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In search of immortality

Austin Flynn comes to the table with a full-back's watchful reticence. "I'm the odd one out here," smiles the great Abbeyside stalwart. "These two were on the Team of the Millennium. My claim to fame is that Waterford haven't won an All-Ireland for 50 years!"

He produces a photograph of their famous Munster Championship collision with Tipperary in 1959, the last time Waterford were kings. It was taken from behind him and shows Flynn colliding with an in-rushing Tony Wall, Tipp chasing a desperate deficit. Look closer and you notice a fifth leg, hanging almost disembodied, from the collision.

"That's (Liam) Devaney," laughs Flynn of the meat in the sandwich. "He's in jail!" chuckles Jimmy Doyle. The physicality of the moment comes lunging off the page. And the memories begin forming.

Who was it that first set their pulses racing then?

AUSTIN FLYNN: "At the time, you'd have been talking about the famous Tipp team. And the Cork of Christy Ring. I was to play in a Dean Ryan final once in Galway and this Brother called me up. He was inclined to beat around the bush. You'd be wondering what he was coming with.

"He said: 'There'll be a fella in front of you tomorrow, called Tony Wall. Great hurler'. And I'm waiting for the punch-line, wondering where this was leading. 'Now,' he says 'near the end of the match, if there's only a point or two between us, it'd be no harm if Wall got a tap on the ankle!' I was shocked. 'God brother, I'm sure I'll have enough to do...looking after their full-forward without trying to hit him'.

"His name was Brother Murray. He used ask us: 'Who won the minor All-Ireland in '48?'

'Waterford, Brother!'

'Who should have won the minor All-Ireland in '47?'

'Waterford, Brother!'

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"The amazing thing is Waterford won both the senior and minor All-Irelands in '48. Jim Ware brought the Cup to our school after and I can still remember where I was sitting in the classroom. A couple of years later, a few of us were camping in Kilsheelin and we walked in to Clonmel because Waterford were playing against Cork.

"That day I saw this picture of manhood in front of me playing for Waterford. His name was Philly Grimes and I remember looking in awe at him."

JIMMY DOYLE: " The Tipp team of the '50s would have been the team for me. I used collect the balls behind the goal for Tony Reddan when I was a young lad. I was only 10 or 11. The balls would be going on the bank at the Killinan goal. And I'd be getting them back for him.

"And Tony would say: 'I'll make a goalkeeper out of you'. Which he did. I started in goal with the Tipp minors in '54, we were beaten by Dublin in the All-Ireland final.

"Coming down the road from Croke Park, Brother Dooley was sitting in the front of the car. 'Brother, any chance you'd put me out the field?' I asked him.

'God Jimmy,' he says, 'I thought you'd prefer the goal. Sure yer father was a goalkeeper too'.

"I told him that a goalkeeper could make 20 saves, then let a bad goal in and he'd be remembered for the one mistake. 'Well,' he says, 'we're (Thurles CBS) playing the Dean Ryan next Wednesday in Limerick, I'll put you out wing-forward and see how you go'. From there on, I was a forward."

EDDIE KEHER: "Kilkenny won the All-Ireland in '47 and it was around that time I started cutting photographs of the players out of the paper and collecting them. Fellas like Jim Langton, Terry Leahy and Paddy Grace.

"Then Waterford won the following year, Jim Ware, Vin Baston and John Keane and those.

"A few weeks back, I actually found the scrapbook I kept in the attic of my mother's place. They were my heroes.

"In a round-about way, I think my mother and father knew Jim Ware. He was a big, tall man. I remember him shaking hands with me one day and he nearly broke my fingers. He was the first county hurler I met. After '47, I suppose there was a lean period for Kilkenny.

"Tipp would have been the team for a while, winning three in-a-row. When they went out of the scene, you had Ring's Cork and the Wexford of the Rackards.

"They were the fellas we were pretending to be when we hurled. But the Kilkenny fella that I idolised was Sean Clohessy.

"I had a sort of a dream as a young lad that, when he retired, I might get his place. And I ended up playing with him in '59 against Waterford and on to '63."

VINCENT HOGAN: "Eddie, you played both minor and senior in 59?"

EK: "Yeah Tipp beat us in the minor All-Ireland, which was terrible. But I was called up to the seniors for the All-Ireland final replay against Waterford. Got brought in after about 15 minutes, but we lost."

