There are many cult-heroes in GAA folklore, but perhaps none made such a telling impact and changed the course of history like Kerry’s, Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston.
The big Beale man failed to make the Kerry minor panel and didn’t make his inter-county bow until he lined out for the U21’s in 1977 where they defeated Cork and Down en route to collect an All-Ireland title.
Kerry had come in under the radar to win the All-Ireland in 1975 with a team made up primarily of U21’s, however, they were unable to replicate the success in the following year’s losing to Dublin in both ’76 & ’77 as the Metropolitans went on to claim back-to-back crowns.
It was the following year that Liston was called into the Kerry senior set-up under Mick O’Dwyer. The buzz from the 1975 All-Ireland win had clearly worn off and fans were growing frustrated at Dublin’s dominance over Gaelic football’s kingpins. There were even rumours that O’Dywer’s job was in jeopardy going into the 1978 season.
Liston’s introduction without a doubt helped change the course of history as Kerry went on to win the next four Sam Maguire Cups.
‘Bomber’s’ iconic status was forever cemented in his maiden season of 1978 as Kerry finally overcame a Dublin side who were on the hunt for three-in-a-row. The two sides met in the All-Ireland final of that year with many expecting another titanic battle following their classic encounter of 1977 which many still regard as the greatest game in history.
However, Kerry triumphed on the day by a whopping 17 points as they put five goals past Kevin Heffernan’s side.
On the day it was Dublin who started the brighter of the two, racing into a five-point lead before John Egan’s quickfire 1-1 brought Kerry level. Mikey Sheehy then scored one of the most inventive goals in the history of Gaelic football, chipping Paddy Cullen from a quick free-kick to send Kerry in front towards half-time.
Kerry finished the half ahead 2-3 to 0-7 when really they had been the inferior team throughout. The second-half, however, proved to be a totally different affair as Liston came into his own, driving Kerry on to their 25th All-Ireland title.
He grabbed his first goal immediately after the restart when latching onto a kick-pass from Jack O’Shea and handpassing to the goal.
Liston soon grabbed a second goal that was out of the top-drawer and to be honest seldom seen these days in an era of blanket defences.
Paudie Lynch lines up a free-kick on the 65-metre line. He sends it in long on top of Liston who rises highest to collect.
‘Bomber’ turns on a sixpence before playing a quick one-two.
When Liston receives the return pass there is only one thing left to do. Wreck the net.
Liston soon grabbed his hat-trick goal when he rushed in to punch to the goal and firmly put the game to bed. The Beale man finished the day with 3-2 and a first All-Ireland senior medal.
As they say, the rest is history…
Eoin Liston went on to have a distinguished career with the Kingdom, manning the full forward position all the way until 1993. In that 15-year period, he made 104 appearances in total (39 Championship & 65 League).
He played in 15 Munster finals, winning 10 and losing five, as well as seven All-Ireland deciders where he won six.
Liston’s scoring statistics were perhaps the most impressive aspect of his career. In All-Ireland finals, he managed to rack up 3-10 in seven games. He scored 16-67 across 65 league games and 20-50 in 39 Championship appearances.
In later life, Liston went on to guide Kerins O’Rahilly’s to a first Kerry senior title in 45 years and was part of the backroom team for two Irish compromise rules series.
A true legend of the GAA and Kerry football as well as quite possibly the greatest full forward in the history of the game.