By Damian Dolan
Sunday 27th January – at 2pm to be precise – was a big moment in the Moynihan family household back in Kerry – with cousins Matt and Dara both making their inter-county debuts, albeit nearly 800 kilometres apart.
While 20-year-old Dara was helping to ensure Peter Keane’s tenure as Kerry’s new manager got off to a winning start against Tyrone at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney, Matt was busy making his debut for London against Limerick at McGovern Park, Ruislip.
Part of the new wave of young talent emerging in Kerry, Dara chipped in with two points from play from corner forward in the win over Tyrone.
He repeated that in last weekend’s win over Dublin in Tralee – while Matt was helping Wexford to a first-ever win over Wexford – to condemned All-Ireland champions to their second successive league defeat on the road.
“I only got an update after the game,” Matt, 24, told the Irish World of the cousins’ unusual accomplishment.
“He never knew he was starting because they like to keep things close to their chest in Kerry.
“I congratulated him on his debut – it’s great to see. He’s only 20 and he’s getting into the Kerry senior team already. It’s not an easy team to get into these days, there’s a lot of young talent coming through.”
In Round 2, while Matt was putting in a shift for the Exiles in Derry, Dara played the whole of the second half as Kerry followed up their win over Tyrone by beating Cavan.
As cousins growing up in Killarney, the pair lived “just a stones throw away” from each other, with Spa GAA club “just down the road”.
They togged out alongside each other for Spa’s senior team, as Dara began to make his mark with Kerry Minors.
Kerry never quite managed to “find” him “below in Killarney” Matt says wryly, although he did make a Kerry Minor training team, but not the panel.
In 2016, the cousins helped Spa win promotion to Division 1 of the league. No mean feat given the club plays in the intermediate championship. They backed it up last year by retaining that status with some ease.
Matt’s first year with Tir Chonaill Gaels will take some surpassing, as the Greenford club swept the board winning the senior championship, league Division 1 and the Tipperary and Conway cups.
For good measure, its juniors added the junior championship, the McArdle Cup and the Mullarkey Cup, and its ladies did the junior championship and league double. Not a bad haul.
“We did the Grand Slam; not a bad achievement for the first year. It was my first piece of senior silverware,” said Matt.
“I was impressed with the standard over here. I never realised that football was so big and there was such a big culture.
“It was weird at my first couple of training sessions hearing so many English accents – you don’t hear that at home.”
He’ll have to get used to that – a very healthy number of the county team is London-born these days, and a good few of those come from Tir Chonaill Gaels.
His interest in pulling on a London jersey had been stirred long before. When his housemate moved over on the May Bank Holiday last year, it was they who suggested that they head out to McGovern Park – Sligo were in town in the Connacht Championship. Matt liked what he saw.
“I was fairy jealous of the players, because the crowd that was there and the buzz. I thought ‘I wouldn’t mind playing in this’. When I then got the call from Ciaran [Deely] it was a no brainer to say yes,” he said.
Having played full back for Spa, Matt actually started the year for TCG at centre forward, before moving back to wing back. For London, he’s back in his more familiar number three jersey.
“I didn’t tell Paul Coggins I was a full back until the championship final, so I got away for most of the year with not playing in the full back line. But I’m back there again now,” he said.
While Matt concedes it was “disappointing” for London to end the first two rounds without a win, he points out that this is a “new squad”.
“It was our first games together as a new group. We did well enough in our two challenge games leading up to the start of the National League (versus Gweedore and Dublin) but it was very disappointing to lose to Limerick and Derry,” added Matt, who has the visit of Galway to McGovern Park on 5 May in his sights.
“It’s an exciting year ahead; no one really rates us or gives us much of a chance, so we’ve nothing to lose,” he said.
“A lot of people you meet over in London are from the west of Ireland, so you’d expect a massive crowd for that.
“Hopefully we can build on our performances, which have been encouraging, and give it our best and see what happens.”