Monday 22 January 2018

'They were going to put an end to it and they'd caught me, a high-profile player'

From the Sean Potts book 'Voices from Croke Park,' Tony Keady tells Vincent Hogan about the ups and downs of his hurling career

Tony Keady and Vincent Hogan at the launch of 'Voices from Croke Park'.
Tony Keady and Vincent Hogan at the launch of 'Voices from Croke Park'.
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Suddenly it is night in Oranmore and maybe four hours have slipped away, loose as water over a weir. We've talked the light from the day, but there is one last place to visit.

Tony Keady takes me across the yard to his workshop. This is where he loses himself to the whine of the bandsaw and shriek of the planer, cutting hurleys, shaping their personalities. Maybe two dozen lie already finished, curved and perfect, beside a nail gun. On a wall, facing the door, hangs an ice-hockey stick.

He has always been drawn to the possibilities of wood because he understands that lovely, tactile thing of holding a pet hurley.

Making them is just a hobby now, an outlet for his hands. He is tickled by how they've changed, telling a little story to capture the distance travelled. What felt like Keady's first big day in hurling brought him the prize of a bicycle. It was an U-14 tournament final in Salthill, Killimordaly against Mullagh.


The 'Connacht Tribune' put up bikes for every member of the winning team and had them lined up along the Pearse Stadium sideline, glinting almost sinfully in the sun. For a 14-year-old in 1976, a bicycle was a prize worth fighting for.

He remembers Killimordaly being awarded a '65' near the end and one of the club's great old mentors -- Bill Joe Creavin -- stomping onto the field with instructions. Creavin smoked a pipe and it stayed welded to his mouth as he caught Keady by the shoulders and shook the young free-taker to attention.

"I'll give you 10 shillings if you put it between the posts," said old Bill Joe, the smoke stinging like astringent in Keady's eyes.

"That day, I had a hurl with the handle cut straight across the top," Tony remembers. "And I had a stone on the top of the handle, taped on for a grip. Back then, they had none of the technology they have now for making lovely handles. You just taped something on the top to give you a grip.

"Anyway, I put the '65' over and we went on to win the bikes. But I never saw the 10 bob from Bill Joe!"

The formal presentation never materialised either. At the final whistle, the Killimordaly team just sprinted towards the stand to claim their booty, cycling then from Pearse Stadium to the Banba Hotel for an after-match 'banquet' of sandwiches and cocktail sausages.

"It was the biggest prize ever put up for kids at the time," says Keady, smiling fondly. "To us, it was like nearly getting a car."

You may not know him, but his name will register somewhere in the attic of the mind.

In 1989, the 'Keady Affair' convulsed hurling. It ran for weeks and was embroidered with so many layers of intrigue that, for a time, it was easy to believe he must have been guilty of a heinous crime. But Keady's sin was one of simple omission. He played hurling in New York without the appropriate clearance.

The details are for later, but suffice to say, the story ran off the sports pages and into prime-time news. Radio phone-ins and television talk shows fussed over it, as if national security was imperilled. When Galway manager Cyril Farrell, hinted at withdrawing his team in protest from the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary, the old 'Irish Press' upgraded the subject from the back page to a front-page lead.

'Big Match Revolt Looms' ran the headline over Martin Breheny's story on July 27, 10 days before semi-final day.

It is Keady's misfortune that the extraordinary events of that autumn will maybe forever thieve a little light from the issue of his greatness as a hurler. For he was centre-back on arguably the finest half-back line of modern times and a man who won everything there was to win in '88, short of the Booker prize for literature.

His status in Galway particularly was maybe best captured by Joe Connolly's observation of the night when confirmation came through of his suspension for that '89 semi-final. Connolly, who was at a parish function, recalls the news hitting the assembled "like a death".

Time has created enough distance for Keady to be wistful in his recall of those events now. Yet there remains a latent sense of injustice too -- of having been made a convenient scapegoat by the powers that be in Croke Park.

Some years ago, TG4 filmed an interview with him for their 'Laochra Gael' series and finished by asking if there was a single line he might choose to have carved into his headstone. "They should have let me play in '89!" responded Keady, almost involuntarily.

Sometimes, when he recalls the hurt of that time, he can't help wonder what it might have done to his father.

For even the tiniest nuance of his love for hurling was formed, in some way, by his relationship with James Keady. James died on August 20, 1985 after a virtual lifetime battling emphysema and they buried him three weeks before that year's All-Ireland final between Offaly and Galway.

