Con Brosnan and the Midfield Might

by Liam Hanrahan

The great sportswriter “P.F” once wrote in the Kerryman that almost every parish in Kerry had its “All- Ireland man”. At the time of P.F’s writing this, however, very few parishes, not to mention a relatively small rural parish like Moyvane, could boast an all-lreland medal-holder six times over. In the intervening years since, this parish has been singularly honoured that so many of its sons have contributed to the Kerry cause by representing their county with distinction at every level of the game.

Names could trip off the tongue for every decade since the selection of Con Brosnan in 1923 to play mid- field for Kerry initiated the trend. However, few will cavil with the assertion that Con Brosnan was the greatest of all and inevitably heads the list of the illustrious of our parish who have achieved this distinction. “Coming events cast their shadows before,” and as early as 1919, Con Brosnan, playing at midfield for Moyvane in the North Kerry league, came under the notice of Bob Stack. Bob immediately formed the opinion that Con would become a great county player. He was not to know then or fully realise immediately at least, that he and Con would form a celebrated partnership at midfield for Kerry, which would last for all of nine years and would make them both legendary figures in the annals of Kerry football history.

At the same time (1919), the name of Con Brosnan was becoming widely known, not least to the British Auxiliaries (or Black and Tans) who, smarting under the ignominy of their failure to curtail his daring exploits as a freedom-fighter (by apprehension or otherwise), descended on Moyvane one Spring morning and burned the Brosnan home to the ground.

After Independence, the emergence of Kerry as a footballing force was probably stifled and delayed by the sad outbreak of Civil War.

However, when peace was restored a great young Kerry team – some would still maintain the greatest – began to take shape. Moreover, it is further asserted, and not without conviction, that the readiness and willingness of players who were diametrically opposed politically during “The Troubles”, to combine, merge and pool their talents in the cause of Kerry football contributed in no small way to the healing of old wounds and the assuaging of any lingering bitterness left by those unhappy and unfortunate events.

Sited at midfield on this emerging team was the young Moyvane man facing, in his first All-lreland final (1923) two of gaelic footballs all-time greats, Paddy McDonnell and Larry Stanley of Dublin. Defeat was to be their portion on their maiden voyage. However, the exploits of Con Brosnan did not go unnoticed during the game. His immaculate fielding, precision kicking and unflinching endurance helped his team to almost carry the day. Dublin, now going for their fourth All-lreland in a row, provided the opposition to Kerry in the All-lreland of 1924.

A thrilling game ensued. The two great teams were locked in battle with the scores level with just minutes remaining, until a marvellous point from the boot of the Moyvane midfielder broke the deadlock and carried the day for Kerry.

Two quotes from a poem commemorating the great victory go like this:

“At midfield where the fight was raging
Shone Brosnan, bright as the morning star
He drove the leather right up to Landers
Who fisted neatly across the bar.”
And the lines describing his winning score;
“With steady nerve and unerring aim
He scored a point and again we lead them
‘Twas the final score in a hard-fought game”.
Kerry now entered a phase of keen and sporting rivalry with Kildare which was to last some seven or eight years and which was to raise Gaelic football to new heights and create new levels of awareness and interest among the public.

The 1926 final went to a replay. In the drawn game Larry Stanley was Kildare’s outstanding performer, bringing down balls at midfield from prodigious heights. However, Kerry held out to draw, 1-3 to Kildare’s 0-6. Kerry got their goal with only a minute remaining with W. O’Gorman crashing to the net – and a new legend was created, namely, that Kerry are never beaten until the final whistle!

However, Kerry re-asserted themselves in the replay, with Stack and Brosnan dominant at midfield and another Moyvane man, Tom Mahony, fisting the ball to the net. Final score was: Kerry 1-4: Kildare 0-4.

“The Leinster Leader” in its report of the 1926 final stated “Two great teams have met twice in the struggle for the 1926 Championship and both have by their displays done much to raise the status of the grand old Gaelic pastimes”. Another paper, “The Voice of Labour” (Dublin) stated four factors contributed to the “Munster” victory: first, and foremost of all superior grit and the will to victory, secondly, better fielding: thirdly, a stronger midfield and fourthly, the ineffectiveness of Stanley.

