Farm Ireland

Wednesday 19 December 2018

'We would tog out in the grain loft and train in one of the fields across the road'

Sport and farming always went hand-in-hand for hurling folk hero Tony Doran

Tony Doran pictured on the family farm at Monamolin near Boolavogue. Photo: Patrick Browne
Tony Doran pictured on the family farm at Monamolin near Boolavogue. Photo: Patrick Browne
Tony Doran lets fly against Cork in the 1977 All Ireland hurling final against Cork

Tony Doran doesn't like the word 'retire'.

Regarded as one of the greatest and toughest full-forwards to ever grace a hurling pitch Doran's career spanned more than 30 years.

During that time he won one All-Ireland, four Leinster and two National League medals with Wexford.

This success also seeped down to club level where 12 Wexford Championships led to arguably the sweetest success of all for Tony - the 1989 All-Ireland club title with his beloved Buffers Alley.

Tony Doran lets fly against Cork in the 1977 All Ireland hurling final against Cork
Tony Doran lets fly against Cork in the 1977 All Ireland hurling final against Cork

Yet even after finally hanging up his hurl in 1993 at the age of 47, Tony has never considered himself as being retired - just as having stepped back.

Sitting in his family farm in Monamolin outside Boolavogue in Co Wexford, Tony told the Farming Independent that he has taken the same approach to farming.

While he is happy to help his son Tony Jnr manage their 80-strong dairy cow herd, he knows that just like hanging up his hurling boots, he also has to take more of a step back from the land.

"Farming is a bit like hurling. You see a time when you have to cut back and you're not doing what you used to do. I'm happy to step back. I like helping out and I am happy to see my son involved in it," says the 72-year-old.

Also Read

In his recently released autobiography, A Land of Men and Giants, it's clear that farming always went hand in hand with his hurling career. One of five brothers, Tony followed in his father Willie's footsteps in to farming.

He says that he didn't see his first milking machine until he was 20."We all milked by hand. Growing up our farm had a little bit of everything cows, cattle, tillage and pigs. Dairying wasn't so big in the area at the time. So much has changed now in farming. Things are far more modern," he says.

He recalls occasions where he and his fellow Buffers Alley team-mates would tog out in the grain loft on the Doran farm and train in one of their fields across the road - a world away from the training facilities that players are now accustomed to. "Anyone who remembers lofts from those times will know what they were like. It was messy enough and very cold. It wasn't any way hi-tech like the facilities they have now but it was an improvement from the side of the ditch," laughs Tony.

Tony's family owned a milk lorry and collected milk cans from up to 25 farms in the area and delivered it to the creamery in Ballycanew. He recalls how in the week leading up to the 1968 All-Ireland Final against Tipperary, he had to take a break from the round as everybody was talking about the upcoming match.

Dubbed as "a day of history" and "an astounding recovery" by the late broadcaster Mick Dunne, the purple and gold of the Wexford team prevailed against Tipperary thanks to one of the greatest comebacks of all in an All-Ireland final.

The old adage of "goals win games" couldn't be more apt than in this case. Eight points down at half-time, Wexford scored four second half goals to win by 5-8 to 3-12.

Then 22, Tony Doran scored 2-1 in the final and was yet to hit the prime of his career, but '68 was the only time he managed to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup with the Model County. He returned to the milk cans two days later, and he wishes now that he appreciated the win more.

"I just wanted to get back to my normal routine. It's strange; I remember playing a lot of the match but the celebrations not so much. I was only 22 and I think if I was six or seven years older I would've soaked it up and appreciated it a bit more. I thought it would be happening all the time but it never happened again," he laughs.

Despite losing three All-Ireland finals to Cork, 1970, 1976 and 1977, when he was captain, Tony played on for the county until 1984 when he was 38. The only explanation for such longevity, he says, was his sheer love of hurling.

"It was disappointing (to 'retire') but you have to move on. We had a few close shaves with Kilkenny where they would've beaten us by a point and we lost five Leinster finals. Of course you would get fed up losing. I loved the game, though, and always felt it was an honour to play for Wexford and captain them," he adds.

While Tony played against and knows many hurling greats, one man stands out and that's the current Kilkenny manager and James Stephens' man, Brian Cody. "Cody has been the big man in hurling for the best part of 20 years. I always got on with him and found him very friendly. His wife played camogie with Buffers Alley so I would've known him as he would've been here a fair bit. Kilkenny were always hard to beat."

In 2017, though, the current Wexford team managed to beat the Cats for the first time in 13 years.

That victory saw them reach a first Leinster Final since 2008, but despite the watchful eye of Davy Fitzgerald on the sidelines, they fell to Galway at the final hurdle. While Tony thinks making the final was positive, he says it's important for Wexford people not to get carried away by this year's progress.

"It was a great occasion, they beat Kilkenny but they still didn't win anything. You can't get too carried away. You still need to push on. Davy brought them up a division and brought on things a bit. Our big test will be the year ahead," says Tony.

One of his proudest moments on the hurling field came toward the end of his career when Buffers Alley defeated O'Donovan Rossa from Antrim to be crowned Wexford's first ever All-Ireland Senior Club Champions in 1989.

"My career probably should've been over at that stage. It was a great occasion at the end of my career and I appreciated it more because I was older and it was great to win it with friends who I would've known and played with for years and to do it for all the supporters as well. For a rural area to win it was such a big thing at the time."


While he thinks there were up to eight farmers on the 1968 winning Wexford side, he says the hectic GAA lifestyle of the modern game makes it difficult for farmers to play at inter-county level.

He adds that the round-robin system due to come in to play this summer will make it next to impossible.

"You have very few farmers playing at county level now. It's very hard for them to find the time to commit. Even in the current Wexford team there's very few farmers involved and it's the same in every other county. It's an awful pity," he says.

Tony cites the fact that he only ever suffered two minor injuries - his little finger and big toe - as one of the reason's he continued playing for so long. The support he got from his wife and neighbours helped him balance his hurling and parenting duties to his five children - Therese, Noelle, Tony, Pat and Marie.

"The hamstring hadn't been invented back then and my wife Mary was involved in camogie and athletics and was very understanding," he says. "It could be awkward at times. Training wasn't awkward because I'd have the cows milked and could then head on. It was more awkward on match day, all the lifts and babysitters were a major help. In the country you know everyone and they all help out and chip in, that's just how it is."

For Stories Like This and More
Download the FarmIreland App

Indo Farming

Get the latest news from the FarmIreland team 3 times a week.

More in Dairy