In a sea of Kingdom green and gold, proud Tyrone fan Charlie Buckingham was a lone voice of Ulster defiance.
urrounded by Gaelic football-obsessed Kerry fans convinced the county is destined to clinch its 38th All-Ireland football title next month, Mr Buckingham proudly wore his red-and-white Tyrone jersey amid the large crowds enjoying the sunshine of an Indian summer in Killarney.
Sitting with Kerry friends, Alan Breen and Mike Scannell in the famous Killarney hostelry Jimmy Brien’s Sports Bar, Mr Buckingham warned that the Ulster champions wouldn’t go down without a battle in tomorrow’s All-Ireland semi-final.
“The preparations couldn’t have been worse for the All-Ireland semi-final for Tyrone,” he said. “How could you be physically and mentally prepared for Kerry after all that has gone on (with Covid-19) for Tyrone?
“So you’d have to say that Kerry will be favourites. But no county from Ulster will ever roll over in an All-Ireland semi-final and be beaten without giving it 110pc.”
He said he hoped Kerry may fall victim to a little overconfidence and underestimate Tyrone, with a wayward glance at Mayo waiting for the winners.
He also pointed out that the last two occasions Tyrone and Kerry met in All-Ireland finals, it was the Ulster side who emerged with the Sam Maguire Cup, in 2005 and 2008.
“But above all, I hope it is a good game and that both sides play football to their potential,” he said.
Mr Buckingham’s family hail from Plumbridge in Tyrone, but he now calls Kerry home.
Gaelic football in the Kingdom isn’t just a passion, but a way of life. Overhead in Brien’s Sports Bar hang jerseys from every club side in east Kerry. The walls are decorated with photos of the greats of Gaelic football – the majority from the Kingdom.
“We’ve had all the greats call in over the years, before and after matches,” Alan Breen said. “Gooch Cooper, Ambrose O’Donovan, Seamus Moynihan, Larry Tompkins, Eugene McGee, Kevin Heffernan have all been here.”
Mr Breen celebrates his 40th birthday tomorrow, and watching the Kerry-Tyrone game will be a major part of his birthday festivities.
“Kerry booking a date at Croke Park with Mayo in the All-Ireland final would be the best birthday present I could ask for,” he said.
Ardent Kerry supporter Mike Scannell insisted no one in the Kingdom was taking anything for granted.
“Any one of the three sides left in the championship could win it,” he said. “But it would be absolutely fantastic if Kerry did go on and win their 38th title.”
Kerry last lifted the Sam Maguire Cup in 2014 thanks to a 2-9 to 0-12 win over Donegal.
Seven years may not rank as a long time between All-Irelands in most counties, but in Kerry it is a veritable famine – particularly when Kingdom fans had to suffer through watching arch-rivals Dublin win a record six-in-a-row and take eight of the last ten All-Ireland titles.
Incredibly, Kerry have made the All-Ireland final on 60 occasions since 1892 – on average, roughly once every second year.
Also proudly wearing the Kerry colours was John Doyle from Kilcummin, who was shopping in Killarney with Sophie (9) and Adam (11).
With strong Kilcummin connections to both the Kerry senior and minor sides, Mr Doyle said he would be cheering Kerry on from a couch in the Kingdom tomorrow.
Kerry fan Pat O’Shea said he opted not to chase a ticket for tomorrow’s semi-final against Tyrone.
“If Kerry make the All-Ireland final – and I think they will – I’ll move heaven and earth to get a ticket. I’ve only missed two Kerry finals in 30 years.”