Monday 19 March 2018

Cyril Farrell: A free spirit who could always be relied upon to deliver on the big days

Our game and my native county has lost a great ambassador with Tony's untimely passing

Tony Keady goes shoulder-to-shoulder with Tipperary's Donie O'Connell during the 1988 All-Ireland final. Photo: Ray McManus/ SPORTSFILE
Tony Keady goes shoulder-to-shoulder with Tipperary's Donie O'Connell during the 1988 All-Ireland final. Photo: Ray McManus/ SPORTSFILE

Cyril Farrell

A Tuesday night in early February 1985. We're playing Offaly in a league game in Birr the following Sunday and the Galway management think it's time we tried out a new No 6.

Phelim Murphy, Bernie O'Connor and myself decided that Tony Keady was ready to step up. He would be filling big boots as Sean Silke had been an outstanding centre-back for many years. So I wander over to Tony during training and tell him that he'll be playing against Offaly. I think he assumed I was winding him up.

"You're mad," was the response to getting his first call-up for the Galway jersey.

"So are you, so it'll be all fine so," I replied.

That was it. One of the best centre-backs hurling has known was on his way. I felt for the previous two years that we had a right good one.

I remember watching Galway U-21s in a challenge game against UCG in 1983 and thinking that Tony could be something special.

He had played in the forwards for Galway minors in the 1981 championship but was now back in defence and doing everything so naturally that you knew he would develop into a serious operator.

So when I came back as senior manager at the end of 1984, he got the call straight away. We needed a lot of new talent, lads like Tony who could build a new era for Galway.

He had it all. Great wrists, delicate touch, equally comfortable left and right, all topped off with one of the most important ingredients of all for any sportsperson - instinct. It enabled him to nearly always be in the right place at the right time.

He was the ultimate free spirit and it was important to accept that. You could trust him to deliver on the big days but you wouldn't want to be bothering him with little details in training.

Early on, I would get him to stay back for a while after training to practise '65s and long-range frees. He was brilliant on them and he knew it but I still felt he could be even better.

I would stand watching him and giving a few tips about his stance, follow-through etc but I knew he wasn't listening. In fact, he'd pull shots wide on the left and right and drop others short, as if to say, 'Will you go away and leave me alone. I'll point these when it matters, not on a wet night in Athenry.'

He'd go out in a game the following Sunday and nail them all, come back in and say, 'What did you think of that?'

You needed to know to handle him. He had a carefree spirit so you couldn't be too regimented. He was sharing a flat in Dublin for a time with Brendan Lynskey - another man who knew his own mind - and you couldn't be up to them.

We used to train mainly in Athenry and the two lads would be on to me regularly about bringing it to Ballinasloe, making it handier to get from Dublin.

So we switched one particular night and what happened? They didn't turn up! Something about flooded roads near Kinnegad. Or was it a fallen tree?

Yet, they were a very disciplined pair who did an awful of work on their own. After one All-Ireland semi-final they said they wouldn't come back to the hotel for a meal as they were staying in Dublin.

As it happened, so was I and a few hours later I'm driving up North Circular Road and who did I see? Only the two lads out for a run.

They had their own routine and this was part of it, even a few hours after an All-Ireland semi-final.

The thing was, you could trust them. And come match day, you knew they would deliver.

The Galway team of that era were - and are - very close so Tony's untimely death has hit everyone very hard. It has also impacted on the wider community in Galway.

He was so well-liked, such a part of the county and the hurling that it's difficult to comprehend his death.

I met him outside the Croke Park Hotel before the game last Sunday where he was, in familiar fashion, regaling everyone around him.

He was telling a group of Tipperary supporters that the only reason he came up was to see Tipp beaten. All good-humoured and so typical of the man.

Hurling has lost a great ambassador, Galway has lost a famous son but obviously the biggest loss of all is to Tony's family.

Deepest sympathies to his wife, Margaret, daughter Shannon, sons Anthony, Jake and Harry and the extended family.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport