1998 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS - 20TH ANNIVERSARY
Article credits: Brian McCarthy
Photo credits: Brian McCarthy
Tribute to 1998 Tralee Dynamos National Winning Youths - 20 Years On
Twenty years have flown by since a young team from Kerry, Tralee Dynamos, took centre stage, nationally, and brought Kerry soccer from the wilderness to the attention of no less than former Republic of Ireland Manager, Brian Kerr. The 31st May, 1998 is forever etched in my memory, and I hope the collective memories of all the boys who made such a giant stride for the sport in Kerry and all the boys and teams who have since benefitted from the burgeoning reputation of football in the Kingdom.
Together with the late, Derry O’Shea, we took a group of young players who had experienced prominence under Gordon Kerins in their early teens and looked to be a group of promise before losing that momentum as they came to the enigmatic age of 16. In truth, my initial plan was to work with a young group of players to fully complete my UEFA “A” License (along with Dave Stanton, we were the first pioneers of coaching at that level in Kerry) and ensure I had worked through every 11 v 11 session as demanded by the legendary Senior FAI Coach Education Tutor, Maurice Price, very ably assisted by Jimmy McDermott and staff. To that end we asked the players to train once a week for 2 hours plus in the Low Field, probably the greatest player development centre in the South West of Ireland for 30 years. The sessions were designed to teach the boys all aspects of defensive organisation, creative attacking play, possession through the thirds, making the opponents play predictably, working on the great pillars of defending, pressure, cover balance and consolidation, direct play and the set up pass, (how the language of coaching has changed since those halcyon years), working on 3-5-2, 4-4-2, 4-3-3 systems. To the players immense credit, they reacted to this proactive tactical education on the game, started the previous year by Dave Stanton. In a matter of weeks, Derry and I were approached by the boys to conduct two sessions a week, this being one of the reasons this team earned great success, as they now wanted to maximise their learning and improve their performances. This is always one of the key ingredients to team success, when the group have a voracious yearning for “more”. Never a good sign when the manager’s appetite outweighs the players.
This cohesive and wonderfully enjoyable environment was given further stimulus when we organised video analysis sessions (yes, video analysis in 1997! In Kerry!) in the Brandon Hotel where we took the boys through the old Ajax tapes and some VHS tapes of International and club matches I had recorded ( as part of the new “A” License format at that time), showing how Kluivert created space, how Blind defended, how Seedorf created passing angles, etc. Again the boys of Tralee Dynamos Youths of 1997-98 were “sponges” for this new approach to football development, as they absorbed the combination of on-field coaching patterns and off-pitch tactical thinking. The individual abilities that each of the boys had in abundance was now enhanced dramatically in team oriented coaching progressions, which showed that this squad of players had a huge potential to develop, rapidly. Such was the increase in quality, intensity, team work and sheer class that we started to play friendly matches on Thursday nights (now we were up to 3 sessions a week) against the Premier Junior clubs. The boys took all the tactical imperatives of that week and applied them in game situations against adults. To see 16 and 17 year-olds dismantle some of Kerry’s best junior players was testament to the “model” we had created and which the players were applying to the finest tactical detail. In those glorious weeks and months, players and staff alike were “buzzing” for every session, every game, every tournament and every challenge. Looking back we were all remarkably blessed to have shared such an epic journey together, showcasing a standard of football that no previous Kerry team had attained at National level prior to that season, although the Tralee Dynamos Munster Senior League side were a powerful regional force in the 1990’s.
As the group began to realise, the potential to take all this learning and improvement to a stage beyond the county was steadily growing. Local teams were dispatched by half time in every game. Our great rivals, Killarney Celtic, lead by the outstanding David Hayes (and other luminaries) were on the receiving end of a majestic 3-0 masterclass in Killarney, as Pa McCarthy brilliantly orchestrated a performance of tantalising quality and control with Jared Browne, Roy Lacey and Padraig McCannon simply destroying a highly thought of Celtic side. The boys were now fighting on 5 major fronts with the Under-17 National Cup, the FAI Youths Cup, the Munster Youths Cup, the Kerry League and the Kerry Cup all on the “menu”.
