Thursday 23 November 2017

'I was told to have an operation on my knee or play away'

Former Tipperary hurler Pat Fox in his bar in Cashel with a print from the 1987 Munster final against Cork when Nicki English kicked the goal
Former Tipperary hurler Pat Fox in his bar in Cashel with a print from the 1987 Munster final against Cork when Nicki English kicked the goal

Jackie Cahill

Pat Fox played a round of golf at Dundrum House Hotel on Wednesday afternoon with the racing commentator, Dessie Scahill, but paid the price for it yesterday.

Those familiar with the course will know that it's long, very long, and Fox's left knee throbbed as he served punters behind the bar in his pub on Cashel's main street.

In 1982, Fox ruptured cruciate ligaments during an interfirms game, played in Cashel, but information on the severity of the injury in those days wasn't what it is now.

Fox remembers: "It kind of put me on a backward curve from then on.

"At that early stage, it was a problem with your leg, not your knee.

"I didn't really have an idea what was really wrong with me for 12 months.

"I knew that my knee was in serious trouble but there wasn't great surgery available at the time and we were afraid to get the operations done.

"I had no choice. I just had to put up with it."


And put up with it he did. Fox, who made his senior intercounty debut at midfield against Cork in 1980, would go on to win two All-Ireland SHC medals and five Munster titles.

The Éire Óg Anncarty clubman was a renowned creator and taker of scores and in 1991, he claimed the Texaco Hurler of the Year award.

At the time, Tipperary possessed a star-studded forward line.

John Leahy, Declan Ryan and Michael Cleary occupied the half-forward positions, with Fox, Cormac Bonnar and Nicky English inside.

That front six was so good that they played in both the 1989 and 1991 All-Ireland finals, with Tipp successful in both.

They were names that tripped off the tongue and while English claimed the vast majority of the headlines, the forward unit wouldn't have functioned like it did without Fox.

A bandage on his left knee and a series of weight exercises ensured that the joint remained relatively stable.

But Fox's intercounty career wasn't without its ups and downs.

He played at corner forward against Limerick in 1981 and finished up at midfield again in 1982, having started the year at the back.

The injury curtailed his involvement in 1983 but Fox returned to make a big impression with the intermediates a year later, which earned him a senior recall.

The 1985 Munster final against Cork was one of those ill-fated days, however, as Fox recalls being "roasted" at corner back by a rampant Tomas Mulcahy.

That scalding resulted in another intercounty hiatus but when his club stormed to glory in what was an ultra-competitive West divisional competition at the time, Fox was recalled by Tipp manager at the time, Michael 'Babs' Keating.

Fox recalled: "I was gone for '86, didn't make the team. I made a resurgence with the club and we won the West.

"I kind of got a bit motivated again after that. That was the start of something happening.

"Babs asked what was wrong with my knee and he brought me to Dublin to have a look at it. I was told that I could have an operation or play away.

"He (specialist) decided against an operation at the time but I was delighted with the little bit of advice that I got. And being taken care of by the county board for the first time ever was a boost in itself."

Fox shot the lights out in the Munster championship as Tipp claimed the provincial crown for the first time since 1971 with an epic extra-time victory over Cork in a famous Killarney replay.

Fox said: "I can remember that we were a team that didn't know where we were going at the time in '87.

"We had our drawn game against Clare prior to that, which helped us an awful lot going in to play Cork.

"To get a draw with them and to get the experience of playing in a Munster final was something we hadn't been used to, at that stage of our lives."

Keating was the flamboyant team manager at the time and Michael Lowry, the colourful politician with a checkered past, was county board chairman.

This was a good time to be a Tipperary hurler and Fox revelled in it.

Fox said: "We had great guys involved with us at the time.

"Babs had won a Munster final in 1971 in Killarney and he had the foresight to see that a change (of venue) was good for Tipp, which came to reality at the finish of it."

English took the replay to extra-time with a last-gasp point and Tipp kicked on from there, with a bloodied Richie Stakelum proclaiming that the Famine was over.

That group of Tipperary players shared so much together and recently, the classes of 1989 and 1991 were reuinted at the Horse and Jockey.

Not everybody could be there but Fox caught up with Bobby Ryan, Donie O'Connell, Babs and the former selector, Donie Nealon.

Fox added: "I'd still be very much in touch with Nicky all of the time, every week.

"And Joe Hayes is working across the road from me in Tom Hayes' (local TD) office. We'd meet infrequently, it wouldn't be as often as we'd like to, but that was a good occasion at the Horse and Jockey.

"It was a fantastic night and (Michael) Skippy Clear was there too.

"It was the usual few that would always be together and Joe was there to keep us entertained!"


The pub in Cashel will thrive this weekend as Cork and Tipp do battle at Croke Park.

And evaluating the current Tipp team, with natural emphasis on the forward line, Fox is impressed.

He said: "I rate them very similar to our team.

"The way Seamie Callanan is playing and the 'Bonner' Maher, they're fantastic players.

"You'd be hoping that they'll keep that form up for the semi-final but Jimmy Barry-Murphy will have a plan up his sleeve to curb the 'Bonner' giving off good ball.

"It's do or die for both sets of forwards and I'll be hoping that our other forwards can contribute."

Fox couldn't have done much more when he was in possession of the shirt.

It was always his dream to pull on the blue and gold shirt of Tipperary and when he moved to secondary school in Cappawhite, Fox really began to believe that his dream could become reality.

There, he played with the likes of Ger O'Neill, Anthony 'Bricky' O'Neill and Pa O'Neill, and Annacarty could compete with Cappa' at underage level.

The West might not be awake like it used to be, when the clubs in the divisional regularly competed for and won county senior hurling titles, but Fox said: "We always knew that we had some bit of talent but I would consider Éire Óg to be stronger now than when we were playing.

"They're a better club now and have worked very hard at underage."

In 2013, Annacarty ruled the West again, smashing Clonoulty-Rossmore's grip on the division.

Pat Fox on...

Tipp and Cork at Croke Park

"It's unique for us to be playing Cork at Croke Park, a huge change of venue and something that we were all looking forward to happening at some stage in our lives.

"Today, the weather is changing and I hope we don't have this kind of weather for the weekend. Both sets of forwards would like a good day there and we'd like to see free-flowing hurling from both sides."

Babs Keating

"Babs is a charismatic type of guy, a funny individual and good company to be swith. When he says something, he wants it done.

"I still have great respect for him, he was tremendous to me."

The pub on matchday

"It's a massive day in the pub when the match is on.

"People like to come to a GAA pub to watch the matches and you'll have the odd tourist dropping in to see what the game of hurling is all about.

"A lot of them are in awe of the thing.

"They think it's a very robust type of game but Americans and other tourists from around the world enjoy that."

Lar Corbett

"He's dedicated himself to the game and has gone through his fair share of injuries.

"Hopefully he's back to his best on Sunday.

"Tipp need him big time because he takes watching but that may leave room for other players to take scores."

Irish Independent

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