However, Kildare came back in 1927 to claim their revenge in the All-lreland final on the score of Kildare 0-5; Kerry 0-3. Commenting on the match, The Leinster Leader (Kildare) wrote (among other things). “It was a great game, worthy of two great football counties. In the keen football and sporting rivalry between the counties lies the best guarantee for the future of Gaelic pastimes.”

Kerry did not figure in the final of ’28 but Kildare did, retaining their title, with W. Gannon their captain being the first to accept the Sam Maguire cup, which had been newly presented.

The next great contest between Kerry and Kildare was in the 1929 All-lreland final when Kerry won the first of four-in-a-row All-lrelands before a record attendance of 43,839. The score was: Kerry 1-8: Kildare 1-5.

A writer of the times wrote: “It was very fast, very clean and very exciting. Kerry’s winning margin does not flatter them. (“Padraig” in ‘the Star’)

Kerry defeated Monaghan in a one sided final in 1930. The dominance enjoyed by the Kerry midfield pairing is reflected in the scoreline: Kerry 3-11: Monaghan 0-2. Comment from “The Anglocelt” (Cavan): “Those who saw for themselves the prowess of the Kerrymen – Supermen would perhaps be a more accurate description – came away satisfied that at the moment there is no combination in the country fit to cope with them. A selection frpm the rest of Ireland would scarcely be fit enough to stand up to them for an hour.” Clear evidence, indeed, that this team was now being regarded as well nigh invincible by friend and foe alike.

In May of 1931 Con Brosnan and his teammates left on a tour of the United States. In the opening game in New York, the real big test, Kerry beat the locals by 9 points to 1-3. The attendance was over 60,000, a then record for a Gaelic game.

Liam 0′ Shea, Sports Editor, “New York Advocate” was lavish in their praise: “Man for man they are a credit to the Irish race. It would be unfair to single out any member of the team as having anything on the others. It simply cannot be done. I found them high-class, intelligent young athletes who can feel right at home in any company”. Kerry and Kildare clashed once again for the blue riband of Gaelic football in 1931. Kerry emerged victors by 1-11 to 0-8, the biggest margin that ever separated the teams (attendance 42,350). This win was very significant in Con Brosnan’s career as a wonderfully magnanimous gesture by Joe Barrett. Austin Stacks, allowed Con Brosnan to captain Kerry and accept the Sam Maguire Cup. That Joe Barrett should have deferred to Con in this way is clear evidence of the esteem of his colleagues and their appreciation of his profoundly important contribution in their successes. For the record the team was:


Munster Senior Championships, three National League medals and two Railway Cup medals. Following his playing career he was involved at administration level of the North Kerry Board and County Board and represented Kerry at Munster Council level for a long number of years. He was a Kerry selector and trained the victorious Kerry team in 1939. His record of service at North Kerry Board level was no less impressive: Chairman: 1932-33, 1936-42. President: 1955-1975.

Con was called from this life in 1975, the very year that saw the emergence of a young, vibrant team that won the Senior All-lreland in that year (part of the big treble – Senior, under 21, and Minor) and were to go on to emulate the achievements of ’29-’32 by winning four-in-a-row in 1978-81.

A poem, praising the great footballer and gael of former years concludes as follows:-

“I can’t name all in one short verse, I could go on and on
But the greatest man of all the clan, Was the one and only Con.”
To the Memory of Con Brosnan (on the opening of Con Brosnan Par, Moyvane 1984).
By: Dan Keane.
When but a child I heard his name,
Poured out from lips that spoke with pride.
I relished every loud acclaim,
My heart like theirs, felt overjoyed.
I placed him in the Fianna mould,
Through childish dreams the vision ran,
I longed to see the green and gold,
I longed and hoped to meet this man.

This man in later years I met,
His manner harboured no disguise,
His honest heart in goodness set,
His modesty his greatest prize.
And, yet, sufficient spirit reigned,
To stand for right – to raise to flame,
The bursting cheers that off acclaimed,
His jewelled movement in this game.

This game he loved and sporting played,
From antiquity’s ancient store,
The living spark official made,
And trained the gael to love it more.
The names with pride we still recall,
Their souls its source, their hearts its shield.
Through time and space we bless them all
And make their monument this field.

This field through which he calls in trust,
The gaels to love and play the game,
God keeps his soul, the grave his dust,
We proudly give this field his name.
And here while summer breezes kiss
The bending grass and steal away,
We play the game in hours like this
We bless this man, this, field, this Day.