Like all true GAA supporters, Jack Ferriter keeps a close eye on football beyond his native Kerry, and he has a particular affection for Donegal.“I can still name the Donegal 15 in 1992. They were a great team and had a few more All-Irelands in them. Martin Gavigan and Noel Hegarty were two of the toughest players I ever played against. I roomed with Jim McGuinness and Michael Donnellan from Galway in Tralee when we attended the RTC in 1998/99. I have met him a few times since . . . a great character.
“He was our captain in ‘99. In ‘98 we beat UUJ in Tralee to win the Sigerson and I got player of the tournament. My great friend Mike Frank Russell played with me that year. I played alongside him for many years.
In ‘99 the final was held in Queen's, Belfast campus and we beat the Garda College that year. Jim had the long hair, he had a goatee, he was after winning the All-Ireland with Donegal in ‘92 - he was a big oul’ celebrity around Tralee and he ticked all the boxes.
“I stayed with Michael Donnellan and Jim McGuinness in Tralee for two years. You pick up things like early morning training - I’d never done that before. We went to Banna Beach a few times for early morning runs.
“We went up to Glenties a few times to get the feel of different football up the country. I played with Donegal’s Éamon Reddin in Tralee RTC as well. I played against John Gildea and Rory Gallagher and Míchael Hegarty in Boston; they were with Donegal Boston, I was with Shannon Blues GAA.” His great friend Mike Frank Russell played with him in ‘98.
Jack Ferriter is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest Kerry footballers never to properly make it at senior level, because of three shoulder dislocations. He captained Kerry to the 1994 All-Ireland minor title; a year later, he was Man of the Match as the Kingdom won the All-Ireland under-21 crown; the year after that he was starting National League games and he won another All-Ireland under-21 medal. “I was playing out of my skin in the Sigerson games,” says Ferriter. The team also included Seamus Moynihan, Barry O’Shea, Pádraic Joyce, Mike Frank Russell, Michael Donnellan, Colm Parkinson and Noel Kennelly
He recalls the 1994 minor title vividly. Managed by Charlie Nelligan with Mikey Sheehy and Sean Walsh as selectors, the championship title win was Kerry's first in six years.
On the day Down beat Dublin in the senior final, Kerry defeated Galway by six in the curtain-raiser. Ferriter contributed six points on the day and 2-19 in total in that championship.
On the Kerry panel that year were four future All-Ireland winners: Eamonn Fitzmaurice, Mike Frank Russell, Barry O’Shea and Denis O’Dwyer. Interestingly, defeated Galway had even more eventual senior All-Ireland winners on the Galway team - eight in total: Tomás and Declan Meehan, John Divilly, Michael Donnellan, Pádraic Joyce, Richie Fahey, Paul Clancy and Derek Savage.
When Kerry won the 1995 Under-21 title, Paidi O’Shea was manager. “We beat Mayo and Cavan in both U-21 finals ‘95 and ‘96 and Páidí was the manager of us. I used to travel from Dingle to Killarney for training with Páidí all those years as Dara, Tomás and Mark O’Se were up the country in college as was Dara O'Cinneide so we had great crack in the car. Páidí wrote a book but I could write another book on him!”
When Paidi was made senior team manager, Jack made his debut for the league team. His first start came against Donegal where he scored a point in Ballyshannon as Kerry won by eight. Ferriter would go on to start three of Kerry’s remaining four league fixtures.
After eight appearances in the league with 1-5 to his name, the future looked bright. He had dislocated his shoulder during a league game, an injury which would dog him for years to come. Kerry again won the All-Ireland under-21 title in 1996 (this time with Jack O'Connor as manager), beating Cavan in the final but, mainly due to that injury, Ferriter only came off the bench as a late replacement in the decider.
“It was so frustrating . . . by 2001, I was playing Junior for Kerry and I nearly switched to Cavan.”
Val Andrews, who had steered IT Tralee to that 1998 triumph, had become manager of the Cavan footballers and wanted Ferriter on board. As he told PJ Browne: “I actually went up to Cavan - I was going to make a switch up there. I went up to a league game, met Larry Reilly and all these guys. I was above in Breffni Park on a Saturday having a kick around. I had my bags packed and ready to head for Cavan but my father turned around and said, ‘There’s no way you’re going to Cavan’.
ITCH TO PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP
“That’s how close it was, just to play championship football. That’s how hungry I was to play championship. I was getting the itch for championship football when I'd missed out with Kerry and I was saying, ‘Jesus, I could fit in somewhere else here’. I was thinking about going to Galway as well. I had those IT connections. It was Pádraic Joyce in Galway who wanted me to go up and train with his club, Killererin - he had a job got for me and all that.”
Ahead of the Kerry v Donegal clash, I asked the Dingle man about what he thinks of Declan Bonner’s team. “I’ve seen them play a lot this year . . . they are a formidable team, very solid up the centre, scoring forwards which is really important in the modern game with players like Jamie Brennan, Micheal Murphy and Patrick McBrearty. They will be in the last four of the championship come the semi-finals of the All-Ireland for me.”
Michael Murphy is someone he admires greatly. “I remember Pat Spillane saying that Michael was the best in the country and I totally agree with him. For me he would be my number one; he has everything . . . strength, vision, accuracy and vastly experienced. Our David Clifford is possibly more skilful, a very serious talent who will light up the championship this year.”
Although Kerry’s honours list is vastly superior to Donegal, Jack acknowledges the similarities and respect we have for each other. “We both have strong Gaeltacht areas, we’re on the west coast at different extremes of the country. Whether Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta is on in Corcha Dhuibhne in west Kerry or Gaoth Dobhair in Donegal, the camaraderie is very obvious. We’re mirror images, in many ways.”
Mmmm? . . . ‘Mirror mirror on the wall, who has 37 All-Ireland titles in all?”
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