VH: "Was that Waterford team better than a one-All-Ireland team?"

EK: "Absolutely. You had these fantastic names on that team like Austin, Martin Og (Morrissey), Philly Grimes, Seamus Power, Frankie Walsh and Tom Cheasty. They played a game that was sort of ahead of its time. They had strength up the middle and they used the wings. They played a great possession game. In the modern game, they would have won more than one All-Ireland. Kilkenny bet them in the last minute of the '57 final and I suppose they were nearly finished in '63."

AF: "The unfortunate thing about '63 is that we came up against a fella called Eddie Keher and he scored 14 points! If he had waited another year, we'd have had another All-Ireland. But someone pointed out to me recently how we had got in Tipp's way in '63. After all, they won in '61, '62, '64 and '65.

"I can still see that Munster final in Limerick particularly clearly. I was building a house at the time and I spent all that Saturday lifting concrete blocks. I remember Pat Fanning's brother, Larry, down on his knees in the dressing-room, using psychology on me that I didn't even know was psychology. He'd been a sub on the '48 team. He was telling me about the task ahead against Devaney. How Tipp were depending on Devaney to do the business on me.

"It was a very intense game. There was incredible tension. Believe it or not, I was named the Irish Independent Sportstar of the Week because of that match. I used joke about it to Martin Og. He was a bit like Cassius Clay. I used wind him up. 'Jaysus Og, you were never Sportstar of the Week! Sure even I won that!' There were no goals scored that day. Do you remember Jimmy?"

JD: "I do. I always made out that Waterford would have won a lot more All-Irelands only Tipp were so good at that time. Tipp, Waterford and Wexford would have been the kingpins. God almighty, that Wexford team of the 60s was a big team."

AF: "But Tipp might have had five-in-a-row then and we wouldn't be talking about today's Kilkenny team the way we are."

VH: "Isn't that true Jimmy? Looking back, was that '63 defeat an awful mortal wound?"

JD: "Oh t'was. Like, there was no back door in our time. If you were bet, you were gone. That was the thing about those days. Like, I'll always remember the day Waterford bet us below in the '59 Munster semi-final. There was a howling wind and they were leading 8-2 to 0-0 at half-time! It was terrible. When the team went into the dressing-room, some of them didn't want to come back out."

AF: "To put that into perspective, Waterford had been in the All-Ireland of '57. We had a lot of small men at the time and their forte was to keep the ball flying. And we agreed to play above in Thurles in '58. It seemed a good idea at the time because Thurles was quite spacey. But we didn't perform at all and got hammered by Tipp. Beaten by a cricket score.

"So, the '59 match was in Cork. My brother and I had built a sailing boat. That Saturday, the two of us went out in the boat with a friend of his. They were testing the boat. I was delighted. No talk about hurling. Their only interest was the boat and getting into the pub afterwards. So it suited me. I was away from everyone, no one talking about Tipp.

"Anyway, we came back into the quay and I climbed up to tie the boat. The guards' barracks was down by the quay and I was conscious that two guards had come out a wicker gate. So, I was bending down and, next thing, this fella had his face almost in my ear. One of the guards. 'Well, what about tomorrow?' he says. I was annoyed that this fella was imposing in my space. So, I just answered: 'I'd say we'll beat the sugar out of them!' I could see he was taken aback. And that was the end of the conversation. I forgot about it.

"But the following day, the goals started flying in. And I can still see Devaney scratching his head. I was conscious that he was watching me. I could see exactly what was going on in his mind. 'Jesus, is this annihilation really happening?' And I'm trying to act cool, but I was every bit as surprised as he was. Apparently, Micheal O'Hehir was commenting on another match. He got this score-flash from Cork and he said something like 'that can't be true. We're checking it out...' I think RTE rang the guards' barracks."

JD: "We scored 3-4 in the second-half. There was a gale-force wind. The second period was spent in the Waterford half. I went home after that beating and spent the whole night crying. You see, we were gone for another year."

VH: "What happened Tipp that day Jimmy?"

JD: "I think we won the toss and elected to play against the wind. We believed the game would take 10 or 15 minutes to settle down. We said we'd try to contain them. And it didn't happen."

