The early years of Jack Ferriter’s career had all the achievements a young footballer would want on their CV.
He captained Kerry to the 1994 All-Ireland minor title; a year later, he was Man of the Match as the Kingdom won the All-Ireland under-21 crown; the year after that he was starting National League games and he won another All-Ireland under-21 medal; he won back-to-back Sigerson Cups with IT Tralee in 1998 and 1999.
There’s all that and yet the Dingle man never played a minute of championship football.
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“I remember people saying to me, ‘Jesus, you’ll never be broken’,” says Ferriter. The reason: between him lifting the Tom Markham Cup in 1994 and Kerry’s next All-Ireland minor title, 20 years elapsed. It was not until Liam Kearney captained Kerry to the first of their minor five-in-a-row that the bit of trivia about Ferriter could be binned.
An Ghaeltacht had the honour of naming the 1994 Kerry minor captain but the club had no one on the Kerry panel that year. The next best option was to nominate another West Kerry kid: Jack Ferriter from Dingle.
“Fair play to them, we’d be hammering each other on the field but they gave it to me anyway,” says Ferriter. “We had a strong team and knew we were going to go places."
And go places they did - with ease. Managed by Charlie Nelligan with Mikey Sheehy, Junior Murphy and future Kerry county board chairman Sean Walsh as selectors, that minor championship title win - Kerry's first in six years - was a cruise down the motorway.
Clare came within three points in the Munster final but that was the closest anyone got. Armagh were beaten by seven in the semi-final and, on the day Down beat Dublin in the senior final, Kerry defeated Galway by six in the curtain-raiser. Ferriter contributed six points on the day and 2-19 in total that championship.
On the Kerry panel that year were four future All-Ireland winners: Eamonn Fitzmaurice, Mike Frank Russell, Barry O’Shea and Denis O’Dwyer.
As often goes in minor finals, there were even more eventual senior All-Ireland winners on the Galway team - eight in total: Tomás and Declan Meehan, John Divilly, Michael Donnellan, Pádraic Joyce, Richie Fahey, Paul Clancy and Derek Savage.
“It was huge,” says Ferriter, “especially going back to Dingle. We stopped along the way and there were great celebrations, people out in the street and bands.”
For Kerry’s young players, success was only just beginning to flower. Under the management of Páidí Ó Sé, the Kingdom under-21s won the 1995 All-Ireland. That team was an ensemble cast. Incredibly, it starred: Diarmuid Murphy, Killian Burns, Barry O’Shea, Mike Hassett, Darragh Ó Sé, Donal Daly, Denis O’Dwyer, Johnny Crowley, Liam Hassett and Dara Ó Cinnéide.
In among all those stellar names, it was Ferriter who shone brightest in a replay win for over Mayo. After a quiet trip back home in the car with Páidí following the drawn match, Kerry won the second clash by four with Ferriter scoring 1-1 and being named Man of the Match.
11 days later, Páidí was named Kerry manager. If Ferriter had been scriptwriter for his career, apart from appointing his own father as Kerry boss, it’s surely how he would have penned it.
He made his senior league debut against Kildare three weeks after Ó Sé’s appointment - there was no hanging around for the following year to get the league up and running in those days.
His first start came against Donegal six weeks later. He scored a point in Ballyshannon as Kerry won by eight. Ferriter would go on to start three of Kerry’s remaining four league fixtures.
For the young forward, it was eight appearances in the league with 1-5 to his name. It was all good but a spot on the championship panel did not follow.
He had dislocated his shoulder during a league game, an injury which would dog him for years to come. Kerry again won the All-Ireland under-21 title in 1996 (this time with Jack O'Connor as manager), beating Cavan in the final but, mainly due to that injury, Ferriter only came off the bench as a late replacement in the decider.
He wasn't getting championship minutes but Ferriter was fitting in otherwise. He had a knack for putting nicknames on others. One night at Kerry training he caught a profile view of Mike McCarthy, decided he looked like Zinedine Zidane and threw 'Zizou' the Kilcummin man's way - it stuck.
"Seamus Moynihan, he was great. When you were down, he’d pick you up. Great on the field, a great all-rounder really. He was a Rolls Royce footballer.
"Eamonn Breen would come in wearing his plastering gear. He used to be covered in plaster.
"He was the hardest player I ever played against. He was number seven, I was number ten. I used to dread marking him in training - he was the hatchet of all hatchets. I think everybody dreaded him coming over and marking them. He was such a hard, physical, aggressive player - he’d kill you. He’d go through wire to get at you.
"Liam Flaherty, another hard nut, was in the half-back line with him. Jesus, those North Kerry lads were hardy out. Breen and Flaherty were the hardest men I never played against - they’d tear strips off you.
"That’s what you want as well - that’s what Páidí wanted."
28 September 1997; Paidi O'Se, Kerry Manager, Football. Picture Credit; Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Though Páidí never gave Ferriter the chance he desired, there's no hint of bitterness. He and Ó Sé enjoyed a close relationship, one Ferriter values.
He never put me on a championship team but I wouldn’t hold that against him.
During the winter, I was the only one from West Kerry going with Páidi to training in Killarney. He’d pick me up on the roundabout in Dingle.
We used to have great banter in the car. We used to build up a bond. The two of us used to get on like a house on fire.
Come the summer, the boys - Darragh Ó Sé and Dara Ó Cinnéide - would be back home and we’d all travel together in the car.
Páidí used to always have sponsored cars. He had ‘96 Megane. He used to be showing me the car and the CD player.
