Thursday 26 April 2018

Martin Breheny: Tony Keady - a hurling giant who stood tall and strong for his club and county

Hurler of the Year for Galway in 1988, he was a centre-back of immense stature

Tony Keady in typical pose for Galway in August 1990. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Tony Keady in typical pose for Galway in August 1990. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The voice was familiar, the instruction clear, the mischief unmistakeable.

"Aye, come here, I have a bone to pick with you. How in the name of God could you have me so far down that list? How could you get it so wrong?"

'That list' was the ratings compiled by the Irish Independent in 2009 to mark the GAA's 125th anniversary. We decided to (a) select the top 125 players in the Association's history and (b) place them in ranking order.

A tricky exercise under both headings, but then we never claimed it was definitive for the obvious reason that it couldn't possibly be anything other than an attempt to put the great deeds of the past and present into some context.

Anyway, I was heading into Pearse Stadium for a hurling league game in early 2010 when someone needed to discuss 'that list'. It was Tony Keady and he wanted to know why he wasn't higher up.

I have to admit that I couldn't recall exactly where we had placed him but he reminded me fairly quickly.

Tony Keady, third from right, in the Galway line-up before the 1988 All-Ireland SHC final against Tipperary. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Tony Keady, third from right, in the Galway line-up before the 1988 All-Ireland SHC final against Tipperary. Photo: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

"Not even in the top 100. And some of the names ahead of me - I can't believe it. I'll tell you what - come down to me some day and we'll sit down with all those names and I'll put them in the right order. It won't take long," he said.

Distinction

Trying to spread responsibility for what he regarded as an injustice to his talents, I told him that I wasn't only one involved in the selections so he widened the invitation.

"No problem - let ye all come down. The more the merrier. We'll sort it out as it should be," he said.

Then, eyes twinkling warmly, he put out his big hand and grabbed mine. "Don't forget to come down now." And then he was off, chuckling heartily.

Tony Keady laughed easily but he could be serious too. Never more so than when he put on the Galway and Killimordaly jerseys, both of which he wore with such distinction in the 1980s and 1990s.

He was an integral part of the golden age of Galway hurling, a period when they won two All-Ireland (1987-'88) and two National League (1987-'89) titles. They also won five All-Ireland semi-finals in six years, but lost three finals in 1985, '86 and '90.

His first championship game was against Cork in the 1985 All-Ireland semi-final, a day so miserably wet that only 8,200 turned up in Croke Park.

THE THROW-IN PODCAST: 'One of the greats', former team-mate, Anthony Cunningham remembers Tony Keady

Galway manager Cyril Farrell told Keady (then 22) to forget about Cork being All-Ireland champions, trust himself and hurl his own game but, as he lined up for the start, he spotted Tim Crowley coming his way.

Crowley, a fiercely strong man who had been on the Cork team for more than a decade, accumulating all the major honours on several occasions, looked massive in Keady's eyes as they shook hands.

He may have been a confident young man but, as he recounted to Vincent Hogan in an interview years later, he wasn't very self-assured as he stood in a deluge waiting for referee Noel O'Donoghue to throw in the ball. "I'm going to get eaten up and spat out here."

He wasn't. In fact, he played well, Galway won and a great career was on it its way. Sadly, fate dealt the Keady family a sad hand when Tony's father, James, died less than two weeks before the final. James had been ill for quite some time, but that in no way eased the pain for his son.

He knew that his father would have wanted him to play in the final and, with encouragement from his mother, he battled on, even if he found it very hard to concentrate.

"He (father) was mad for hurling and I knew he'd want to me to play. My mother kept saying it. So I went along with it. I even trained on the evening of his funeral.

"I knew he was looking down over me. The problem was, when we lost the final, I was probably more upset for him than anyone," recounted Tony.

Strength

He also recalled how he used to bring his father to games even when his health was failing rapidly.

"When he hadn't the strength I used to pick him up in my arms and lift him into the front seat of my car and drive to all the games. Fair play to Phelim Murphy (Galway hurling board secretary and county selector) - he knew the set-up.

"Any time there was a match in Athenry or Loughrea, he'd let me drive straight in. And my father would watch the game from the car. I used to always say to him: 'I'll park right behind the goals, it's the safest place. Nothing will hit you there'."

Tony was in Croke Park last Sunday to see Galway reach the All-Ireland final and, no doubt, had already begun arrangements for attending the final. Tragically, it wasn't to be.

I checked yesterday to see where he was placed on our 125 ratings. We had him at 103. He was probably right. We should have had him higher.

Fact file: Tony Keady

Born: December 5, 1963

Club: Killimordaly

1983: Centre-back on All-Ireland winning U-21 team

1985: Senior championship debut v Cork All-Ireland semi-final. Lost final to Offaly.

1986: All Star centre-back. Galway lost All-Ireland final to Cork.

1987: All-Ireland and League wins.

1988: All-Ireland win. All Star centre-back and Hurler of the year.

1989: League win. Suspended for All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary after playing without proper clearance in the US.

1990: Lost All-Ireland final to Cork.

1992: Last Championship game (sub v Kilkenny All-Ireland semi-final)

The 'Keady affair' ...

One of the most famous controversies in GAA history, it erupted in 1989 when Keady, the 1988 Hurler of the Year, remained on in New York in April after  travelling there with the Galway team.

Their All-Ireland three-in-a-row quest loomed but since their first game wasn't until August, Keady decided to enjoy New York for a while.

He joined the Laois club and after playing a championship game against Tipperary, queries were raised about his eligibility.

The GAA were unhappy with the trans-Atlantic player traffic at the time and, following an investigation, Keady and two other Galway men, Aidan Staunton and Michael Helebert, all of whom were assured of their eligibility by officials in New York, were banned for a year.

It was seen as a totally disproportionate reaction, especially since the rules on eligibility were vague.

In a startling development, Galway threatened to withdraw from the All-Ireland semi-final before agreeing to have Keady's appeal heard by Central Council.

It lost on a 20-18 vote, with some Connacht delegates among those who voted against Galway.

It left Galway without Keady for the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary, which they lost by three points after having Sylvie Linnane and 'Hopper' McGrath sent off in a fractious encounter.

Galway's annoyance increased a few months later when the GAA offered an amnesty to all players who admitted to having played illegally in the US or Britain.

Effectively, it left Keady and Galway as the only losers in a saga which also involved many players from other counties.

Irish Independent

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