AF: "Everything just went right for Waterford. I have a recollection of (Larry) Guinan diving in and connecting with a ball first time that was coming at a right angle to him. There were some great goals. It was a combination of things. We'd been in the All-Ireland of '57 and got beaten (by Kilkenny) in the last minute by a point. Then we didn't perform at all against Tipp in '58.

"So we had something to settle with Tipp that day. And everything went right for us. But my abiding recollection of the match is that expression on Devaney's face."

JD: "We obviously couldn't meet Waterford outside of Munster at the time. But in Tipp, the feeling would always have been that we HAD to beat Kilkenny to win an All-Ireland. We always wanted to beat them to win the Cup. And it's the very same this week. It was important to us that Kilkenny went a long time (1922-'67) without winning an All-Ireland by beating Tipp."

EK: "Well, we'd probably say that we didn't meet too often. I mean, if you take it now that Kilkenny and Tipp haven't met in an All-Ireland final since '91. And, before that, it was '71. Which is incredible. I mean Kilkenny were there through those years, but Tipp weren't."

VH: "Eddie, what would have been Kilkenny's view of that Tipp team of the '60s?"

EK: "I thought t'was one of the greatest teams ever. People said then that our team of the '70s was one of the great teams, but the current Kilkenny team, I think, will go down as the best. We had huge admiration and respect for that Tipp team. I'd say they peaked in '64, that was their best performance against Kilkenny.

"They had huge strength, particularly in defence. The 'Hell's Kitchen' full-back line and fellas like Wall and Mick Burns outside them. That was a really great team. But we were coming. We had won in '63 with a relatively young team, but certainly weren't ready for Tipp in '64. Then Wexford beat us in '65 and Cork in '66. Some of the Tipp team were getting on when we met them in the final of '67. T'was John Doyle's last All-Ireland and we were determined to beat them.

"For Kilkenny, t'was a big milestone to beat that Tipp team."

JD: "The Kilkenny team of the '70s had great forwards. (Kieran) Purcell. Pat Delaney. Himself (Keher). I played in goal against that Kilkenny forward line in the Wembley Tournament. Talk about Hell's Kitchen! Delaney had this back pull. Mother of Divine..."

AF: "That Wexford team were my idols. The three Rackards, Nick O'Donnell. Jim English, Ned Wheeler, the two Kehoes, Paudge and Paddy, Tim Flood..."

JD: "Jesus, they were all six footers."

EK: "It's true, they were."

JD: "Sure Ned Wheeler used to cut a ball off the ground from a '70,' cut it straight over the crossbar."

AF: "I remember Waterford went down to New Ross around that time to play a League match against Wexford."

JD: "Hard to beat them down there."

AF: "It took about 10 minutes to get the match started. T'was like being at an All-Ireland. They were idolised. And rightly so. Signing autographs, what have you. They brought something new to the game."

EK: "They did. They introduced the skill of catching the ball which is so prevalent now. They were the first team to do that. Up to that, it was always the thing that if a fella put up his hand, 'cut it off him!' That was what fellas said. But Wexford introduced this thing of protecting the hand with the hurley. They perfected it and others started picking it up."

AF: "At that time, there'd be matches for suit-lengths and the proceeds would go to building churches and schools. Wexford were hurling nearly every Sunday."

JD: "There was the Cork Churches Tournament too. They were great games. We (Thurles Sarsfields) had a fair team and we'd meet clubs like Bennettsbridge and Tullaroan in it. I remember we played Bennettsbridge one Sunday in Kilkenny. Bet them by four points and were lucky to beat them. We were togging off in the dressing-room after and, next thing, these fellas from Tullaroan came in and were making out that they were better than Bennettsbridge. So, of course, we took the bait.

"'Right', we says 'we'll play Tullaroan next Sunday!' Which we did. In Kilkenny. And what a game it was. My God, Tullaroan were a good team. Just to prove who was the best. You got no medals for it. Nothing. But we had to prove we were the best.

"Like there were churches built through the Cork Churches' Tournament. All the great clubs would play in that. All the county champions. I remember we went up to Dublin to play St Vincent's and Christy Ring was ref. That was the first game I ever hurled with Sarsfields. Would have been around '55. I went in as a sub. Ring dug a hole in the middle of the field and was walking around in the centre of it. The man was my idol."

