Wednesday 7 December 2016

A county overburdened with small men

Published 04/10/2015 | 17:00

Babs Keating
Babs Keating

It's a bit of a cliché to say that someone owes his county nothing. But one man who the saying really does apply to is Babs Keating.

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For starters he was one of the finest forwards to play for Tipperary, most notably in 1971 when he more or less put the team up on his back as they won Munster and All-Ireland titles. But it's his achievements as a manager which really left the county in his debt.

It's easy to forget that when Keating took over as Tipp boss in 1987 the county was a negligible force at senior level. With no Munster title since his annus mirabilis in 1971, they had at one stage gone almost a decade without winning a single match in the provincial championship. Tipperary then were roughly where Wexford are now.

Yet by the end of his first season Tipp had won that elusive Munster title in one of the most memorable provincial deciders ever played. Richard Stakelum's famous "The famine is over" speech summed up just what it meant to the county to be back in the big time. In the next seven years Keating added two All-Irelands and four more Munster titles. It remains one of the great managerial spells in hurling, not least because he was going up against a tremendous Cork team every year in Munster.

You can sum up Babs' effect on the fortunes of Tipperary like this: In the 16 years before he took charge they won no All-Irelands, and in the 21 years since the end of that golden spell they've won just two, the same number as Babs steered them to in his first four years in the job.

So you would think they'd be pretty grateful to the man down in Tipperary. But apparently you'd be wrong. Because it was revealed last week than when Babs asked the county board for an All-Ireland ticket this year they said no as they were annoyed that he'd criticised the current team after their defeat by Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final.

You'd expect that county boards would look after players who've won All-Irelands for them first of all when it comes to tickets and then start worrying about everyone else. And to refuse a ticket to a guy whose combined record as a player and manager is unequalled in the county seems to defy logic altogether. It wasn't even a free ticket, he was going to pay for it.

It must have been quite a slap in the face for Babs but in fairness he didn't go running to the papers about it. The refusal came into the public domain because county secretary Tim Floyd saw fit to mention it at a meeting of board officials, telling his fellow apparatchiks that he was "so disgusted" by Keating's comments that he "could not bring himself to supply him with tickets." I wouldn't have been proud of it myself but there you go.

Floyd's outburst is inadvertently revealing as it seems to suggest that Tipp's officials regard the tickets as rewards to be distributed not for achievements on and off the field but for getting on with the county board. If this attitude is general it's not surprising that past players are reluctant to speak their mind on various controversies.

Personally I do think Babs sometimes overdoes the criticism of Tipperary. But he has always been a man who shoots from the lip and doesn't believe in playing it cagey. He is a big personality and this was the very thing which made him into the messiah Tipperary needed to lead them out of the desert.

If Tim Floyd can't forgive Babs a few critical comments he must be either very touchy or have a remarkably short memory.

Apparently Floyd's fellow officials were unanimous in supporting the denial of a ticket to the septuagenarian former star. I never knew there were so many small men in Tipperary.

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