A measure of this team’s quality was that the same group of 15-16 players were playing at both ages. Our national journeys took us to Clare, Sligo, Dublin, Drogheda, and Limerick, etc as a series of phenomenal performances saw us win against all odds. St. Johns Sligo had the whole town out in force as we travelled up the night before, and a local referee was doing all in his power to ensure we did not get the desired result but a highly disciplined display saw Dynamos win 2-0 without giving up a single chance in a hostile environment with Captain Maurice “Goosey” O’Reilly immense along with a fantastic back four of Kieran Moriarty, Michael Hogan and Jonathan Burrows, with very able deputies, Shane McMahon and Gary Power. Throughout all the campaigns we had outstanding goalkeepers in Niall Hobbert and Derek O’Shea (recently the referee in the FAI Junior Cup Final at Aviva).
Padraig McCannon and Jared Browne (author of the recent book on Eamon Dunphy) scored the goals taking the team into the 7th round (quarter-final) v Drogheda United. In the FAI Youths Cup in 1998 there were 9 rounds against the best young talent in the country, some of whom were playing on under-age International teams and still in Ireland. Now the number of teams and quality is vastly reduced, making Dynamos Youths achievement even more remarkable.
In the midst of this National “road map” were two detours as we travelled to Dublin to play St Josephs Boys in the last 16 of the Under-17 National Cup. Without three players we were eliminated on a penalty shoot out after a 1-1 draw with Joeys (yes that Joeys, an academy which has supplied a torrent of Irish senior Internationals). The South Dublin side went to the final. This was another seminal moment for our small group showing us that we were capable of matching the nation’s best. Our other major quest that year – we asked the players to name their ambitions for the season and, to a man, they wanted to win the double of Munster Youths and FAI National Youths Cups. How many Kerry teams and players before 1998 had any aspirations beyond the Kerry League and the Greyhound Bar Cup? Their ambition was highly motivating for Derry and myself. We also had our own team Mascot for that epic season, my youngest son, Stephen who travelled everywhere with us in his red and white Dynamos outfit. I am sure that he was inspired by all of “Goosey’s” band of football brothers in his football development later in life. My eldest son, Peter, went on to play with Goosey in the Kerry Under-21 Eircom League team, very successfully.
Our Munster campaign saw us with a home semi-final against Wilton United captained by Irish Senior International, Colin Healy (he signed for Glasgow Celtic a month later). A first half of Healy domination saw the Cork side lead at half time, but thereafter Kevin McCannon and Derek O’Brien rampaged through Healy and their midfield in the second half bringing the game to extra time with Dynamos totally in the ascendancy. A controversial free kick gave the Lee-siders a fortuitious win as they easily annexed the provincial Cup 4-0 in the final. “Out of the embers of failure comes renewed hope” and if ever a defeat motivated a group of teenage footballers, this was it. All efforts were redoubled. Meetings with powerpoint presentations, set piece preparations on the evenings before games, player meetings. Now we had gone from one get together to 5, equivalent to a Premier League of Ireland set up.