That game would be just Tony's second senior championship game in a Galway shirt. Small blessing, at least, that his father lived to see the first.

"Looking back, I never saw any sport only hurling," he recalls now of a childhood in Attymon. Keady went to the local national school, where his closest friends would -- in time -- all become loyal team-mates with Killimordaly. Their evenings were enlivened by five-or six-a-side hurling matches that bubbled with natural intensity.


"There was a crowd that lived two and a half miles down the road from us," remembers Keady. "'The Burkes in Ballyboggan' they used call themselves. We'd have a match with them every evening after school. We had two fields. The one where the bus would pick us up, we called 'O'Brien's Field'.

"There was a hand pump on the side of the road and we'd jump in over the pump. The minute we got off the bus, the bags would be just fired on the side of the road and in we'd go. We'd have two sticks stuck in the field and a bit of baling twine going across.

"And the hurling was hell for leather. We'd have Eamonn Burke, Eanna Ryan, Gerard Hardy and my own brother Bernard.

"Loads of lads, well able to hurl. Those of us who went on to hurl for the county were always told by those who didn't, 'ye'd have made nothing if it wasn't for us!'"

James Keady was a constant, if fading, presence as his youngest son's talent became conspicuous around Galway.

Tony's form at underage with Killimordaly would earn him a wing-back spot on the county U-16s, his career having "really stepped up a notch" in secondary school with the Vocational in Athenry. He would win an All-Ireland U-21 with Galway in '83 against a star-studded Tipperary team that included Nicky English, while Galway -- managed by Michael Bond -- had future stars like Pete Finnerty, Ollie Kilkenny, Michael Coleman and Michael 'Hopper' McGrath on board.

Keady remembers his great friend and club-mate Eanna Ryan coming off the bench to swing that final in Tullamore.

Every day seemed to dawn cornflower blue back then, except for that single black cloud of his father's failing health.

"I brought my father to every match," he recalls. "But all the years I was hurling, he was sick. 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, he knew the set-up. Any time there was a match in Athenry or Loughrea, Phelim would let me drive the car straight in.

"And my father would watch the match from the car. I used always say to him: 'I'll park right behind the goals, it's the safest place. Nothing will hit you there!'

"In the end, he was only five and a half stone when he died. He'd been sick for 17 years and was hardly able to walk. I was the last one living at home and if I was going out anywhere, I'd always ring my mother to give her a number where she could reach me.

"My father smoked a good bit. If you pulled back the covers of the bed, you'd see Silk Cut boxes all over the place. I never took a pull of a cigarette in my life and when he would want one lit above in the bed, I'd light a newspaper in the range and bring it up to him. Many's the time I nearly set him on fire.

"I used always to curse a calm day because I reckoned he needed wind to give him a bit of breath. By the end, he was on nebulisers every day.

"If I couldn't bring him to a match, I'd have to sit down with him afterwards and give him a full report. Inch by inch. Down nearly to how many were at the game.

"You'd have to give him the full rigmarole. Everything. Because he adored hurling."

James Keady had strong allies in the desire to see his son excel at hurling. Along with the aforementioned Creavin, men like Tommy Hardy and Frank Burke seemed to live with an evangelist's passion for the game and, specifically, Killimordaly. "Bill Joe, Tommy and Frank were three great men in the club," Tony recalls. "Whatever they had to do to better the club, they'd do it."

One of their great days would come too late for James Keady, though -- Killimordaly's county championship win in '86, defeating Turloughmore in Ballinasloe. "We had a mighty, mighty team," says Tony, "but, for a number of years, we just couldn't seem to get over the line.

"Back then, you could genuinely pick out eight to 10 teams that could go on to win the county cup in Galway. There was nothing between any of them. We were probably good enough to win two or three, but we were very, very satisfied to win the one. It was an absolute dream come true.

"Winning a club (title) is something awfully special. The club is what made a man of you."

Matches in Dublin were, largely, beyond the family's range as his father's emphysema worsened and they did not travel to the 1980 All-Ireland final to see Galway crowned hurling kingpins for the first time since 1923. Keady recalls watching the game at home, his hand clamped around a hurley for the duration. And he remembers his mother, Maureen, sitting utterly engrossed, sporadically reminding her son how "some day this could be you."

They drove in to the homecoming that Monday night and the sheer glamour of it all was intoxicating to a 16-year-old. "It was hard to take it all in," he remembers. "The crowds, the Garda escort, the army. Everyone out to see the team.

