Doyle was epitome of Tipp steel, says Nealon
AS THOUSANDS gather in Holycross Abbey today to bid a fond farewell to a true hurling legend in a sad postscript to the GAA year, the late John Doyle has been described as "epitomising the real steel in Tipperary hurling."
According to another of Tipperary’s five Hurler of the Year winners during the county’s golden era in the 1950- 60s, Doyle’s longevity at the top, combined with his occupation, made his achievements particularly special.
“John was tall and athletic and a farmer, and that all accounted for how fit and strong he was naturally,” said former wing-forward team-mate Donie Nealon.
“He played at a time when there were plenty of farmers on county teams, in strong contrast to today where, I imagine, there is just 5pc, if even that, of players who are farming.
“But farming also put extra demands on players, and when you see how many National League titles John won (11), that is remarkable because they were all won in winter, which would have been a particularly demanding time for him work-wise.”
Nealon added that Doyle never once shirked, or used his demanding work load as an excuse not to prepare thoroughly.
“He had a great attitude and application to training and I never remember him ever missing training,” he said.
Nealon said that what also made Doyle unique was his longevity at the very pinnacle of the game, where he equalled Christy Ring’s total of eight All-Irelands, only to be thwarted in his pursuit of a ninth, by Kilkenny in the 1967 final.
“When I came on the (Tipperary) team in 1958 John had already been there for 10 years and was already a legend and an icon to me,” Nealon continued.
“And, amazingly, he lasted another 10 years at that level. In fact we didn’t expect him to quit at all after ’67, there was absolutely no talk of it beforehand and we were all very surprised.
“He was 37 at the time but he was playing just as steadily and soundly as ever. I never remember him even being replaced with an injury, and he could certainly have continued if he wanted.
“But I think he kind of felt that he had been there a long time, and maybe was holding other people off the team who deserved a chance.
“Because he was a corner-back some people saw him as just a ‘stopper’ but he was really a very fine hurler who could play wing-back or centre-back just as well,” he explained – a fact proven by Doyle playing wing-back in the 1958 and ’61 finals before moving back again to the full-back line.
“We’re all very sad at his passing, there was really something special about John, he epitomised the real steel in Tipperary hurling.
“Obviously his place in hurling was recognised by being selected on the ‘Team of the Century’ and the ‘Team of the Millenium’ but I know that he also loved being selected on Railway Cup teams, he really regarded that as a great honour.”
Nealon pointed out that after his retirement in 1967, Doyle still served his county and the GAA as an administrator and had been Tipperary’s Central Council representative.
“He was never a man to get into arguments about the state of the game, he was very quiet about things like that, but I think, like some of us, he felt the standard in our day, particularly in relation to ground and overhead hurling, was better,” Nealon added.
- In yesterday’s edition of the Irish Independent, an incorrect photograph was used alongside our tribute to the late John Doyle. We apologise to all concerned for any distress this may have caused.