The quarter-final saw us draw the holders, Drogheda United, the previous year’s National Cup winning team, with 6 of that team all playing again, all first team League of Ireland squad members, playing in front of over 1,000 people in Lourdes Stadium. A small handful of loyal supporters lead by the ever present Mr & Mrs Burrows and John Browne were present at a spell binding game in which both teams played as if it was their final game. Dynmamos were simply magnificent as we raced to a 2-0 lead completely silencing the home support with Padraig McCannon again on the mark. “Pogga” scored in all 9 rounds of the Competition, a unique and historic feat. The second half saw a rejuvenated “Drogs” team score early and were then handed a bizarre decision to equalise. On to extra time, as super subs, Damien Diggins and Eoin Cassidy both came on to give Dynamos complete control as Kieran “Murt” Moriarty was “Cafu incarnate” on the right hand side with blistering surges as the boys pummelled the Louth National League side, just failing to find that elusive goal. On to penalties and at 4-4, Damien had the final one to send us into the National Cup semi-finals. Always coolness and class personified, Damien dispatched the penalty with faultless precision, sparking unbelievable scenes as Drogheda players lay in tears, their Senior League of Ireland manager speechless and a group of joyous Kerry boys and their families in “seventh heaven”. We knew after that match that nothing would stop us now. That match was never recorded, there were no more than 10-15 Kerry people at it, and yet it was one of the greatest performance from a Kerry football team against all odds in “the lion’s den”. Half of the Drogheda team were paid players, professionals, yet it was the combination of brilliantly talented Kerry boys and a season of the highest professional preparations and standards which had catapulted “culchies” into the National spotlight. Now the Kerryman were on the scent, Radio Kerry suddenly woke up to the fact that Kerry boys (and girls) could compete, nationally, in more than one ball sport.
With the local competitions all but wrapped up, the next 4-5 weeks from semi-final to final were set up as if we were an EPL club. Visits to see our next opponent, another League of Ireland club, Limerick FC (with 4 players in their Senior League of Ireland squad) lead to further tactical refinement as each session was planned to counteract their strengths but more importantly to emphasise ours. A 2-1 extra time win with Damien and Pogga scoring the crucial goals in front of a huge attendance at Dynamos grounds in Cahermoneen was not indicative of the boys dominance in a game in which high winds played havoc with the quality of football.
For the first time in Kerry football (locally the press were calling it “soccer”) the media and the public had caught football fever. John Dowd wrote copious hardcopy on the boys, did player profiles, attended training sessions on behalf of the Kerryman. Radio Kerry managed to interrupt their non stop barrage of GAA reporting to finally recognise that this was a unique moment not just for the 16 boys (and mention of Alan O’Connor and Fabrice Dowling, both boys who were part of the squad at the start of the season), not just for football-a-la-“soccer”, not just for Tralee Dynamos, not just for the Kerry football fraternity, not just for football development specifically, but for the realisation that a boy/girl from Kerry, a team from Kerry (outside of gaelic football) could take on the “cream” of Ireland – the boys played against a young Robbie Keane in younger years, with Goosey and Jonathan holding him scoreless – and prevail, despite the odds, whatever the sport.
Waiting in the final were one of the true kingpins of Irish football, Stella Maris. At that time their players and teams had Manchester United and Arsenal scouts at every match, every weekend. Such was the desperation of big time UK clubs to vet every Stella boy, as a fleet of their “best and fairest” were signed on a monthly basis!
Now a sport, which had practically no significance outside of the Kerry county bounds, was taking “column inches” in every paper on a level never previously seen or envisaged. To John O’Regan, Christy Leahy and the Kerry District League’s eternal credit, the final was to be staged at the new Mounthawk League Grounds, which were being developed, and now fast tracked, to host the very first National Club Final with a Kerry team taking centre stage. Unheralded, sheer fantasy, a pipedream, yet the final was scheduled for Sunday 31st May, 1998.
No Dublin team, let alone a team of Stella Maris quality, history and expectation could possibly countenance anything other than a routine win against a “Kerry soccer team”. The National Cup would head back to where it always resided in the Metropolitan capital. Stella Maris came with a team destined to play National League football. Jackson one of a number of highly credentialed players being a centre back of magnificent stature, authority and potential. Richie Baker, Irish International at 3 ages and a winger being courted by a host of English clubs, with blistering pace and a “bag of tricks”, later winning League titles with the great Shelbourne teams. These players were representative of the famed Drumcondra nursery’s 22 carat gold player base. The quadrangular blue and white were hot favourites to end the Kerry fairtyale.
