February 28, 2001
Kerry's Johnny Culloty.
A legion of Kerry - Johnny Culloty
Killarney is famous the world over for it's great natural beauty...it's lakes and mountains have been the subject of many poems and songs and even the great Bing Crosby crooned about them. The town still boasts an enormous tourist trade but, in a more parochial context, it is also famous for producing top-class footballers.
Kerry's most recent All-Ireland successes may not have been inspired by Killarneymen but there was a time when a county team would scarcely be complete without one or two representatives from Dr. Crokes or Legion. Peter O Leary from Legion is the current sub goalie while Seamus Moynihan and John Crowley are from nearby Glenfesk.
Johnny Culloty was arguably the town's greatest achiever in the county jersey. He won five All-Ireland SFC medals and was the winning captain in 1969. And he won no fewer than 12 Munster SFC medals including a magnificent eight in-a-row from 1958 to 1965.
Although he will always be remembered as one of the game's top goalies, it was not as a netminder that he first came to the attention of supporters. Nor was it ever his favourite position! Nor was football his favourite game!
In fact, Johnny was an above average hurler whose major regret is that Kerry were unable to make an impact in the Munster Championship during his years on the team. He won an All-Ireland Junior medal with the Kingdom in 1961 when they beat London in the final having beaten Meath in the 'Home' decider. Johnny scored two goals against Meath from the right corner-forward position. He played for the county minor hurlers at the age of 14 and played at adult club level from 1951 until the 1980's. Apart from the All-Ireland Junior success in 1961, the victory that gave him most satisfaction was Killarney's lone SHC title in 1969.
His first encounter with big-time football was in 1954 when he was centre-half forward on the Kerry minor team that was beaten by Dublin in the All-Ireland Minor final. Among his colleagues on the team were Tom Long and the poet Brendan Kennelly. It was a totally forgettable day for Kerry supporters who also saw their senior team go under to Meath. There was some consolation when he lined out at right-half forward on the team that beat London in the All-Ireland Junior final.
Johnny had impressed sufficiently to warrant a call-up to the senior panel for the 1955 championship and was corner-forward on the team that faced Dublin in the All-Ireland final having required a replay to get the better of Cavan in the semi-final.
The showdown between Kerry and Dublin was the first to attract the degree of 'hype' which is so much a part of the modern game. Dublin, with their highly-vaunted half-forward line of Des Ferguson, Ollie Freaney and Cathal O Leary, and with Kevin Heffernan at full-forward, were installed as favourites...Kerry's rating as outsiders had much to do with their hugely disappointing performance against an 'old' Meath team in the previous year's final.
The official attendance was 87,102 but two gates were broken down and hundreds poured through. It wasn't the greatest of finals but the last four minutes helped to make it memorable. Kerry had dominated throughout but a late Dublin goal left only three points between the teams and there was tremendous drama and excitement in the closing stages. Kerry held out to win the title for the 18th time. All six Kerry forwards including Johnny, got on the scoresheet while only three Dublin attackers managed to register.
One report of the match said that young Culloty was the star of the full-forward line...despite a distinct disadvantage in height against his marker Mick Moylan, he fared better in the fielding stakes.
A cartilage injury sustained in a Railway Cup game in 1956 was a serious setback but his somewhat gradual transformation from corner-forward to goalkeeper occured in 1957. As with most of such dramatic switches, it happened purely by chance.
Kerry were due to play Galway in a 'Gaelic Weekly' semi-final and the selected goalie, Marcus O Neill couldn't make it on the day. Johnny was placed between the posts and although he subsequently played in a number of League games in outfield positions, the switch became permanent in late 1958 when, once again, the selected goalkeeper did not show. From that point onwards, Culloty became the first name to be penciled in on the Kingdom team.
In his first championship year as goalie, 1959, Johnny won his second All-Ireland SFC medal but expectations of continued success were punctured by the arrival of Down's great team of that era. In 1962, Down faltered in Ulster and Kerry took full advantage by beating Roscommon in the All-Ireland final. It was Johnny's third medal but just as Down had proven to be something of a bogey team for Kerry at the turn of the decade, a new and powerful force emerged from the West in the mid-'60's. Galway won three successive All-Irelands beating Kerry en route to all three titles.
Cork emerged from Munster in 1966 and '67 and Johnny's next All-Ireland experience was against old rivals Down in the 1968 decider. The game will always be remembered for Sean O Neill's goal when he beat the Kerry custodian from close range after the ball rebounded from the upright. The goal emphasised the genius of O Neill...there was little that Culloty could have done, especially as his defenders were not as alert as the Down man.
Having won his second county SFC medal in 1968 with East Kerry, Johnny was made captain of the Kerry team for the 1969 campaign and the Kingdom footballers went all the way, with victory over Offaly in the All-Ireland final providing the Killarney man with the opportunity of being presented with the Sam Maguire Cup.
His fifth All-Ireland medal came in 1970 when Kerry defeated Meath in the final.
It appears to be forgotten these days but when Johnny retired from the inter-county playing scene he became manager of the Kerry team.
And it's little wonder that few people remember as team managers had such a low profile at the time that the All-Ireland final programmes of 1972, draw and replay, fail to mention the manager of either the Kerry or Offaly teams! How times have changed!
Kerry shold have won at the first time of asking and Johnny came mighty close to delivering the title in his first year in charge. Had he done so, we might never have heard of Mick O Dwyer as a manager! Unfortunately, Kerry collapsed in the replay and were beaten by nine points!
Johnny's team won three successive National Leagues in 1972, '73 and '74 but they couldn't get their hands on the Sam Maguire Cup.
His playing career coincided with that of many Kerry greats incuding Mick O Connell and Mick O' Dwyer and many of the forwards he faced in the 1960's went on to become legends of the game. Johnny Culloty was also a legend and will be remembered as a great servant of Kerry football and of the Legion club in Killarney. And all of this despite the fact that he was a most reluctant goalie, preferring to play in outfield positions and a slightly reluctant footballer, preferring hurling as a game!
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
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