EK: "Jimmy you've some great stories about Ring, haven't you?"

JD: "One Friday evening always stands out in my mind, Glen Rovers came up to Thurles to play Sarsfields in a challenge game. Christy had retired and was over the Glen team. I brought up my son, Walter, with me. I remember there was a car parked above at the back of the stand. And who was it only Christy. He had his daughter in a little basket in the back.

"Anyway, he got out of the car. 'Is that your son?' he says to me. 'It is'. He opened the boot of the car, something I'll never forget, took out a hurley and a ball, signed them both and gave them to the young fella. Funny enough, I was down in Cork recently for a book that was being launched. This girl walked over and says to me: 'Hello Jimmy, how are you?' I says: 'Fine!' And she says: 'You don't know me.' I said I didn't. 'Well, I'm Christy Ring's daughter!' she says. The little one that was in the basket."

VH: "Was Ring as ferocious a competitor as they say?"

JD: "Oh he was a tough man, with this big pair of shoulders on him. (Mick) Mackey and Ring were two different players. Mackey went through you, Ring went around you. I suppose they said the same thing about me. Like, I never went into a man, I went around him. Why should you hit a player when there was an easier way?"

EK: "Jimmy, when you were a young lad, you used to follow Ring around if Cork were playing in Thurles, wouldn't you?"

JD: "I would. I'd go up to the hotel and watch him eating his dinner. Then he'd go down for a walk in the square, down by Hayes' Hotel, and I'd follow him. He didn't know. I followed him all over the town.

"You know, when the big matches would be over above in the pitch, I used bring up me hurley and ball and hide under these concrete seats until all the crowd was gone out of the field. Then I'd go out and play into an empty goal as Christy Ring."

VH: "How did you get to know him?"

JD: "At Railway Cups. It was very competitive that time. The Railway Cup was a great medal to win."

EK: "I remember hearing about the first Railway Cup that you played with Munster and Ring was playing. Jimmy idolised him so much, the lads were saying after that every ball Jimmy got, he put it into Christy's hand."

VH: "Austin you would have seen Ring at close quarters too?"

AF: "I went to America with him for the Cardinal Cushing Games in '66. They brought over five or six hurlers and five or six footballers. Played a few matches in New York to make money for this Cardinal Cushing, who had missions going on down in South America.

"He was driving a lorry for Shell for a long time. When I was younger, he used come down to the creamery in Dungarvan late at night. While the oil was going in, he'd always have his hurley out. I used go down, watching him. Belting the ball off a wall. But I'd be too shy to go over to him."

JD: "I remember a Railway Cup final, Munster against Connacht. Christy got a belt and hit the ground. The ball went down to the other end of the field, but Tom McGarry got it and struck it back up.

"Now, there was nobody inside the 40-yard line, only Christy. And he on the ground with the two Knights of Malta men.

"And, of course, a hurler never takes his eye off the ball. All the Connacht lads were gone out. Ring jumped up, caught the ball, stuck it in the net and fell down again. I went up and said: 'Christy, are you alright?'

"'Doyle,' he says, 'you never did that!'"

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VH: "Ye mentioned the Wexford of the Rackards. Austin would you have any memories of the great Cork team of the '40s?"

AF: "Not really. I do remember going into Clonmel to see Waterford playing Cork. That would have been in 1947. But, after that, I practically never saw an inter-county match until I was playing myself. That was the trouble. You didn't see the games unless you were actually there.

"In '52, I was picked on the Waterford panel to play Clare. Michael Fives was a selector and I said to him: 'Michael, I'm not up to that at all. Get my name off it'.

"Now this would be alien to a Kilkenny or Tipperary fella. I was at the pictures that Saturday night and on my way home -- there's a landmark in Abbeyside called 'The Poor Man's Seat' opposite the pub -- and there was Fives with Seaneen O'Brien waiting for me. 'You'll have to travel tomorrow!'

"I was in an awful state. O'Brien said to me: 'Well, you can't leave down the village anyway!' That was that. So, I went in to be a sub against Clare, hoping I wouldn't be called upon. Before I knew it, a half-back got hurt. I was in at corner-back -- 'and, by the way, take that sideline cut'.