In those 3 weeks leading to the final, we suspended all other participation in domestic competitions (the Kerry D.L. were most accommodating) as we focused on 9 training sessions, working on every possible detail of Stella Maris. For 3 weeks, “Murt” was subjected to, some would say tortured, playing against Roy Lacey and Jared Brown (our own 2 brilliant wingers, who were instructed to replicate Baker at every session). Kieran was constantly challenged as were all the players in dealing with him. By the end of the 9th session, I am sure had Baker walked past “Murt”, the Dubliner wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale!
Another important detail in the final weeks to the final was the role played by Frank Sheridan. Frank a really astute football man and studying sports psychology (all the rage now, but not then) had asked us if he could do a player profile on each player ( having seen all of the boys play and develop over the season) and share his comments with each of them. Closer to the final, Frank revealed his thoughts to Derry, myself and to the players, individually. I am sure some of the boys still have those notes. I certainly have. The positivity and relevance of these telling observations all added to the collective preparations.
The final two weeks were a non stop series of arrangements, sponsored tops, getting the right kit from the Cup Final sponsors, Snickers, training sessions on Mounthawk and media interviews. Messages of support came in from far and wide, even telegrams. We put of all of these together for a final motivation for the boys.
I remember vividly our final journey to Mounthawk Park, as if it were yesterday. We always tried to prepare on off site venues away from the main match day pitch. On this day (as it had been on so many days, it was the Tralee Sports Complex). The belief in the boys was immense. We had constructed, de-constructed Stella Maris in such detail that the boys knew their opponent in every minute fact possible. I am certain that Stella had paid little attention to a “bunch of Kerry rookies” and would have known little or nothing about us.
The final bus ride in Joe Mahony’s mini bus, with Queen blaring out “We are the Champions” and “Simply the Best” from Tina Turner is still frozen in time, as the excitement, anticipation and enjoyment all fused into one. Not one player on that bus believed anything other than that we, Tralee Dynamos Youths, were going to turn football history on its head, and open up the doors to all boys and teams from outside the Pale.
Getting to Mounthawk Park for that magnificent day, we were astounded by the size of the attendance. Estimated at almost 3,00 people from all over Kerry coming to support the Kerry team, irrespective of club affiliation. Our last words to the boys were those messages of support from business leaders, councillors, other Kerry clubs, Tralee townspeople.
For a football-cum-“soccer” game to attract that size of attendance, in Kerry, at that time, was simply beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
John O’Regan and the Kerry District League along with the FAI had the grounds in wonderful condition. This was a completely new era for the KDL and Kerry soccer but the organisation and presentation were impeccable and praiseworthy.
With the work that Derry, the boys and I had put in, we were completely nerveless on the touchline. We had instilled incredible belief into the youth team and we were so confident of our preparations and the quality of the team and bench that we had. Referee for that day was a very young Alan Kelly, who later developed into Ireland’s top referee in the League of Ireland and was recently voted the best referee in the MLS in the United States. But this was his first major final.
The first half of the 1998 final was a complete re-enactment of all our training sessions. In the opening 10 minutes, Richie Baker was brilliantly marked by Kieran Moriarty as he gave the country’s so called best under-18 not a spare centimetre. He won every contest on that side with O’Rahilly, Burrows and the mercurial Hogan dominant in every phase and opponent. Derek O’Brien , yes he later of Galway United, St Pats and Cork City fame, established total control of midfield with Kevin McCannon ( we had lost Pa McCarthy in the final 3 months due to a terrible knee injury. Prior to that happening, I would have considered Pa to have been in the top 3 central midfielders in the country). Roy Lacey and Jared Browne did what they always did that season, destroy opposition full backs, while poacher supreme Pogga and the team’s most underrated player, Neiulius Cooney (a superb striker with wonderful touch, movement and cleverness) were a constant thorn in Stella’s side. We took a 2-0 halftime lead courtesy of 2 sensational strikes from Jared and Pogga from all of 20 metres, and although the second half was a stalemate, not even the concession of a last minute goal from Stella Maris could change the fact that Tralee Dynamos Youths were about to become the very first ( and still the only club side to do so, despite fantastic efforts from Killarney Celtic, Kingdom Boys and St Brendans Park – all runners up at 18,17 and 16 National Finals) Kerry team to WIN a NATIONAL FOOTBALL / SOCCER Title and put KERRY finally on “the map” throughout the 26 counties.
