‘I expected there would be a day when Weeshie would return to me. I never lost hope that we would reunite’

THE WONDERFUL JOHN B Keane once remarked to me that there are just two Kingdoms –the Kingdom heaven and the Kingdom of Kerry… And when I die, hopefully I will travel from one Kingdom to another – Weeshie Fogarty

Weeshie Fogarty, Donie O’Sullivan, Maurice Fitzgerald and Christy Riordan pictured in 2010.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A GAA commentator in Kerry has had this conversation many times over the past few days.

At a guess, he reckons the number is somewhere in the double digits such was the amount of requests that came his way. There’s a definite air of sadness about it all, but he’s recalling nothing but happy memories of a great friend, colleague and local GAA legend.

Gary O’Sullivan refers to himself as Weeshie Fogarty’s ‘sidekick,’ who had the privilege of  being in the great man’s company for over a decade, covering GAA matches all over the country along the way.

The pair were brought together through their work in Radio Kerry. O’Sullivan was working as a sideline reporter in his early years at the station while Weeshie was in the commentary box alongside Liam Higgins, a fellow Kerry GAA legend.

And following Liam’s passing in 2006, O’Sullivan stepped up to the microphone as Radio Kerry’s main commentator where he formed a strong broadcasting partnership with Fogarty up until the last few years when Fogarty stepped away due to illness.

As O’Sullivan recalls to The42, ‘it was me and Weeshie from then on in’ and their long journeys to games usually began with Fogarty’s unique way of settling himself into the car seat.

Gary O’Sullivan pictured on his wedding day.

Source: Gary O’Sullivan.

“Weeshie’d get into the car and wouldn’t be in for more than maybe five or 10 minutes and the seat would go back and the headrest would go back.

Off would go the shoes and up with the feet on the dashboard.

“He might sleep for an hour or two and then he’d wake up again and have a chat. You’d have a great conversation with him going to and from matches.” 

The two men had their roles in this partnership for Radio Kerry. Fogarty presented his weekly shows ‘Terrace Talk’ and ‘In Conversation’, while O’Sullivan covered the sports programme every Saturday and Sunday.

Supporters would often flock to Fogarty after matches looking for autographs or a picture or even just a few minutes of his time. The gentleman Fogarty accommodated everybody, even if he didn’t know them.

O’Sullivan preferred to stay away from centre stage and would slip out to the car where he would wait for his partner to finish chatting to all of his devoted followers.

The legendary Weeshie Fogarty.

“Leaving Croke Park on All-Ireland final day or semi-final day, there would be more supporters outside Croke Park looking to meet Weeshie than looking to meet the Kerry players at times,” O’Sullivan notes.

“They wanted an autograph or a picture with him. Nobody knew me which was grand by me, I drifted away and often waited for half an hour for Weeshie to come out to me.”

Nether of them were particularly fond of statistics, although Fogarty would occasionally offer one up to illuminate a sporting discussion and ’99.9% of the time he was right’, according to O’Sullivan.

Like Liam Higgins, Fogarty was also a former Kerry senior and he was the county’s number two goalkeeper for a time behind his Killarney Legion clubmate Johnny Culloty.

It was this inter-county experience which came to be of huge benefit to Fogarty when he entered the commentary game.

“For me,” says O’Sullivan, “Liam Higgins and Weeshie Fogarty were institutions and household radio names at that stage. You must remember as well that both of these guys were inter-county players. I never played for Kerry so I was in awe of these guys.

“They were able to talk about the game better than I was because they knew what an inter-county player’s preparation was and they knew what made an inter-county player tick. 

Weeshie didn’t have to do any research on guys because it was like a light switch. No matter who was playing, he knew the history of the player. He knew the player’s father, their mother, their brother, their sister and their grandfather. He knew everything about them automatically.”

Fogarty was an important mentor for O’Sullivan from the outset of his time in Radio Kerry, and he preached the importance of being yourself on air in such a way that always made O’Sullivan feel at ease in his company.

This quality was evident in every facet of Fogarty’s life, whether he was having a cup of coffee with a colleague at the station or setting the scene for listeners on All-Ireland final day from inside the bowels of Croke Park.

He treated all his interview subjects with the same respect and attention, regardless of the standard they played at and never put on an act for the microphone. He could even improve the mood of a losing manager or player in the post-match interview.

“They actually wouldn’t be disappointed after talking to Weeshie,” O’Sullivan remembers. “They’d actually be all the better for it. He would raise their hearts and their spirits. He would say something funny and round it off with some anecdote.”

