You have to reach back almost 40 years for Shannon Rangers football fairytales. The division — so far into north Kerry that Clare is closer than Tralee and Limerick is as close as Listowel — have more stories about carping than cups.
The Feale Rangers are mentioned for the first time in the annals of the county championship back in 1956 when representing all of North Kerry, following the joining of the two North Kerry teams, namely North Kerry and Shannon Rangers. This new team of Feale Rangers, contested the Co. finals of 1959 and 1962, -- defeat being their lot on each occasions following replays, and following defeat to John Mitchell’s in semi final of ’63, North Kerry once again reverted to two teams, namely St. Vincent’s and Shannon Rangers.
While Shannon Rangers became county champions in 1964, won again in ’72 and lost the finals of 1971 and 1974, St. Vincent’s struggled to make any impact in the championship and in 1971 they were renamed Feale Rangers, this grouping being the fore runner of today’s team.
Success was slow in coming and it was not until 1977 that the final pieces of the jigsaw fell into place as the late Andy Molyneaux and John O’Flaherty set in train a golden period for Feale Rangers. Between 1977 and 1985, Feale Rangers contested six senior finals, winning two, and won two minor finals as well. Though they contested and lost the ’77 final to neighbours Shannon Rangers, the breakthrough arrived the following year 1978, when the Feale Rangers won their first senior title, defeating Mid Kerry, 0 – 8 to 0 – 3, thus ending the drought of 89 years.
Thirty seven years ago this week, ten Ballylongford and five Beale warriors gelled long enough to grind out their last Kerry football championship success against the ultimate grinders, Feale Rangers. Neighbours. Ten points to six. Strong wind down the field. Ball incidental. You almost wince.
In fact, you’d be wrong. Just as no-one in Kerry could have predicted Shannon Rangers in tomorrow’s Kerry SFC semi-final against favourites Mid Kerry, few who weren’t there would believe the short-passing, swift transition game orchestrated by Ogie Moran, Jackie Walsh and Eoin Liston that day into the likes of Barry Walsh and the ever stylish Eamonn O’Donoghue. Dwyer’s philosophy had taken hold alright, all the way up to the farthest tip of North Kerry.
The following year Ogie Moran would captain Kerry to the first of four consecutive All-Ireland titles. But aside from that, Shannon Rangers were also the seven-a-side kingpins of Ireland around that time, winning an All-Ireland in Belfield years before Kilmacud made the format a pre-All-Ireland tradition.
Shannon Rangers thought they’d everything sorted after that. They made a Kerry semi final in 1983, but it’s taken 37 years to convince the stakeholders that the way forward involved buy-in from all their constituent parts and their players. “We couldn’t believe at the start of last year when we drew up a list of players on a sheet of paper the kind of talent we had available to us,” says Rangers joint-manager Liam Weir from Ballylongford. “How hadn’t we got further til now?”
Take your pick. Clubs leaving and then rejoining the group. Beale winning the intermediate championship in the early eighties and going senior. Ballyduff only turning their thoughts to football if the hurlers were beaten. Internecine strife. Constant finger-pointing. And yes, a dearth of talent.
Weir disagrees strongly with that one: “There are six clubs involved and each one has a fair share of good players. It was mainly a question of getting things organised and convincing the players to believe,” Weir says.
The chairman of Shannon Rangers, Conor Heaphy, uses the word ‘club’ a lot, which is strange. The wing-back on the 1977 champions is 60 now, but defers to no-one in his conviction that they’ve remained a tightly-knit unit, success or not.
“It is a club-like situation. Whenever we do fund-raisers around the division, they are always very well supported by all the clubs. We have always felt there are plenty of good players in this part of North Kerry, but getting a sustained commitment from the players always held us back.”
That changed with Weir, his co-manager Mike Holly from Tarbert, and coach Paudie Dillon got involved in 2013.
“We were very unlucky to lose to (Austin) Stacks in Ballylongford last year, and then West Kerry edged us the following week. It looked like a typical Shannon Rangers season, but we knew we were onto something,” says Weir. “This year, we started in January, and though we lost a lot of the players in March to clubs and other inter-county teams and colleges, we had a good foundation in place. Now we are one hour from a county final. Sometimes the lads have to pinch themselves, but we’re greedy now. We’re focused and we want to finish the job.”
His conviction is admirable, for Rangers are one of those outfits that appear under ‘Others’ in pre-Championship betting. Only Tarbert of the six clubs involved — Asdee, Ballylongford, Ballydonoghue Ballyduff and Beale are the others — ply their trade above Division 3 of Kerry’s Co League, and most are either in Division 4 or 5. Their first and second round draws were kind, defeating Kilcummin and St Michael’s, Foilmore.
No surprise then that they were unrated outsiders last weekend against fancied South Kerry in Tralee. What most observers wouldn’t have copped, of course, was that this was no dishevelled operation anymore.
“We played a challenge above in Dromcollogher last year and we got fellas to come from Cork, Dublin and Limerick. It was the first time players started thinking there was a bit of momentum here. We’ve maintained the contact, every week ever since, with players. It took an awfu lot of those phone calls to convince lads that we were in for the long haul,” Weir, a former Ballylongford stalwart himself, reflects.