Thursday 26 April 2018

'Whoever wins on Sunday has a serious chance'

The Friday Interview: Tony Keady

Galway's U-21 manager Tony Keady in Oranmore, Co. Galway ANDREW DOWNES
Galway's U-21 manager Tony Keady in Oranmore, Co. Galway ANDREW DOWNES
In action against Tomas Mulcahy during the 1990 All-Ireland hurling final ANDREW DOWNES

Declan Rooney

Neighbours have been picking away at each other since cavemen fought over scraps, but the Galway-Tipperary battle is a freshly boiled pot.

In the 1920s the counties' hurlers met on four occasions - Tipperary won them all - but for the next 40 years there was only one meeting in the latter stages of the championship - another Tipp win in Tuam of all places, the heartland of Galway football.

But a revival in the fortunes of both counties in the late 1980s meant the sleeping giants met in five out of seven championships and they got an appetite for tearing into each other.

The 1983 U-21 All-Ireland final pitted many of the players from both sides against each other for the first time, before the Tribesmen beat Tipp on the way to All-Irelands in 1987 and '88. All that came before the country was split down the middle with the suspension of classy Galway centre-back Tony Keady ahead of the 1989 All-Ireland semi-final between the teams.

Keady was the lynchpin of the Galway defence and was slapped with a 12-month ban for playing under his brother's name in the New York final - against the Tipperary club.

At the time, the finger of blame was pointed towards Tipperary and it was alleged that a Premier ex-pat had reported Keady's dalliance. Even Galway's threat to pull out of the following month's All-Ireland semi-final and a subsequent Central Council appeal fell on deaf ears. Afterwards, Tipperary's delegate voted for Keady's reinstatement, but his appeal was unsuccessful.

It is still a raw subject in the county. Galway - with Keady sitting idle on the bench - had two men sent off and lost by three points to Tipperary, who went on to devour Antrim in the final. That was Galway's three-in-a-row chance gone, and they're haven't won the All-Ireland since.

Keady made his comeback in 1990 championship but Cork's win in Munster meant there was no Tipp rematch. He retired a couple of years later at the age of 29, still annoyed by his treatment.

"1990 way my last All-Ireland final, but we didn't play against Tipp again that year after what happened in '89. We played Cork in the final in 1990 and that was it. The year before there was a lot of old tension more or less coming up to it when I got suspended. It took an awful lot away from it.

"Well there was a good bit of spite around it. Sure didn't poor old Hopper (Michael McGrath) and Sylvie (Linnane) get sent off. It is an All-Ireland that Tipp won, but as everyone knows they would have preferred to have won it with me being on the field.


"I remember we played above in Tullamore in the U-21 final. It was a good hard match and I knew from that time on that we were always to have woeful rivalry with Tipperary. And there was only a puck of a ball in any one of our senior matches up along after that.

"The rivalry is lovely in one sense, we go to Croke Park at the weekend and we'll probably bump into a lot of the Tipp lads that we hurled against and there could be a boxing match - you wouldn't know what you would come up with," he joked.

Keady has always spoken freely of his suspension over the years, but it is far from an all-consuming fire in his mind.

For a long time the Killimordaly clubman worked making hurleys, but he has since given up that post and works in Calasanctius College in Oranmore, where he now lives.

He recently coached the schools' team to a senior B title and has spent the last three years as Galway U-21 selector under Johnny Kelly's management. On Sunday, as many as 13 of the Galway match-day squad could have passed though Keady's hands. It's guiding those lads on the path to success that drives him now.

"I make the odd hurley by hand now if a young fella is after one, but most of my time is put into coaching nowadays," Keady says.

"I am involved in schools hurling and I am involved with kids in the club here in Oranmore. But you really have to sit down and think about it when you go into helping teams because they're gone into the professional side of things now.

"It can be tough when you have small kids and that, but this is my third year now been involved with the Galway U-21s and I haven't missed one session. I have let nothing get between it. You would be gone every night of the week. Even last night when I was gone to bed half asleep and I was picking a team in my head. You are never off with it to be honest."

Like the old days with the seniors, Keady's U-21s won't see action until tomorrow week. It's a long summer's preparation for one shot to get to the final.

And he is enthused by the talents that Kelly and himself have to play with, especially 18-year-old Conor Whelan, who made his senior debut in the quarter-final win over Cork.

"He is still young, but don't kid yourself: this lad could light up Croke Park at the weekend. It doesn't matter what people say about nerves and everything. Nothing fazes this young lad.

"There is a swagger about him that I like and he has a turn of pace that I haven't seen in any young lad since I have been involved in hurling. I told him we wouldn't have him too long with the U-21s because he'd be gone to the seniors.

"That was the Monday evening, and he was gone the Tuesday. I'll tell you something, if this lad gets a nice dry ball, you would want to be on your toes for him."

Whoever comes out of Croke Park victorious on Sunday faces a stern test in the final. Kilkenny, in their 14th final under Brian Cody, are favourites again, but Keady still wonders how good this litter of Cats really is.

"People will probably laugh at what I am going to say here, but going away from the last day, I would just love to know how good are Kilkenny. I actually thought Waterford played brutal hurling against Kilkenny.

"The last time I saw ten balls dropping short into a goalies' hands was at a schools' match. For years no one can beat Kilkenny in the aerial game and what did Waterford do but pump high ball on top of them all day.

"They had four backs maybe on two forwards and I thought it was crazy hurling that they were playing.

"Whoever wins on Sunday has a serious chance. Galway, Tipp or Kilkenny, I don't think there is a puck of ball between any of them three."

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