When Alan Kelly sounded the final shrill blast, waves of family, friends, supporters all rushed to embrace the boys. Even now ( and having worked for 13 years at 3 World Cup qualifications, 4 European Championships and Euro 2012 under four Managers and 131 matches) I think back to that day ( with my family there to share the moment) with huge gratitude to all the boys and Derry for the “ride of a lifetime”. Fortunately I ensured we had the final recorded and it is an historic re telling of how a team from “nowhere” made Kerry soccer a “somewhere”.
The boys who made it all happen were:
Niall Hobbert – a brilliant goalkeeper, Under-age International, played alongside Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne (funny how we both shared that privilege later on) with a magnificent kick and a superb temperament for the big occasion.
Derek O’Shea – son of Derry – an outstanding goalkeeper, a great person. Massively team orientated and played a key role in many games not least in Clare. Now a top class referee and a top man.
Michael Hogan – a player with a “wand” of a left foot. That season “Hogie” was, in my estimation, International class and his quality on the ball, defensive strengths and brilliant delivery made him a huge asset. Should have earned International under-age caps
Jonathan Burrows – Jonathan, still playing, was a superb accomplice with “Goosey”. He read the game so intelligently, a master of judging time and space, knew when to intercept or drop off. Superb in the air and a constant consistent performer.
Maurice”Goosey” O’Rahilly - What can I say? All these years on, having managed so many teams and captains, directing at Newington College in Sydney, I still hold up “Goosey” as the model for “Captaincy”. Without doubt the best player in Kerry never to have been capped or play in England. Mick Conroy, former Celtic great still says that as the late Liam Miller and Healy wound their way to professional football, Goosey was in that ecehelon. Not as a “nice to watch”, pretty player but as every manager’s “last resort”. His leadership of that team, his personality in the dressing room, his relentless appetite to win every ball, every aerial duel, in every training session was transformative. He inspired every player and all of us as coaches. In Drogheda after our great win I looked at him in the dressing room and we exchanged glances that intimated we were going to be crowned “Champions of Ireland” this season 1997-1998. A team player to the core, with Jonathan beside him we were defensively insurmountable. We had brilliant players through the team and without anyone of the 16 boys we would not have made the breakthrough we did, but Gooseys never-say-die spirit, unfailing good humour, and constancy and loyalty to all his team mates and the management still stands as a standard for me. Should have earned International under-age caps
Kieran “Murt” Moriarty – the ultimate “thou shalt not pass” full back. What a great character, always cheerful, almost shy and retiring but an unquenchable spirit and belligerent to a fault. Throughout the season Kieran was an infusion of energy, steely resistance and committed beyond reproach. His performance against Richie Baker in the final will stay in my memory for a lifetime. Richie Baker would have had no idea of the player who reduced him to a mere mortal that day, but Murt will never forget the Stellas Maris number 11 and how he reduced him to a bystander. Brian Kerr once regaled a story about a quiz that the Irish Youth team had in the FIFA World Youths Cup in Nigeria when the late, great Noel O’Reilly posed a question to the players (Baker was one of them) about who won the 98 Youths Cup. Typically, Baker could not remember the answer, “Tralee Dynamos”.
Roy Lacey – the “dynamo” of the Dynamos. Roy, apart from being a superb wide player, was the quintessential team player. His driving runs, incisive dribbling, superb crossing skills all dove tailed into the serial attacking player he was, but his defensive responsibilities, willingness to protect, the kilometres he clocked up and the indefatigable mindset he portrayed enhanced his value well beyond the customary effective wide player. His fitness levels were of the highest order and his attention to his physical preparations were beyond his years.
