Michael “Mick” O’Connell, retired Gaelic footballer, is born on Valentia Island, County Kerry, on January 4, 1937. His league and championship career with the Kerry senior team spans nineteen seasons from 1956 to 1974. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
O’Connell is raised in a family that has no real link to Gaelic football. His father is a fisherman who also works on the family’s small farm on the island. From an early age O’Connell shows his footballing talent and “inimitable signs of excellence.” He excels at the game in his youth and also at Cahersiveen CBS.
O’Connell begins his club football career with neighbouring Waterville. When a football club, Valentia Young Islanders, is founded on Valentia Island, as per GAA rules he switches allegiance to his local parish team. He wins three Kerry Senior Football Championship medals with the South Kerry divisional side.
O’Connell’s career with Kerry begins in 1955 when he lines out in the Munster Minor Championship. Kerry loses the replayed Munster final to Tipperary.
O’Connell quickly joins the Kerry senior football team, making his debut in 1956 against Tipperary in the Munster Championship. He later lines out in the Munster final against Cork, but loses out in a replay. In 1958 he wins the first of eight consecutive Munster Senior Football Championship titles, however, Kerry suffers a shocking defeat by Derry in the All-Ireland semi-final. In 1959 he is captain when Kerry wins the National Football League. He later guides his native-county to another Munster title, however, he has to retire due to injury in Kerry’s All-Ireland victory over Galway.
Following a second National League victory in 1961, O’Connell captures his second All-Ireland medal in 1962 when Kerry defeats Roscommon in the final. A third National League victory quickly follows at the start of 1963. After two All-Ireland defeats by Galway in 1964 and 1965 Kerry surrenders their provincial crown to Cork in 1966 and 1967. He wins a ninth Munster title in 1968, however, Kerry loses out to Down in the All-Ireland final. This defeat is followed by a great year of success in 1969 as he adds a fourth National League medal to his collection before winning a tenth Munster title. He later wins a third All-Ireland medal following a victory over Offaly.
In 1970 O’Connell enters the third decade of his inter-county football career, winning an eleventh Munster title in the process. A fourth All-Ireland medal quickly follows after a victory over Meath in the first 80-minute All-Ireland final. He claims two more National league medals in 1971 and 1972, before winning his twelfth and final provincial medal in 1972. That year Offaly later defeats Kerry in O’Connell’s last All-Ireland final appearance. In spite of this loss he is still presented with an GAA GPA All Star award. He retires from inter-county football in 1973.
In retirement from playing O’Connell publishes his autobiography, A Kerry Footballer, in 1974. Ten years later in 1984, the GAA’s centenary year, his reputation as one of the all-time greats is recognised when he is named in the midfield position on the GAA Football Team of the Century. In 2000 he is also named on the associations Football Team of the Millennium.