On Tuesday night, November 2nd 1886 nineteen local men gathered in candlelight secrecy to found the Killarney Gaelic Athletic Association. Straight away they looked for and received permission from the Bishop of Thurles and Emly to name the new Club the Dr Crokes and the Bishop also honoured the club when he accepted the position of first Patron.
It seems amazing now that a Gaelic Club taking its first steps during English rule could have survived a time that is looked upon as war-torn, with risings against the establishment, a civil War, two World Wars and the ups and downs of Irish lifestyle over the years, could give unbroken service to the Killarney district, the county of Kerry and the Gaelic Athletic Association for so many years.
During the early years the Dr Crokes had national heroes in politics and some prominent members spent time in English prisons. One of the highlights of those times was when the Club hosted a Reception and open air town meeting in June of 1894 to welcome back the distinguished Fenian O'Donovan Rossa after 30 years of imprisonment and exile. Reading the Address by the Club Chairman and O'Donovan Rossa's reply on page 21 of the clubs history book - "Dr Crokes Gaelic Century", one can get a clear insight into the thinking of those times.
The Club was very much involved in the rise of football in Killarney & Kerry. John Langford, Club Captain, was one of the Committee members at the inaugural meeting of the Kerry County Board. The Club lost the first Kerry County final in 1892 to Laune Rangers in what was agreed by all “to be one of the finest matches ever witnessed”. They won the County Final in 1901 when Dick Fitzgerald made his appearance at 17 years of age, and by keeping that form in the decade, went on to win three more, in 1912, 1913, & 1914.
But it was with the County team that the Crokes really came into the National arena, with Dick Fitz & six club mates, Dinny Kissane, Jack Myers, Flor O'Sullivan, Paddy Dillon, Willy Lynch and Dan McCarthy who backboned the team that brought the first All-Ireland to the Kingdom in 1903. Former Club Captain & Chairman, Eugene O'Sullivan, took charge of backroom affairs as Chairman of the Kerry County Board 1903-1908 and this set-up went on to capture four more titles (1904, 1909, 1913 & 1914) that gave the Kingdom a kick start that never slowed down again. Other Dr Crokes players to represent the county on those winning teams were Con Murphy, Tom O'Sullivan, Ned Spillane, Johnny Skinner, Denis Doyle, Johnny O'Mahony, Paddy Healy, Paddy Breen and Jim O'Connell.
The Dr Crokes affair with the County team carried on right through the decades, having players on the first 20 winning All-Ireland teams, who were all household legends in their own era - In the 20s/30s we had Paul Russell, Bill Landers, Tim O'Donnell, Dee O'Connor, in the 30s/40s Billy Myers, Teddy O'Connor, Dan Kavanagh and in later years Tadhgie Lyne ('53, '55 & '59), Tom Long ('59 &'62) and Donie O'Sullivan (1962). It also shows that when this futile exercise of picking the Best Teams is pursued the only problem is, not who to select but whom to leave out.
Add [Small] Jerry O'Leary to this company through his involvement as a Selector with county teams in early years, being present at the purchase of Jones Road, and as a G.A.A. historian, and Dr Eamonn O'Sullivan who trained eight of those winning teams - 1924, '26, '37, '46, '53, '55, '59, '62.
After the death of the great Dick Fitzgerald in 1930, the club officers and members put their full focus and attention into erecting a suitable memorial in his honour and in the process the football side had some lean years. The Secretary, John Moynihan, kept the show on the road until the arrival of Michael O'Connor in the mid-50s and under his stewardship as secretary, the Dr Crokes once again became a strong force in East Kerry and the County. A slight hiccup in the 70s, but lessons had been learned and decisions were made and with a great youth policy in place the Club went on to succeed in the District, County, Province and to win the ultimate prize - the All Ireland Club Title in 1992 .
In the Kerry football scene during that period, Eamonn Fitzgerald and Donal Kavanagh won National League medals ('72-'73 & '73-'74), Connie Murphy was awarded an All-Star (1989), and Brian Clarke won an All-Ireland medal (1997).
Pat O'Shea followed in Dr Eamonn O'Sullivan's footsteps when he managed the County Team to win a Munster and an All-Ireland title in his two year term (2007-2008)
But the wheel of life really turned full circle from the early 1900s when the Club has what must be a clone of Dick Fitzgerald in Colm (Gooch) Cooper, All-Ireland medal winners in Eoin Brosnan, Kieran Cremin and Kieran O'Leary, 3 County Championships in a row (2010, 2011 & 2012) and Patrick "Tatler" O'Sullivan was appointed Chairman of the Kerry County Board in 2012.
Dr Crokes have had four green playing fields - the first in the Cricket field, Flesk Bridge up until the 1930s, in 1936 the magnificent Fitzgerald Stadium and in the past 20 years, two new playing complexes have been acquired and developed by the Club atDeerpark & Lewis Road. Lewis Road has in the past couple of years been developed into a state of the art facility to cater for our ever increasing number of teams.
Dr Crokes clubmen have published six books - Dick Fitzgerald's “How to play Gaelic Football” (1914); Dr Eamonn O'Sullivan's “The Art & Science of Gaelic Football” (1958); the Club's Histories - “Dr Crokes Gaelic Century” (1886-1986) and “Decade of Glory” (1986-1996); Pat O'Shea's co-authored “Gaelic Football, Training Drills” (1996) & Fr Tom Looney's "King in a Kingdom of Kings 2008".
Looking back now in this new millennium, would the men who gathered together under a gas light on November 2, 1886 be proud of the achievements of their club and the way the Association has projected itself? Hopefully they would, and maybe also appreciate the additions to the one Senior Team that started it all. Now the Club has an “A” & “B” Senior Teams, U-21, Minor, U-16, U-14, U-12 & coaching every Saturday morning for the U-6, U-8 & U-10s. Camogie was a game the Dr Croke Ladies were very proficient in, in the 1920's/1930's. Now the ladies are very much into the football, showing the same expertise & skill and forging a name for themselves in the County and already Under Age players have gone on to represent Kerry and have won All Ireland medals U-14 & U-16.
Of course, the ladies had always been involved in the administrative side through the years, and also playing a very important role in the social side of the Club.
Hurling, which played such an important role within the Club in the 1920' & '30's has been revived and re-organised by a committed and dedicated group who are developing an underage nursery for the future of hurling in the Club. It is worth noting that all teams wearing the Black & Amber of the Crokes have brought honour & glory to the Club by putting Dr Crokes to the forefront of the GAA.
In the administration side, where on occasions through the years only one man was running affairs, the Officers now have a number of sub-committees to help stream-line so many aspects of the Club today.
In a time where mobile phones and computers are a necessity, it seems a long way from men gathered around a gaslight but we hope the ideals and dreams are still the same.