Paudie Palmer: GAA is no country for old men, just don't tell Jack O'Connor, Brian Cody and Pat Spillane

For those of us where the final furlong issues constant reminders it was refreshing that three men in their sixties commanded centre stage last weekend
Paudie Palmer: GAA is no country for old men, just don't tell Jack O'Connor, Brian Cody and Pat Spillane

Kerry manager Jack O'Connor celebrates after securing another All-Ireland title. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

WAS it the perfect date on which to play the All-Ireland football final?

Of course, it is possible that there was another major sporting event that is outside my knowledge spectrum that was grappling for media attention. However, the oval ball brothers, the big soccer practitioners, the important golf swingers including the LIV pioneers all appeared to be on a down weekend.

For those of us, where the final furlong, issues constant reminders, wasn’t it somewhat refreshing that three men in their sixties commanded an amount of our attention?

The first of the trio and really there is no order, could, if one was cynical, could be described as a Kilkenny man stealing some thunder on the weekend when the showpiece football event was meant to take centre-stage.

The departure of Brian Cody a few days after his 68th birthday was in keeping with his 24-year reign of sheer brilliance.

There was no personal social media post thanking all who made it possible for him to climb his Everest. Of course, his record speaks for itself but his style of management which was reflected in his teams was probably his greatest trademark.

The icon, Brian Cody. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE
The icon, Brian Cody. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

His relationship with the clubs and his acknowledgement of their importance in the big wheel was so commendable.

Seemingly, when Kilkenny players went back to their clubs during the old inter-county season, they did so in the knowledge that their boss was monitoring their performance. None of this, you can play for 40 minutes and must then come off. 

Hopefully, some of his views in that regard will be taken on board by others, particularly by bainisteoirí of Cork underage teams.

I can only presume that the reason that some didn’t like him was based on the vital statics of 11 All-Ireland titles, 18 Leinster championships and 10 National Leagues. I think it was more than fitting that on his last day in the office in the All-Ireland final, the Kilkenny players performed with that special team spirit that was so important to him.

Maybe not all, but many will miss his presence on the sideline wearing the trademark baseball cap.

It is difficult to visualise anybody joining him on top of his own mountain anytime soon... one mighty bainisteoir.

The next senior citizen to invade our attention span was pundit supreme Pat Spillane from Templenoe. He was his own man on the playing fields which he graced for the best part of 25 years and was likewise in the TV studios for 30.

He will be 67 in December and in his final half an hour donning the pundits uniform, he shed emotional tears as he reflected on the 1964 All-Ireland final where his father Tom, was a Kerry selector when they faced Galway.

Kerry and RTE legend Pat Spillane on his last day working on the Sunday Game. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Kerry and RTE legend Pat Spillane on his last day working on the Sunday Game. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

On the Saturday of the game, Tom felt unwell, but didn’t seek medical advice and was dead the following Tuesday.

Despite being a wee bit younger, I can remember the pall of sadness that descended on this small rural area.

Pat was eight and the eldest of four children; wasn’t his mother some woman to overcome that adversity and raise the four of them on the proceeds on the side of the road rural pub.

Come to think of it, there must have been some shot of porter drinkers in the area!

Pat, Mick and Tom won 19 All-Irelands medals between then and two more arrived on Sunday when Adrian and Killian were part of the victorious Kerry team.

They are both Tom’s sons. To cap a great day for this small club, Tadhg Morley and Gavin Crowley will also return to the homeland midweek with the prized possessions.

Delighted for them all but in particular for Tadhg. The Morleys were our next farm neighbours back in the day and when Tadhg was about 14, his father Tade, a devoted Gaelic football follower who undoubtedly lit the first flame of interest in their two sons, was killed in a work-related accident at a place called Moll’s Gap.

Obviously, it was a terrible blow to the family but not alone that, for the small community.

As with Maura Spillane back in 1964, Tadhg’s mother Therese, a Dublin lady, was left to rear two young boys, the aforementioned Tadhg and John and my God she carried out her duties to perfection.

I would imagine that Pat Spillane’s tears were not the only Templenoe ones shed in the big field on Sunday afternoon last.

Of course, we have learned a long time ago, to never underestimate the ability of some people to face adversity.

The next member of the 60s club who stuck a blow for the anti-ageist movement was 61-year-old Jack O’Connor.

His first coming was for a three-year period 2004 to 2006, winning both the 04 and 06 titles.

He arrived on again in 2009 this time he stayed for four and won the ’09 All Ireland.

This year, he departed the Kildare and assumed the green and gold reigns once more and as happened in his previous two incarnations, Sam is heading south for the first year of this term.


His record may not match the great Kilkenny man but in terms of variation, it takes some beating.

Prior to the amalgamation of the colleges and vocational schools' GAA bodies, he guided both Scoil Uí Chonaill and Coláiste na Sceilge to Munster and All-Ireland Vocational schools titles.

Next he lead Coláiste Na Sceilige to Corn Uí Mhuirí and Hogan Cup glory. He was also at the helm when Kerry won the All-Ireland Inter-county Vocational titles in 1992 and 1993.

At minor and U21 level he has managed his county to All-Ireland glory.

So, in essence, he has been managing teams for 30 years and I would suggest between school and county, he has worn the All-Ireland winning bainisteoir bib on no less than 13 occasions.

I think it is fair to assume, that Jack knows a thing or two about managing successful sides and last Sunday’s half-time move of bringing in the two Spillane brothers was as good as any move he has made in a 30-year career.

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