Philanthropist, humanitarian, All-Ireland winner. There’s nothing like a 20-minute chat with Alan Kerins to make you feel like you haven’t maximised a life’s potential.
Despite being the only man to win senior All-Ireland titles in both club hurling and football, it’s his life outside of sport that’s really inspiring.
A physiotherapist by trade, Kerins has devoted much of the last decade and a half to raising money for children in Africa. To date, he’s raised somewhere in the ballpark of €20 million and he’s nowhere near finished.
Speaking to Pundit Arena last year, Kerins gave an insight into where this need to help others comes from. Unsurprisingly, it’s a trait that’s been passed down through his family.
“When I trace it back, I was seven or eight and Live Aid was on,” Kerins said at Electric Ireland’s launch of the 2019 Minor Championships.
“I remember [Bob] Geldof on the television, but there was news on the screen and horrific images of Sudan and starving kids. I used to hide behind the couch when it would come on because I was afraid of them. I didn’t know, I couldn’t rationalise what was happening but that was a scary image for me to see other children like that. It really rattled me.”
“That kind of emotional upsetness, combined with my Dad winning the Captain’s Prize in his local golf club, Gort.
“It was the middle of a recession, we didn’t have much money there was a big sweepstake. He backed himself to win the Captains Prize and he won it. I’m not sure if it was £1800 or £800, but it was a lot of money at the time and he gave it all over to Live Aid.
“Little did he know that that simple act was raising millions for the same cause 30 years later. The ripple effect of your positive actions… never underestimate the power of your positive — or often negative actions — on young kids.”
Having picked up the mantle himself later in life, Kerin’s fundraising efforts have seen him rub shoulders with some of the world’s most recognisable faces. Not least, Francois Pienaar, the 1995 World Cup-winning captain of South Africa.
Having being introduced through mutual acquaintances, the pair have taken to the golf course together a few times now. Impressed by Kerins’ philanthropy, the South African legend invited the 2001 All-Ireland winner to speak at his company’s leadership summit.
“So yeah, I’ve played golf with him on a few occasions,” said Kerins.
“I got to know him through a friend of a friend. He runs an excellent programme in South Africa called the Make A Difference Leadership Foundation where they grant scholarships to academically talented young people from challenging backgrounds or poverty. They want to create 1000 leaders of the future who can go back into the community and help grow and change South African society.
“They get all their scholars together for a leadership summit. So last year, I went down and facilitated one of the sessions and I am going there again in June. Through him, I’ve met a lot of scholars as well as some outstanding young people. It’s an amazingly worthwhile programme.”
Does the rugby legend know he’s rubbing shoulders with a legend of Gaelic games, however?
“We’ve shown him some clips so he has an idea,” Kerins’ retorts modestly.
He wouldn’t consider himself a legend but it’s hard to argue against the narrative.
A prodigious hurling talent, Kerins first played in goal for Galway’s minor side in the early nineties. By 1997 he was in with the seniors who he represented with distinction until 2011, winning three Connacht titles, three National Leagues and two All-Star awards along the way.
At 23, he decided he’d give Gaelic football a try thanks to some friends at Trinity College. A year later, he was climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand as Galway defeated Meath in the All-Ireland SFC final.
At club level, he holds the unique distinction of having won All-Ireland club medals in both codes, the only man ever to do so with different clubs. His first win came in 2006 when a Michael Donnellan inspired Salthill-Knocknacarra defeated St. Galls of Antrim in Croke Park.
Five years later, Kerins collected a winners medal in hurling at the same venue when his home club Clarinbridge defeated O’Loughlin Gaels of Kilkenny, nine years after suffering heartache in their first All-Ireland club final.
Upon reflection, both wins hold a special place in the Galway man’s heart.
“They were both very special,” Kerins said.
“The hurling was obviously my number one sport whereas I came to football late in life at 23 but Salthill were excellent to me. That was one of my first club medals in 2006. I’d lost one with Clarinbridge in 2001 so that was a very special one to get that, my first club medal really.
“Then in 2011, at the time, I didn’t think we’d much of a chance because you had Portumna dominating the club championship. So to win one at 34 was special and unbelievable with it being my home club.
“Ah, they were both special in different ways. Some of my best friends in life, as well as my brother-in-law, are with Salthill so there were two different families in a way. My in-laws in Salthill and my own family and friends in Clarinbridge.
“What was really nice about the Clarinbridge win was that we were well ahead with five minutes to go so we could really soak up the atmosphere and enjoy it. The last five minutes was beautiful.”
With both the Andy Merrigan (football) and Tommy Moore (hurling) Cups up for grabs this afternoon, there’s few more qualified than Kerins to give his opinion on the outcome of today’s finals.
While both Ballyhale Shamrocks and Corofin are aiming to create history, Kilcoo and Borris-Ileagh are hoping to round off a fairytale season with the greatest prize in club hurling and football.
For Kerins, the burning question is how the underdogs cope with the build-up to the biggest game of their lives.
“For Borris-Ileagh and Kilcoo it’s a massive, massive occasion,” said Kerins.
“The big question is how they’ll handle the excitement of getting to an All-Ireland final and the build-up in the parish because I’m sure Kilcoo, as well as Borris-Ileagh, will be hugely excited and on a high. How both handle that build-up and the occasion, you know, it’s only another day running out onto Croke Park for Ballyhale and Corofin.”
Most are predicting a win for the reigning, defending champions in both codes and Kerins admits it’s hard to argue against it.
“Well, form, experience and history would suggest that it might go that way.
“Corofin are going for three-in-a-row and they love Croke Park, they seem to get better when playing in Croke Park. It suits their game and it’s very hard to stop them.
“Both sides are really balanced. Corofin have 25/30 players that are very even. I think the panel they have is phenomenal. They have a brilliant culture and a brilliant under-age system. Ballyhale are the same. Three game-changers upfront with Adrian Mullen, TJ and Colin Fennelly, then you throw in young Cody and Evan Shefflin as well. It’s scary.”