Martin Breheny: Legend of craftsman Jimmy Doyle still burns bright
Published 24/06/2015 | 02:30
It was the ultimate challenge for a 20-year-old, joining a squad packed with high achievers, who had won two of the previous three All-Ireland senior titles and who would go on to win the next two.
Len Gaynor still recalls his arrival in the Tipperary dressing room in early 1964 to join a group whom he regarded as gods. Pre-eminent among them was Jimmy Doyle, then at the peak of his awesome powers.
"It was unreal for me. One day I'm looking in on these fellas from the outside, the next day I'm in with them. I remember crashing into Theo English one night - I can tell you I remembered that for a while," said Gaynor.
However, it wasn't long before he was confronted with the daunting reality that, as a half-back, the training would often involve tracking one on the best forwards in hurling history.
"It was like marking mercury. Jimmy had so much skill that whatever you did, he'd outwit you. The thing about him was that he never did the same thing twice.
"He might catch the ball and run at you; another time, he'd move the ball along the ground or he could flick it over your head. You just never knew what trick he'd pull. That's what made him so hard to mark.
"One thing was certain though - whatever he did, it was always done with unbelievable skill. The good thing from the point of view of the Tipp backs was that whoever we met after that wasn't going to be as good as Jimmy so it prepared us well," said Gaynor.
Doyle was quite a slight figure but developed enormous power in his shots by working on technique.
Gaynor recalls a picture of Doyle taking a free, which captured perfectly his ability to use every muscle and sinew to generate maximum power.
"Back then, most players used the biggest hurleys they could find, but not Jimmy. He used a shorter, lighter one but had such incredible technique that he could do just about anything with a ball and a hurley.
"But then, the hurley was never out of Jimmy's hand. It was part of him in every way. It's how he expressed himself and he did it so brilliantly for so long. He was also a great man to give a young player coming into the panel tips on how to improve. You knew that when it was coming from Jimmy, it had to be right," said Gaynor.
It's a tribute to Doyle that, as the years pass and new challengers emerge for places on teams selected as the best of all time, he is under no threat.
Chosen at right full-forward on the GAA's Team of the Century in 1984 and Team of the Millennium in 2000, Doyle's enduring legacy is certain to continue.
His name has, of course, been honoured in his native Thurles, where the Jimmy Doyle Road was officially opened in 2012.
The respect in which he was held, both inside and outside Tipperary, has been very much in evidence since news of his death emerged.
Paying tribute, Tipperary County Board chairman Michael Bourke described him as "the ultimate stick-man, a master of his craft, not alone of his own age but for all ages.
"He inspired countless hurlers who wanted to be Jimmy Doyle and who craved the genius he bore with such humility and grace.
"Tipperary and Thurles have lost one of its greatest sons, the likes of whom we may never witness again," said Bourke.
Jimmy Doyle Factfile
Born: March 20, 1939 (76 years)
Club: Thurles Sarsfields
College: Thurles CBS (Harty Cup winner 1956)
Tipperary minors: Played for four years 1954-57 (the first as a 14-year-old goalkeeper). Moved to attack and won All-Ireland medals in 1955-56-57, the latter as captain.
Tipperary seniors: 6 All-Ireland titles (1958-61-62 (capt)-64-65 (capt)-71); 9 Munster titles(1958-60-61-62-64-65-67-68-71); 7 NHL titles (1957-59-60-61-64-65-68); 7 Railway Cups (1958-59-60-61-63-66-69-70)
Senior Championship games: 39
Career scoring total: 18-176
Hurler of the Year: 1965
Hurling Team of the Century: 1984 (Right full-forward)
Hurling Team of the Millennium: 2000 (Right full-forward)
Tipperary Team of the Millennium: 2000 (Right half-forward)
Jimmy Doyle's remains will repose at Sarsfields Social Centre, Semple Stadium today (4 to 8pm) before being removed to the Church of St Joseph and St. Brigid Bothar-na-Naomh at 8.30. Requiem Mass tomorrow (10am). Funeral afterwards to the Island Crematorium, Cork.