn't think that this final will particularly rough. I don't think it will be a dirty game at all. It will be a hard game - Meath are tough and strong but they're fair and always have been". He thinks that, notwithstanding their underdogs tag, they are in with a good chance on Sunday. "We have put in good preparation for this match and morale is excellent in the panel. There's great comradeship among the players. I would say that we're optimistic rather than confident". If Kerry do fail to take the All-Ireland it certainly won't be due to a lack of support as a large contingent of Kerry fans are expected to travel to Portlaoise for the big game. "There will definitely be a very big following for us on the day". For somebody who has been as successful as Bernie O'Callaghan has in his coaching career as trainer to the Beale team and selector with the intercounty have ideas about getting involved with the Kerry Senior panel. Indeed, he has already had a high degree of association with them great four in a row team of 1978 to 1981. However, the Ballybunion man hasn't really thought about taking it up again and points out that the current selection committee are only in the first year of a two year term.
Although he may not have any designs on the job of Senior trainer himself, Bernie certainly isn't keeping quiet about his thoughts on the Kerry team at the moment and the form they have been showing of late. "They showed no spirit in the Senior game against Cork and it seemed as if they just gave up. It was a very disappointing performance". Although the winning margin for Cork was just three points, 1-10 to 1-10, most observers felt that their superiority was much deeper than that and that Kerry weren't anywhere up to scratch. It was a Joe Kavanagh goal five minutes from time that separated the sides and kept Kerry out of the Munster final for the first time since 1957. "Any Kerry person doesn't mind being beaten but it was just the manner in which they were beaten. If Cork had scored what they should scored we would have been going away at half time. We were just never in it". All that the Kerry people have left to follow now are the Under 21's on Sunday. "We would like to compensate for that Senior defeat and a lot of people would be looking for some sort of compensation after it".
It seems now that following their poor performance in this year's Championship, the Kerry team will have to look to the young players for the future and give the set up an injection of new blood. This is Bernie O'Callaghan's view at any rate. "I think the future will have to rest with a lot of this Under 21 team. It's going to have to come from the younger players rather than from bringing back old players", obviously referring to the widely-publicised return of 36 year old Eoin "Bomber" Liston for this year's Championship. The Under 21 selector feels that there is hope for the future, if the Senior mentors do build their panel upon the young, up and coming playing, as the Munster Football Championship is always a tight affair. "Anything can happen between Kerry and Cork. We were favourites for the All-Ireland before our match this year and look at what happens". Although Cork beat Kerry this year, Bernie isn't sure yet whether or not they are good enough to win the All-Ireland. "They got three goals in the semi final when Mayo had given up and going by that performance I think will have to improve if they want to win the final".
He himself was unlucky not to win an All-Ireland medal during his playing days. His first intercounty appearance came in 1960 and when Kerry lost to Down by eight points in that year's final - he was sub. In the 60's he was twice Ireland's top scorer. O'Callaghan was not on the panel in 1962 when the Kingdom beat Roscommon in the decider but was a sub in 1964 and was playing from the start in 1965, Kerry being beaten by Galway in both of those years. "I never won an All-Ireland medal but in that time we won National Leagues and Munster titles so it wasn't too bad". His club at the time was Moyvane who were extremely successful then, winning the North Kerry Championship practically every year. "We had a fantastic team. Nearly all of the players played intercounty football at one level or another". He himself quit playing for Kerry in 1966 because he was starting to get involved in the hotel business.
They started off on a small scale but now he owns a 40 bedroom hotel in Ballybunion, the Cliff House Hotel. Bernie is also Chairman of the North Kerry G.A.A. Board and has been for 22 years so is kept very busy on both the business and G.A.A. fronts. Naturally enough it is a bit difficult to keep up with both, as the activities tend to peak at the same time, in summer. But it is a measure of the man's dedication to whatever he does that he manages to keep his business flourishing and can help bring the young footballers of Kerry to the All-Ireland final.
Written by the Hogan Stand Magazine
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