"And you're wondering if you might ever be a part of something like that. 'Twas a serious feeling. All the talk back then was of the Connollys, particularly John. He was lovely to watch, his striking was always crisp and wristy, he had serious vision.

"I saw clips of him recently and it just brought home to me how I'd love to sit down some day and watch a video of him play a full match again. I play a lot of racquetball and golf with him today. He keeps himself in such shape, he looks like he could still hurl this minute.

"I'd be very friendly with other lads from that team too. The likes of Sylvie (Linnane), Sean Silke, Iggy Clarke, Steve Mahon and Michael Connolly. But, back then, you'd have been looking on them as nearly living on another planet."

That team was, of course, managed by Cyril Farrell. In his book 'The Right to Win' Farrell recalls seeing Keady play a challenge for Galway's U-21s against the county seniors in '84 and marking him down as "one for the future." He wrote of the player having "good balance, was comfortable left or right and looked very, very confident."

By the summer of '85, Keady had moved from the periphery of Farrell's thinking to a place of pivotal significance.

He would make his senior championship debut at centre-back in that year's All-Ireland semi-final against Cork, a game weighted down with such an air of public presumption that only 8,200 spectators bothered to turn up in Croke Park. Cork were the reigning All-Ireland champions and had just retained their Munster title with relative ease. Nobody imagined Galway might be equipped to lay a trap.

The game was played in an ugly downpour, a gusting wind whipping sheets of rain into the stand, forcing the small crowd to take refuge high up in the back seats. It gave Croke Park an empty, almost echoey feel. A treacherous ambience for complacent champions.

Keady's role that day was to mark Cork's seemingly indestructible centre-forward, Tim Crowley. He remembers shaking hands beforehand and thinking momentarily: "I'm going to get eaten and spat out here!"

Within seconds of the throw-in, Crowley scored a point, Keady having lost his footing. Already, Galway's novice centre-back was inclined to look towards the dugout. The second ball that came their way got wedged under a divot and the two of them just pulled frantically, like workmen scything at a ditch.

Nothing moved but spray. Yet Keady and Galway would settle and three second-half goals in quick succession from Brendan Lynskey, Joe Cooney and Noel Lane pitched Cork into a 10-point deficit and unexpected crisis. Typically, they rallied near the end. But it was too little, too late.

Back then, Keady had just begun working in Dublin with the Bank of Ireland and his immediate boss Frank Kenny was first to reach him at the final whistle. Kenny, a Glenamaddy man "steeped in hurling," was dressed in suit, shirt and tie, an ensemble promptly destroyed as the two of them fell to the ground in a muddy embrace.

Galway's entire half-back line, Finnerty, Keady and Tony Kilkenny, would take a joint man-of-the-match award that evening.

"We weren't rated that high at all going in," Keady recalls. "They were the champions. We felt no pressure. If we won, we won. But we weren't going to lie down in the grass and go crying if we lost it. We had very level-headed fellas in that team. Great characters.

"I remember before the game, fellas were saying: 'Who do they (Cork) think they are? Why should they think they're better than us?'"

By now, sadly, James Keady's life hung by a thread and, for his youngest son, that was freighted with a good deal more importance than hurling. Even the thought of playing in an All-Ireland final seemed insignificant now. Everything Tony did on a hurling field had been predicated on the knowledge of what it meant to his father.

He remembers scoring a goal in a televised All-Ireland minor semi-final against Wexford some years earlier and Athenry's Jackie O'Shea, who was over the team, running out to him, pipe in mouth, catching him by the collar and shouting: "I can see the chair coming through the television at home."

So, in August '85, his father's imminent death obscured the excitement of reaching an All-Ireland final against Offaly.

Tony explains: "I knew he wasn't going to live too long. Every day he was still alive was a bonus. It had been going on for so long, you just didn't know when the day would dawn. So, every match I played, I could feel it as a burden on my shoulders."


"He eventually passed away on August 20 and to begin with, there was just no way I could get my head around hurling in the final. I had no interest in it. A lot of the players called to the house, encouraging me to go on training.

"Everyone was trying to say the right thing. You're listening to them but, deep inside, you're hurting so bad. But he was mad for hurling and I knew he'd want me to play. My mother kept saying it.

"So I went along. In the end, I even trained the evening of the funeral. I knew he was looking down over me. The problem was, when we lost that final, I was probably more upset for him than anyone."

A year later, Cork would take revenge for their semi-final defeat, beating Galway to win the Liam MacCarthy. For Keady, the defeat delivered him to an emotional crossroads. One of his brothers, Noel, ran a construction business in Boston and he was strongly tempted to fly over and report for work.