Pa McCarthy – Although Pa’s season was brought to a premature end by a knee injury, I can still see the almost “Spanish type rondo” quality of his passing. His displays in the early months were mouth watering. His ability to play one touch passes around the corner, keep possession, break up attacks and his vision, awareness and sheer passing quality made him an ever present first choice until his injury. Testament to his importance and his performances are that Derek O’Brien was struggling to get into the team then due to the outstanding Lacey and Browne. He was an integral part of our squad and a class act in that initial phase.
Kevin McCannon – one of the cleverest midfield players to come out of Kerry. Played the game at his own pace. Kevin had a range of passing and ingenuity which would take your breath away. Vying for a position in midfield, he upped his work rate and in so doing his quality took him to National prominence. Could see a pass before others and was unflappable in possession. Could and should have played at professional levels. He forged a superb partnership with Derek O’Brien over the last 4 months of the season and his role against Colin Healy was pivotal as he took control of a match in which a future top class Irish International had been holding sway. Outstanding midfield general.
Derek O’Brien – was on the cusp of becoming the best central midfield player in the country when the League of Ireland clubs took him and reverted him back to his earlier wide role. Derek had to fight incredibly hard to get in the team, despite his later stardom as a professional. We converted him to a central midfielder and his power strength, aerial ability, passing range, dribbling incision and dynamic shooting all fused into a player who was now influencing games from minute 1 to minute 90. I am still perplexed that League of Ireland Managers did not continue with this evolution. His work rate and ability to find Pogga, Roy, Neilius and Jared were a huge bonus but his aerial prowess was magnificent, a quality the National League rarely saw thereafter. His ability to beat a player was always Derek’s hallmark but his effectiveness to the Dynamos Youth team was monumentally greater than that one skill set. The longer the season continued the better he got. Should have earned International under-age caps
Jared Browne – what a talent Jared was. I worked with Duffer for almost 11 years and I saw so many similarities between Ireland’s greatest ever winger and Dynamos scintillating wide left/right player. Capped at Under-age level, Jared was a rare player. So many gear changes in those legs. Truly a Formula One athlete. He left defenders and full backs with “twisted blood”. His directness, coruscating pace, penetration, finishing ability and aerial threat were all too much for his opponents that year. Each of his goals that year was a “thing of beauty”. A plethora of League of Ireland clubs rushed to sign him after the National final, but he chose education as his preference. To witness Jared take on players from the half way line and leave a wake of destruction after him was a sight worth paying to see. He completely overshadowed Richie Baker in the final, and if Jared had decided to pursue professional football, he had the potential to play for the National team. But for one glorious season, we were blessed to see him display all his artistry and devastating skills.
Padraig “Pogga” McCannon – I cannot remember a striker at under-age level with the goals to chances ratio that Pogga possessed. All the wonderful build up play we displayed that year would have counted for little without the precision finishing and deadly touch that Pogga possessed. He was a lesson for every young forward. He needed so few touches and so little space to engineer an opening. His goal in the National final was an electric strike, venomous and placed to perfection. His ingenuity, movement and ability to find pockets of spaces for passes was above any striker in the country. Both Limerick and Drogheda had first team strikers in their teams and yet Padraig was head and shoulders above them. Capable of playing premier league in the National League. Gave us all so many memories, so many great goals, one better than the next. Two footed, scored such a variety of goals. I wish I had them all on tape. He truly was a cool headed, calculating striker and his goal in every round stands as a monument to him.
Neilius Cooney – The more we worked with Neilius, the more we realised what a clever player he was. Quick witted, superb movement, deceptive combinations and a wonderful partner for Pogga. Neilius created so many openings and assisted so many goals with his unselfish link play. He was an unsung “hero” that season, but the combination of Cooney and McCannon was almost a given such was their understanding.
Eoin “Cass” Cassidy – While Eoin didn’t play every game, and being a younger player (16) he had quality written all over. His substitute cameos were always telling and effective. As a midfielder he had a great passing range, could go box to box. His role was crucial throughout the campaign and he learned and developed exponentially in that season, going on to have a distinguished career at Dynamos.