That comforting presence is something that four-time All-Ireland winner Kieran Donaghy can relate to, and he experienced it many times as a guest on Fogarty’s famous ‘Terrace Talk’ show.

Donaghy can’t quite pinpoint the first time he met the iconic GAA commentator but he developed a strong connection with the man who was widely regarded as the voice of Kerry GAA.

His grandmother was a huge fan of Fogarty, and he always made time to give her a mention on the airwaves and assure her that her grandson was playing well whenever Donaghy popped in for a visit.

The former Kerry star forgot to mention him when he featured on Virgin Media’s Six O’Clock Show recently, but like many others, he could never refuse a request from Fogarty.

Just as O’Sullivan had witnessed several times over the years, Fogarty effortlessly made Donaghy feel at ease in the studio with his distinctive accent and charm.

“Anytime he asked me for an interview, I wouldn’t have even thought twice about it. He was always treated more like a friend than the media.

He was very warm and very engaging. When he’d talk to you, he’d really look you in the eye. You could tell every question mattered to him and he never looked for nitpicking stuff or badness.

“It was always positive with him, he was a top class interviewer and he was a joy to be with. I think that’s why he had such success in the media game.

“I remember he used to come up to me and nearly always the first question he’d ask me would be about basketball. I always found that very enlightening.

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“When I was starting out, I was told in secondary school to give up the basketball because I wouldn’t be fit for the football.

Weeshie would always ask about the basketball and how Tralee were going. Then it would be into Kerry: ‘How is training? How are you getting on?’ I was always delighted to hear him bring up the basketball really more than anything else.”

“You just knew he had a massive sense of history of Kerry football. When he’s talking to you about Kerry football and he gave you advice, you’d listen to him. If he ever gave me a nugget of information I would always have taken it on board.” 

Kieran Donaghy celebrates after scoring a goal in the 2014 All-Ireland SFC final.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Surprises were never far away with Fogarty as O’Sullivan came to understand throughout their time of working together. He had a wide range of famous sayings at his disposal that he would often drop into the live commentary, including one for when goalkeepers managed to block a forward’s shot.

“He was so close to him he could smell his aftershave,” O’Sullivan often heard him say down the microphone to give their listeners a vivid picture of what was unfolding on the pitch.

There were other occasions when O’Sullivan would turn to find that his co-commentator had vanished from the commentary box while the game was on.

One such incident took place when they were at a game in Páirc Uí Rinn when O’Sullivan spotted his colleague interviewing the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin after the second half had just begun.

If there was an opportunity to nab a major interview, Fogarty was always ready to pounce.

“He was doing two jobs at once” O’Sullivan explains. “He was thinking about his ‘In Conversation’ and ‘Terrace Talk programmes.

The great Weeshie Fogarty was laid to rest on Wednesday after passing away peacefully on Sunday. His death was mourned by many in GAA circles across Ireland, and he will always be remembered as one of the greatest local broadcasters in the history of the sport.

Donaghy laments that GAA people didn’t get many chances to hear his voice on national airwaves, but he understands that ‘Terrace Talk’ was ‘his baby’ that needed nurturing every Monday night.

Source: Radio Kerry/YouTube

Fogarty was a family man and since his passing, the Radio Kerry crew have extended their thanks to his family for allowing them to borrow their husband and father for his many years of dedicated service to the station. 

On those many long car journeys back to the Kingdom after covering a game, O’Sullivan would watch Fogarty ring his wife Joan and tell her where they were and how far away they were from home. Sometimes he might ask her to record the Sunday Game.

He was a proud father and grandfather and the courtesy he showed to others came back to him in waves.

O’Sullivan has already been adjusting to Fogarty’s absence in the last few years but those drives to the away matches seem a little lonelier now without his friend beside him. His mother passed away recently and this is another terrible loss in his life.

Fogarty will be missed by those in Kerry GAA and beyond. But as he leaves one Kingdom, he’s already heading for another.

I certainly expected there would be a day when Weeshie would return to me. He might not be going as far as Donegal or Croke Park but I always thought he would go up to Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney which is only a stone’s throw away from him.

“I thought we would do a game together again. I never lost hope that we would reunite as a partnership but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I was absolutely devastated last Sunday morning when I heard the news that Weeshie had passed away.

“I don’t know whether Weeshie was like a brother or Dad but [he was] certainly a friend of mine that was here there and everywhere with me every weekend for the bones of 12 or 14 years.

It’s very sad but the one beauty of it is that we’ll always have his voice. People can go on the internet and Youtube anything and you’ll still have Weeshie Fogarty’s voice. I guarantee that it’ll be played and played for months and years to come because he had a distinctive voice and one that you loved hearing.”

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