"I was still thinking of my father at that stage," Tony remembers. "A year seemed an awful long time to wait for another go at this. I was saying to myself: 'I'm winning nothing at this hurling...'

"There was good money to be made in America and I was toying with the idea of going over to Noel.

"All I had won at this stage was a 'Connacht Tribune' bicycle, a vocational and an All-Ireland U-21. Who remembers them? It was nothing. You're wondering have you the time to put in another year and, maybe, get no result at the end of it again? Noel had a serious set-up over there. I was very tempted."

He didn't go in the end, but America hadn't finished playing on his mind.

Galway's All-Ireland victories of '87 and '88 would take their colour, ultimately, from the county's relationship with Tipperary. And, for a time, that colour was nuclear grey. The intensity of the rivalry obscured pretty much anything else happening in hurling.

From '78 to '86, Tipp won four All-Ireland U-21 titles and Galway three. Only Cork in '82 and Kilkenny in '84 interjected to remind us that the game was being nurtured elsewhere too.

Tipp's senior breakthrough in '87, after 16 years without a Munster title, quickly propelled them deep into the national consciousness. They were easy on the eye, with the likes of English working his wristy magic in attack. And, in 'Babs' Keating, they had a charismatic manager who played the media like a master puppeteer.

No question, they became the story of that summer. Their two games with Cork were epic confrontations, the replay won only after extra-time on a baking July Sunday in Killarney.

Yet Galway had won the National League with something to spare and now managed to persuade both Pete Finnerty and Gerry McInerney to return from America, where they'd been working since the previous autumn. With much talk of a 'traditional' Tipp-Kilkenny All-Ireland final on the cards (the Cats having won in Leinster), Farrell had an abundance of motivational material for his troops.

That semi-final of '87 set the template for a rivalry that consumed hurling for the remainder of the decade. Galway would play Tipp in four big games over the next two years, winning the first three. The fourth, however, would go to Tipp, a prize wrapped up in the infamy of the 'Keady affair'.

That '87 semi-final was, maybe, the purest of them as a hurling contest. The sides were level with nine minutes remaining, but Galway rallied to finish the stronger, recording a six-point win.

They then beat Kilkenny in a rain-soaked final, Noel Lane's late goal deciding a low-scoring game and sparing Farrell's men the ignominy of losing three finals in a row. This was a game the manager himself would later describe as "very much the last chance" for a team that desperately needed to validate its class with the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

It was a declining Kilkenny team they beat, Antrim having given them significant problems in the semi-final. But the Cats were stoked to high intensity by the memory of a semi-final loss to Galway in '86, made famous by Farrell's innovative use of a two-man full-forward line.

So, winning a final of real ferocity separated Galway from any lingering self-doubt. "It changed everything," according to Keady.

"If we'd lost a third final in a row, definitely, it would have been curtains for me. I'd have been gone, absolutely. But, when we won, I remember thinking: 'Jesus, we're still young enough. We could win this thing again'."

Farrell's cute man-management had been the glue that kept them together. He had a lovely, casual way of transmitting information. At meals after training, he was never to be seen sitting down to a plate of food himself. Yet, endlessly, he'd arrive at a player's shoulder, picking something off the plate, while all the time monitoring individual mindsets.

"Farrell was a great man like that," says Keady. "He kept everyone together. And once we won in '87, I think that job became easier. We knew, being champions, we couldn't walk away from the thing now."

Now working in the Big Smoke, Keady needed to get back to Dublin after the homecoming, so he drove his car down, pressed tight behind the team bus. Entering Ballinasloe, the cavalcade came to a standstill and people clambered onto the bonnet of a following Opel Cadet to catch glimpses of their heroes.

And there, staring as their heels sunk into the paintwork of his car, sat Galway's bemused centre-back.

He had won an All Star for the position in '86, but was now edged out for a second award by Ger Henderson. No matter, in '88 Tony Keady would announce himself as a virtual force of nature. And Galway would frank their greatness.

Tipp won the league and successfully defended their Munster crown, yet everything about the season felt like a suspension of time before they could lock horns again with Galway. This time, upsets permitting, it would happen in the All-Ireland final.

"Tipp had a phenomenal team now," Keady recalls. "You think back to that time and people wonder where were Cork or Kilkenny or Clare or Offaly? The answer is nowhere. Galway and Tipp were just dominating."