Damien “Digs” Diggins – Damien was another 16 year-old with a wonderful feel for the game and had a matching temperament. He scored a number of vital goals that season and he was the veritable “super sub” for this super team. His finishing was second only to Pogga and he played with guile and craft beyond his years. His quality and potential marked him out as a player to play at professional level but a series of injuries later in his career militated against that. His winning penalty in Drogheda and his winner against Limerick will forever etch his name in football folklore in Kerry. Digs had an excellent senior career afterwards and his contributions in 1997-98 will linger long in the memory.
Shane McMahon – Shane was an invaluable member of the Youths squad. He was a strong defender who could play centrally or at full back. Ultra competitive he was unfortunate to face such a high level of defensive competition in the squad. Was an integral part of all our sessions and planning.
Gary Power – Gary, while he didn’t play as many matches due to the quality of Michael Hogan and Kieran Moriarty, nonetheless he was an ever present in all our preparations. He was a really capable player with excellent feet and much potential
Alan “Alf” O’Connor – Alan was a big part of our early season, both in matches an in the sessions. He was a very clever player with deft touches and combined superbly with Neilius and Padraig. Unfortunately he was unable to commit for the full season but I have very fond memories of the role Alf played and the obvious skills he brought to bear.
Fabrice Dowling – Fabrice was an enthusiastic, skilful and versatile player who played for the first 3 months before he had to make alternative plans.
Derry O’Shea (R.I.P.) – Derry was a Dynamos man through and through and he lived and breathed the game but especially the boys. His dedication to all of them was immense. He was a hugely knowledgeable man on the game and was highly influential with the players individually and collectively. His passion for the club and the players was intrinsic. When the full time whistle sounded on Sunday 31st May, 1998, Derry was elated as Tralee Dynamos had become the first Kerry club to bring National glory to the Kingdom.
Now that 20 years have come and gone, it is indeed poignant for me to look back and wonder where the years have gone. Such a special group of players, we celebrated in schools, in Ardfert (with Hogie’s Uncle putting on a great spread for us all ) and in the Town Hall where the squad and the club received a civic reception. Awards and media coverage followed in hot pursuit. The Kerryman Awards at the Gleneagle honoured the team and the Kerryman gave the Team pride of place in their Annual awards.
After the final I contacted Rep of Ireland Youths Manager, Brian Kerr, to vent my anger and frustration at the lack of recognition for these players at International level and our heated one hour discussion came back to my gain in later years as Brian appreciated the enormity of taking such a huge underdog to the summit of Irish football, something which he and Noel O’Reilly did so magnificently in 1998, a stellar year for Irish and Kerry soccer as Ireland won the Under-16/18 double under Brian. The boys of 1998 were true pioneers as they provided the platform for a succession of Kerry players and teams thereafter. From Kingdom Boys to Killarney Celtic, St. Brendans Park, the Kerry Under-21s’s , various Kerry Kennedy Cup and inter League squads and a conveyor belt of International caps, the Tralee Dynamos Youths team created this seam of opportunity for others. Ironically the quality in that side would have merited 6-7 International players in later times.
A re-union was held for the 10th anniversary and I am sure there will be a get together in the not too distant future. Although people will remember the matches, the final and the presentation of the Cup and Goosey’s speech, for me the real joy and satisfaction was in all those nights in the Low Field trying “things together” as a group, challenging each other at every hands turn, competing to improve constantly and “reach for the stars”. The boys who appeared to have “stalled” in their development were now transformed as players and people. Our triumphant journey home from Drogheda was only made possible by the sacrifices and commitment shown on the bare patches of the Low Field. It is difficult in the modern era to push players and teams of young players to greater heights, to more difficult challenges and sustained accountability. This group of boys wanted to be pushed every step of the way. In so doing they pushed themselves to realise the dream they had envisioned at the season’s commencement. They were “Simply the Best” and “Champions of Ireland”.
We salute all the players and staff of the 1998 National Youth Cup winning Tralee Dynamos team twenty years on