Faughs legend Seán Buckley recalls the time a man in a van predicted glory days ahead
A Tipperary hero spotted the early potential in a black-and-amber boy ... but few could have seen a change of heart on the road out of Parnell Park
Seán Buckley takes a sip of his white coffee up in The Square in Tallaght. His mind goes back to Freshford in Kilkenny.
The picture postcard village green. Hurling at the crossroads of life. The people’s bread and butter. And apple pie.
Himself and his pals hurled for St Lachtain’s. All growing up together to win the Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship. One day, when he was a boy, he was out on his own pucking the ball. A van pulled up.
“This man got out. I thought he was looking for directions,” explains Seán. “He said to me, ‘I have a hurl in the back of the van. Do you want to have a few shots?’
“We played for about ten minutes, hitting the ball to each other. And as he got back into the van, he said to me, ‘You might play for Kilkenny one day’.
“I hadn’t a clue who he was. Then this other fella came along and said to me, ‘Do you know who that was?’
“I said I didn’t. And he replied, ‘That was Pat Stakelum, the famous Tipperary centre-back’.
“He was driving for the soft drinks company, Dawn’s, at the time. What a player he was.
“It was so kind of him to say to a young chap that he might play for Kilkenny someday. It’s a day that I will never forget.”
Kilkenny’s own orchard was crammed with quality.
“We had no shortage of idols to look up to. And when Kilkenny reached an All-Ireland final, it was always such a special day.
“The excitement of it all. Back then, it wasn’t always easy to get to Croke Park. So we listened to the game on the radio. Everybody would be gathered around the radio.”
In the years that followed, the Freshford folk would be listening out for Seán’s name. As the great Pat Stakelum predicted, he did indeed go on to wear the black and amber. And captain the county.
He was playing with the Kilkenny minors when the senior call came.
“It was a challenge match against Cork in Ballyvourney. They must have been badly stuck,” Seán smiles.
“I think I was there just to make up the numbers. I remember travelling to the game and sitting in the car with all these fellas. I felt like the mascot!
“I was in awe looking at these guys. They put me in at corner-forward. Mick Cashman was in goal for Cork, and Christy Ring was also playing.
“It’s a great thing to say that you shared a pitch with Christy Ring.”
Seán went on to win a couple of All-Irelands.
“It’s funny, you always remember the ones you lost more than the All-Irelands you won. And those defeats were hard to take,” he said.
“It was such a huge thing for Kilkenny to win the All-Ireland. But for me, the day went by in such a blur.
“I do remember the homecomings. Hurling meant everything to the people of Kilkenny. It was a way of life. It still is. And it always will be.”
He recalls the match-day nerves. Sitting in the dressing room, “waiting for the knock on the door”. Marvelling at the composure of Eddie Keher as he sent over free after free.
Work took Seán to Dublin. He joined Dublin club Moondearg.
“They were all Kilkenny lads. We had some terrific hurlers. I was still playing for Kilkenny,” he said. “I picked up a shoulder injury. It wasn’t coming right. It was also interfering with my work, so I gave up the hurling. I played some pitch and putt.”
And that, he thought, was the end of his hurling days as he had “no intention of playing hurling again”.
He went along to watch the Dublin Senior Hurling Championship final in 1969.
“O’Toole’s beat Faughs. Jack Wallace took a 21 and buried it. Game over. I was walking out of Parnell Park. It was the old Parnell Park with the grass banks.
“I saw this man approaching me. He looked very distinguished. In a pinstripe suit. I was thinking, do I owe this man money, or what!
“He introduced himself as Mick Clayton, Chairman of Faughs, and said, ‘I want you to play for Faughs’.
“They had just lost the county final, so Mick gave me the impression that he didn’t want no for an answer! So I agreed.
“What a wonderful man. He took over from the legendary Tommy Moore. And to see the club that’s there today.
“In my time, we had no clubhouse or anything like that. We trained in the Phoenix Park.
“Dublin hurling was so strong. Parnell Park would be packed on a summer’s evening. There was always a great atmosphere there.”
He won three Dublin Senior Hurling Championships with Faughs.
“We were blessed to have fabulous hurlers. But it wasn’t just that. It was the people in the club. All so genuine.
“In later years, I was involved in coaching teams, hurling and camogie. And the best thing of all was how committed the players were. And how easy they were to work with. That’s everything, really.”
The Museum in Tymon tells the club’s fabled story. Of famous figures that wore the jersey. Seán thinks of his dear friend, Eamonn Rea.
“You wouldn’t meet a finer person. There was none better. A gentleman. And a first-class hurler, too,” he said.
Eamonn won the Liam MacCarthy Cup with Limerick in 1973, beating Kilkenny. The Treaty County had a long wait before Mr MacCarthy would come back home again.
“Look at them now. A magnificent team in every way. They have set the standard. Hurling is a different sport now.
“When I played, you had the great Ollie Walsh, God bless him, and all the goalkeepers, pucking out the ball three-quarters the length of the pitch. Now, you see how teams pass the ball. The movement. And how defenders come up the pitch and take scores. The physicality of hurling is phenomenal now.”
In last year’s All-Ireland final, Kilkenny came so close to Limerick. It was Brian Cody’s farewell.
“What Brian has done for Kilkenny is unbelievable. The amount of years that he gave to it. He had his own way of doing things. Everyone knew where they stood with him.
“There’s a good man there now. I always admired Derek Lyng as a player. A sound, honest hurler who gave it everything.”
This Saturday evening, Kilkenny host Dublin in the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship. “That will be interesting. We have had some brilliant matches already this season.”
Seán remains a big sports fan, but “there’s nothing to beat a good game of hurling”. Just like it was all those years ago on Freshford’s pretty village green.