The '88 final would be Tipp's first since '71, yet if ever a game announced the soaring maturity of Galway, it was this one. Again a late Lane goal would be crucial, Galway edging home 1-15 to 0-14 after a real white-knuckle ride.

Farrell described Keady's second-half display afterwards as "as good as anything seen for years in Croke Park."

Essentially, Galway's half-back line won the game and Keady -- as its anchor -- took every garland going.

He remembers, late in the game, English enquiring of the referee how much time was left and Sylvie Linnane helpfully interjecting "one minute and a year, Nicky!" Linnane had a tenacity that others drew from. With Finnerty in front of him, the right side of Galway's defence was never inviting territory for the faint-hearted.

The essence of that Galway team was an almost perfect balance of skill and manliness.


Keady chuckles at the mere mention of Linnane. "Sylvie used have a great oul' saying in the dressing-room," he smiles. "He'd say: 'Lads, ye'll win nothing if ye haven't a few tinkers in the team.' And we'd say: 'Well, we're delighted to have you anyway Sylvie!'"

Galway's victory in '88 meant that within 12 months, they had gone from the precipice of possible implosion to now embarking on a three-in-a-row mission. Keady was named man of the match for that final, yet never got to the post-match function to collect it. At the time, he shared a house on the Phibsboro Road with Lynskey. The two had a reputation for enjoying Dublin's social scene and if anything they actively encouraged that reputation, yet Farrell trusted them implicitly.

He could see from their conditioning at training that, whatever the rumours, Lynskey and Keady were not inclined to abuse his trust.

Keady recalls pounding the pavements of Drumcondra in their socks, as well as hour upon hour spent in the Phoenix Park, lashing sliotars at one another. "Myself and Lynskey probably did more training than any Galway man that ever wore the jersey," he suggests. "Farrell knew we always did our training in Dublin."

Immediately after that final in '88, the two of them repaired to their local, the Hut on Phibsboro Road. The owner, Bob McGowan, had promised a champagne reception if they beat Tipperary and proved true to his word. The entire staff dressed for the occasion in maroon and white.

And soon, evening was giving way to night, the clientele looking forward excitedly to 'The Sunday Game.' At one point, Lynskey's brother stepped in to say that Farrell had phoned the house looking for them. Not only did he want the two to head straight to the Burlington Hotel, he wanted them to do so wearing the team shirt and tie.

They never did.

Keady remembers: "Next thing the programme is on, Ger Canning with the microphone. It's time to name the man of the match. Everyone in the pub is going 'ssshhhhhh'. And Canning says: "It's the moment we've all been waiting for. The All-Ireland final man of the match is ... Tony Keady.

"Everyone in the pub goes ballistic, hugging each other. There's fellas hugging me who haven't a clue who I am. And the camera starts panning the hall in the Burlington, me about seven miles away. Eventually, Ger says: 'We'll have to ask Cyril Farrell to come up and accept it on Tony's behalf.'

"Up goes Farrell and Canning asks him if he has any explanation as to where I might be? And Cyril says: 'All I can say Ger, is he's such a dedicated player, he's probably out training for next year!'."

For Keady, the second homecoming would be cut short like the first. Having been coaxed from the back of the bus to address a crowd gathered in Loughrea, he then took a few steps to the back of the trailer.

"The tail of my shirt was sticking out and there was a load of my clubmates from Killimordaly at the back of the lorry," he recalls, laughing. "One of them, Noel Earls -- a great friend of mine -- jumped up and caught the back of the shirt. And didn't I fall back off the lorry, straight into their arms. They brought me up to Mike Carey's pub and I think I was in it for three days!"


America had never left his thoughts and, when the All Stars went to New York the following May, Keady warmed instantly to the city.

The championship structure of the time meant that Galway's National League victory (they beat Tipp in a thrilling final) essentially left them with three months to kill. If people were energised at home by three-in-a-row talk, Keady's mind was resolutely in neutral. As the All Stars tour came to a close, he decided to stay on.

"I remember saying to myself: 'what am I going home for now? Another year of slogging for this three-in-a-row they were all talking about?' I decided I was finishing up.

"That was it.The brother was doing well in Boston, so I decided I was staying. I had a good bit won in the hurling and was happy enough. Farrell didn't travel on the trip, but I think he had an idea of what I was thinking.

"He told the lads to make sure my bags were on the bus. That way, he felt I'd have to come home. I thought Farrell knew me, but he didn't. I let off all the luggage home. After about three days, I rang Lynskey. Asked him would he hop out to the airport where there was a bag still going around on the carousel."