My parents are from Dingle and we had a farm in Dunquin. One day we were passing by Ventry and Páidi was at the side of the shop and he goes, ‘Come over here, Jack, I’m after getting a new Chrysler’. We jumped in the car and he gave me a spin around Slea Head and back to the bar, I just thought, ‘Jesus Christ almighty, that was frightening’.
In 1997, he played no league but was on the championship panel early in the summer. As Kerry went on to win their first All-Ireland in 11 years - with ten members of the team who had won the under-21 title two years earlier involved in the final - Ferriter’s shoulder troubles nixed his chances of picking up a medal.
Of all his years involved with Kerry, 1998 was the closest he came to making that craved championship appearance.
That year he was part of a galactico team which won IT Tralee its second of three consecutive Sigerson Cups. Ferriter scored three points in the final against Ulster University Jordanstown. He also scored three points as they beat Garda College in the 1999 decider.
It was the type of side Florentino Perez would have assembled if he'd been running an Institute of Technology in the late 90s. Seamus Moynihan, Barry O’Shea, Jim McGuinness, Pádraic Joyce, Mike Frank Russell, Michael Donnellan, Colm Parkinson and Noel Kennelly were all there.
“I was playing out of my skin in the Sigerson games,” says Ferriter.
“I stayed with Michael Donnellan and Jim McGuinness in Tralee for two years. You pick up things like early morning training - I’d never done that before.
“We went to Banna Beach a few times for early morning runs. We went up to Glenties a few times to get the feel of different football up the country.
“Jim McGuinness, he had the long hair, he had a goatee, he was after winning the All-Ireland with Donegal [in 1992] - he was a big aul celebrity around Tralee and he ticked all the boxes.”
6 June 1999; Jim McGuinness, Donegal. Football. Picture credit; Ray Lohan/SPORTSFILE
Kerry played three games in that year’s championship, beating Cork in the Munster semi-final, Tipperary in the provincial decider and then facing Kildare in the All-Ireland semi-final. As Kerry lost by a point in the last four, Ferriter remained seated.
“I was flying in training but I couldn’t get in, it was very frustrating," he says.
It happens to a lot of players.
In 1999, I came back in training for the league - played a lot of league games - and the championship panel was picked that year but I didn’t make it.
That was that. I figured that either I wasn’t wanted or I wasn’t good enough - I don’t know.
Some years I felt I was going nowhere so I just went, ‘I’m dropping out here’. You have players not even on the 26 coming in for training and it’s a big commitment, especially if you want to go travelling. I just went away and said I’m not putting up with it at all.
I was in Boston for two summers. I was out there with Rory Gallagher from Fermanagh and Paul Shelley who played for Tipperary. I went to Chicago, San Francisco, New York.
I remember playing in a league game in 1996 and I was the only minor from that team who was on the Kerry squad.
The fellas that did make the senior team didn’t come in at all [straight away]. You had Mike Frank and Eamonn Fitzmaurice coming in after me. Maybe I came in too early. I was a bit raw.
Back then it was probably different, there wasn’t as much emphasis on strength and conditioning. I wouldn’t have gone to a gym at all when I came into the senior squad.
In 2001 and 2002, Ferriter played junior football for Kerry, in the latter year reaching the final where they lost to Wicklow. That was his final year wearing the Kerry jersey.
It did not mean his desire to play inter-county football had been diminished. Relationships from his Sigerson days put other avenues on the map.
Val Andrews, who had steered IT Tralee to that 1998 triumph, had become manager of the Cavan footballers and wanted Ferriter on board.
“I actually went up to Cavan - I was going to make a switch up there,” says Ferriter.
“I went up to a league game, met Larry Reilly and all these guys. I was above in Breffni Park on a Saturday having a kick around.
“I had my bags packed and ready to head for Cavan but my father turned around and said, ‘There’s no way you’re going to Cavan’.
“That’s how close it was, just to play championship football. That’s how hungry I was to play championship.
“I was getting the itch for championship football when I'd missed out with Kerry and I was saying, ‘Jesus, I could fit in somewhere else here’.
“I was thinking about going to Galway as well. I had those IT connections. It was [Pádraic] Joyce in Galway who wanted me to go up and train with his club, Killererin - he had a job got for me and all that.
“That wasn’t as close. It was just conversations on the phone. That died quickly really. The Cavan one was more likely.”
Those were not the only inter-county transfer possibilities which crossed Ferriter’s path. In 2004, he moved to Cork, where he still resides to this day. He works as a personal trainer at the Radisson Blu hotel in Little Island.
It was a tough decision to leave Dingle but he joined Bishopstown where Kerry teammate Johnny Crowley had played and fellow 1994 minor winner James O’Shea was also based.
O’Shea had taken a step further than just playing club football across the border - he had also played league games for Cork.
Ferriter's first year with Bishopstown was the best. They reached the Cork SFC final, losing out to divisional side Carbery.
“I remember Billy Morgan saying about a trial game,” says Ferriter.
“I’d been living there, working there and training with Bishopstown but I didn't go in with them either, luckily enough - I’d probably have been killed!
“Maybe slated is the word. Kerry to Cork wouldn’t have been a great move, whereas if you went up the country, it might have been a bit different.”
That was it, his last possibility of playing championship football gone.
Ferriter last played club football in 2010. Now in his early 40s, he's considering going back to play a bit of junior A.
Looking back on his Kerry senior career, there are good memories but his favourite is not from a game. Travelling to training with Páidí meant he regularly arrived 40 minutes early at Fitzgerald Stadium.
“There would be nobody in the stadium and Maurice Fitz would come in with the South Kerry selector. Maurice gave great advice, he was a great person.
“It’d just be the two of us in Killarney before training, on a Tuesday and Thursday, kicking points."