John Doyle: a legend devoted to Tipp cause
True hero with exceptional talent and ambition
IN an interview for Colm Keane's book, 'Hurling's Top 20', published in 2002, John Doyle joked about how people would react at news of his death, whenever that might be.
"I'm sure that when I die, a lot of people will come to the funeral to see am I really dead, am I really gone down," he said.
Eight years on, they will come in huge numbers, not to see if one of hurling's best-known figures has indeed passed away but to pay respect to the life and legend that was John Doyle.
In an age where exaggeration flows rather easily when referring to famous people in any walk of life, the term 'legend' is acquired -- and used -- far too easily, when it should be kept for those who actually deserve it. In truth, it wraps neatly around the name John Doyle, who has died at the age of 80.
His bid to become the first man to win nine All-Ireland SHC medals -- thereby nudging ahead of his long-time rival Christy Ring -- ended in failure in the 1967 All-Ireland final when Kilkenny beat Tipperary and, at the age of 37, Doyle retired.
Kilkenny had wrecked his bid for a place in hurling history so, given his devotion to the blue and gold, not to mention his competitive instincts, nobody would have been more delighted when Tipperary ruined Kilkenny's attempt to become the first to win the All-Ireland five-in-a-row this year.
The 1967 All-Ireland final was Doyle's final game for Tipperary, ending an 18-year career during which he had harvested a remarkable yield. The urge to battle on in pursuit of the elusive ninth medal was discarded in Doyle's usual forthright way.
"For God's sake, it was time to give up. There was no point hanging on. I achieved as much as I could and that was it. I'd played in three eras with three different (Tipperary) teams. At one stage during my career with Tipperary, the second best team in Ireland was the Tipperary subs. We had eight or nine fellas on the subs that would walk onto any other team," he recalled.
He was referring, in particular, to the 1961-65 era during which Tipperary won four of five All-Ireland titles, missing out only in 1963 when, rather surprisingly, they lost the Munster final to Waterford. Prior to that, they had completed a double with wins over Dublin in 1961 and Wexford in 1962 and would resume their place at the summit with All-Ireland wins over Kilkenny in 1964 and Wexford in 1965.
It was during the 1961-62 double that Doyle, who won his first All-Ireland senior medal in 1949, made a permanent move from the half-back line to right full-back, where he quickly settled in alongside Michael Maher and Kieran Carey to form the famed 'Hell's Kitchen' trio.
Hurling was a different game back then and, with opponents allowed to 'charge' the goalkeeper, the full-back line's duties included the provision of a protective cordon in front of their No
1, a task that 'Hell's Kitchen' undertook with obvious relish.
That created the impression of three hard men living right on the edge as they patrolled their goal area, but the reality was that they were also hugely talented hurlers. The longevity of Doyle's career underlined just how effective he was, although he would later acknowledge that luck played an important role too.
"There were fellas who were as good as and better than I was, but they never won an All-Ireland medal. They weren't there at the right time. I was," he recalled.
Timing or not, no player could have survived so long -- or won so much -- if he didn't possess an exceptional talent, the ambition to turn it into a successful career and the commitment to see it through. John Doyle scored on all fronts.
After his retirement, he went on to serve as a Tipperary selector and their Central Council representative; his son Michael both played for and managed Tipperary.
His remains will repose at Egan's Funeral Home, Dublin Road, Thurles, from 4pm to 8pm today with the removal to Holycross Abbey at 8.30pm. Requiem Mass takes place tomorrow morning at 11.30.