"We drew with Clare. The replay was in Thurles and I was playing corner-back. We won and, next, we played against Tipp in Limerick. Jaysus that was Reddan, Stakelum, all those fellas. We were beaten for fun."

VH: "Eddie, would the Kilkenny team of the '70s be inclined to look back on all the injuries carried into the '73 final against Limerick and think: 'We might have had four in-a-row?'

EK: "Not really. That was a good Limerick team and they probably were going to win an All-Ireland. Like, if we beat them in '73, who's to say they wouldn't have beaten us in '74? It's natural to be really up for it the next year, as we were in '74.

"But that was a great Limerick team. They certainly deserved their victory. I mean Tipp bet us in '71. In '72, Cork had a super team and were highly fancied to win. T'was an 80- minute game and, with about 15 minutes to go, they went eight points ahead. But we just got a run on them and they never recovered. Actually, they got no score after that.

"So, that was a win probably born out of our defeat the year before. Then '74 was, I suppose, the return match between Limerick and Kilkenny, this time with full teams. And we were up for that. Then in '75, Galway surprisingly beat Cork in the semi-final. That was a very good Galway team, the Connollys, Sean Silke and all of them. But t'was their first appearance in a final and I think they were probably a little over-awed by it.

"And it was our last hurrah. But it was an exceptional Kilkenny team. We had what Tipp had in the 60s and Waterford had in the 50s, a great spine and very good hurlers on the wings."

JD: "A band of brothers."

EK: "That's right. I remember there was a match in Mullinahone many years later. It was supposed to be a replay of the '71 All-Ireland final. Both teams were all well retired. Most of our lads turned up for it, but I think only three or four of Tipp's. So, they played some club lads.

"But I couldn't get over -- not having played together for so long -- how the minute we got on the field, we still knew what everyone was going to do."

JD: "You never lose that."

EK: "No, not with a team like that. I'm sure Tipp were the same. Once you saw Mick Burns with the ball, you knew exactly where to go."

JD: "That's why I say you were like brothers, all banding together."

EK: "One team I would mention that was very good, but never got the Championship breakthrough was Clare in the '70s. That was (Ger) Loughnane's team, though he wouldn't have been one of the top players. They were a great team. We had ferocious battles with them in the League.

"We also had a great battle with Clare in the League final of '67 that went to two replays. They had some great players, but were just unfortunate that they couldn't get through Munster. Tipp and Cork and Waterford were always there."

VH: "How would ye rate the Cork three-in-a-row team of the '70s?"

JD: "I thought they were fairly good."

EK: "Oh God, they were. You'd have had Ray Cummins, the two McCarthys -- Gerald and Charlie, Seanie Leary and Jimmy Barry-Murphy. They were a super team. Pat Moylan at centre-field.

"I suppose Cummins started this thing of the big full-forward catching the ball. Then you had Christy Heffernan took it up afterwards."

VH: "So, Eddie, do Kilkenny have to win this All-Ireland to be considered the best ever?"

EK: "No, I don't think so. They've broken nearly every record already, they're an amazing bunch of guys. I know I'm looking at it through Kilkenny eyes, but I think they're probably the best overall group of players I've ever seen. For their commitment to the game and the way they play it in a manly fashion.

"They already have their place in history, but if they get this one, they'll deserve to have their name in as a four-in-a-row team. But, whether they do it or not, won't matter from my point of view. They're still one of the greatest teams ever."

VH: "Jimmy, what about the argument that they've had it too easy in Leinster? Does that take anything away from their achievements?"

JD: "I wouldn't think so. They're a fabulous bunch of players. But they'll have to be bet. Otherwise, hurling is going to die. I hate saying that. But you talk to people in Thurles now or Nenagh, anywhere, and they say 'If Kilkenny win this All-Ireland, it's going to knock the bottom out of the bag'. Because they're winning All-Ireland after All-Ireland. And people are getting fed up of going to see them.

"I was at the All-Ireland last year and people were walking out of the stand five minutes into the second-half. That's not right."

VH: "But that's not Kilkenny's fault."

JD: "No, they're just so good. It's like watching a machine. Everyone knows what they have to do. I don't mean to be going on about our team in the '60s, but we were the same. When any of the backs got the ball, we knew where they were going to hit it. And we were gone. Kilkenny are the very same.

"I rate (Eddie) Brennan as one of the best forwards I've seen for a long time. Then you have (Henry) Shefflin and (Martin) Comerford and (Eoin) Larkin and (Aidan) Fogarty. I like that little fella (Richie) Hogan in the subs. He's as good as what's in it too.

"And sure where would you leave Tommy Walsh?"

EK: "I'm looking at him (Walsh) in training now. People say he fouls and all this. But I remember one night seeing four big fellas merge around him under a dropping ball. And who came out with the ball? Tommy Walsh. His speed of hand is like yours years ago, Jimmy. Actually, Kilkenny's speed of the hurl, flicking away the ball, is incredible. People go on about them being physical, but there's no one ever injured playing against Kilkenny. They go for the ball all the time.

"I love watching them in training. It's extraordinary the things they do at times. Look, some day a team will beat them. And, obviously from a Kilkenny point of view, we hope it's not this Sunday."

AF: "I don't think you can measure a team strictly by the number of All-Irelands they win. Sometimes, a team that wins three-in-a-row might actually be better than one that wins four. And I disagree with Jimmy. If Tipp are beaten this Sunday, they'll be back. Everyone will still have a go at Kilkenny again next year. They've raised the bar for everybody.

"I mean there's great hope in other counties now. There's a lot of hurlers coming through in Clare, for example, as distinct from physical fellas who can hurl. The same is happening in Waterford at under-age. You look at the work being done in Dublin. Hurling was never better in my opinion. So, if Kilkenny win four-in-a-row, good luck to them."

VH: "Is Henry Shefflin entitled to be considered one of the all-time greats?"

JD: "I'd say he is. He could compare with anyone. But Brennan doesn't get the credit he deserves. If Shefflin wasn't there, he'd be the man. I suppose it was the same way when DJ Carey was there, Shefflin wasn't seen. It's like this lad (Keher), when he was there no one else was seen."

AF: "You must wait for a fella to finish before you can really judge. Because some fella can look great and get cleaned out the next day and, suddenly, he's not as good as you thought he was. Now I'm not necessarily talking about Shefflin here. I've the greatest admiration for him."

VH: "Predictions gentlemen?"

JD: "Will we say a draw (laughing)? Listen, I met you (Keher) outside Semple Stadium the day of the League final and I said: 'Sure, I suppose 'tis a waste of time going in here today'. And you said to me 'Jimmy, have a small bit of sense. You know the tradition of Tipp and Kilkenny'. You said t'would be a good game and it was.

"The League final was a great game. And I think that's what we're going to get in this All-Ireland. A right good game. I thought Tipp would go well last year and was disgusted Waterford bet them. I didn't talk for about four hours after. But I have a feeling that this is going to be Tipp's year. Isn't that funny? There's something telling me that Tipp are going to win this All-Ireland.

"To be honest, I'd prefer not to be at the match if they're bet. I'd rather be at home, hiding (laughing). But I think Tipp are due an All-Ireland. It's eight years since they won. That's long enough."

AF: "Jimmy, picture the fellas who are waiting for 50 years. And they're looking for one-in-a-row!"

JD: "I actually said that to someone before this year's semi-finals. Wouldn't it be lovely to see a Limerick-Waterford All-Ireland and you'd have new champions? But, at heart, you'd still love to see your own county do it."

EK: "Listen, people think it's easy for Kilkenny, but it isn't. There's lads trying to get on this Kilkenny team, the likes of Richie Hogan, who might never get a chance again."

JD: "Yeah, but you've an abundance of talent. Look at that Richie Power. He's some player. He looks kind of lazy and he hasn't really exploded yet. But I wouldn't like to be marking him when he does. What I like about Brennan too is, when he's moving with the ball, the hand is sliding down the hurley to shorten his grip. You can't hook him."

EK: "Kilkenny haven't played well enough yet this year to win the All-Ireland. But what we're hoping now is that they'll all gel together. If they do, I'd be confident that we would win by four or five points at the most."

AF: "I'd go along with that. For Tipp to win, they'll all have to peak. I just think Kilkenny will be more comfortable in Croke Park for an All-Ireland final."

VERDICTS

Jimmy Doyle: Tipperary.

Eddie Keher: Kilkenny.

Austin Flynn: Kilkenny.


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