Aware of Keady's intentions, Farrell would have felt that -- at least -- he had time to broker a solution. It was decided to leave him to enjoy the American sunshine for a while. They were confident he'd be home.

Rather than link up with his brother in Boston, Keady began working construction in New York for a Loughrea man, Martin Bruton. He adored the lifestyle, the weather, the fun, the easy informality of playing 13-a-side hurling with the local 'Laois' club.

These were training games and, as such, free of any implications for home. But championship was soon looming and 'Laois' had expressed a desire to have Keady and two other Galway county players, Michael Helebert and Aidan Staunton, in their line-up against Tipperary.

The New York championship had long been bulked up by the presence of visiting county players into something it should never have been. This was a source of constant irritation to Croke Park, particularly as New York was not even officially affiliated to the Association.

Calls suddenly started coming from home for Keady, and at the time he had a rather unorthodox telephone arrangement.

"I basically had a plug socket and a phone," he remembers. "There was a girl in the apartment next door and we had it arranged that the wire of my phone was plugged into the back of hers. So, if anyone called, the phone rang in both apartments. If it was for her, I'd leave it down. And vice versa."

The name 'Laois' was an accepted misnomer for the club now courting Keady. It was a side predominantly made up of Galway players and one sponsored by a native of Abbeyknockmoy, Monty Moloney.

As the phone calls raged, Keady sought assurances from Moloney that playing in their looming championship game against 'Tipperary' would not have repercussions in Ireland.

Those assurances were given persuasively. Yet, tellingly, it was decided that Keady, Helebert and Staunton should line out under assumed names. Hence the 'Laois' centre-back was listed on the day as Bernard Keady.

He takes up the story: "There were phone calls coming left and right. My brother Noel is even supposed to have come down from Boston to tell me not to play. He didn't. He rang me and just said 'look, if you want to hurl, hurl'.

"Anyway, I went down to the pitch with my gear. I'll never forget it. I was standing in a corner, only 30 or 40 yards from the dressing-rooms. The next thing, one of the doors opened and out came a blue and gold jersey. Sure 'twas like a red rag to a bull. I think I had my boots, togs and helmet on before I even got to the dressing-room door. That's what the sight of the Tipp jersey did to me.

"I was out on the pitch when they started calling out the teams. A ball had gone over to the wire and I went over to get it. Just on the stroke of me rising the ball, the announcer calls out 'Bernard Keady,' And a Tipperary fella near me says: 'Tony, when did you change your name?'

"I just looked at him and replied: 'You must have been out last night. you're seeing double!'"

'Laois' won the game so handily, Keady's presence suddenly looked an unnecessary conceit. 'Tipperary' immediately launched an objection and a meeting of the New York executive upheld it, docking 'Laois' the points and imposing two-game suspensions on Keady, Helebert and Staunton.

Worse, it was announced at home that the GAA's Games Administration Committee now planned to investigate. If the players were found to have violated 'Rule 41', which governed the conditions for playing in New York, Keady faced a possible one-year suspension. And that's precisely what the GAC concluded.


Suddenly, Galway's three-in-a-row bid had hit transatlantic turbulence. Tony recalls: "Farrell rang me and told me it was important that I got home. The hearing (Galway appealed to the Management Committee) was coming up and he felt, if I was seen to make the effort of a personal appearance, I'd probably get off. I thought long and hard about it. Would I come home or not?

"At the end of the day, I just thought I owed it to the boys. I had a lot of good friends in that Galway squad. We'd lost two and won two All-Irelands. There were few enough teams had won three-in-a-row. Farrell's view was I'd definitely get off if I came home. He was ringing me nearly every 10 minutes to make sure. So I decided that I would."

Keady, thus, stood before Management in Croke Park, with Frank Burke and Joe McDonagh eloquently presenting his appeal. The experience proved utterly demoralising. He recognised the chairman of the committee, Sean Ramsbottom of Laois, but knew none of the other adjudicators. It seemed to him their minds were already closed.

"I just felt the people judging me that night knew nothing about hurling," he recalls.

"That's what killed me. There was no talking to these five or six people. Frank and Joe spoke brilliantly, absolutely bamboozled them with what they said.

"And I remember these fellas, sitting behind their desks, just staring into space. It was like they were saying: 'When are ye going to finish, because we have our verdict made?'.

"To me, their minds were already made up. They wanted a scapegoat. They felt they had to stop this thing of lads playing illegally in New York.

"They were going to put an end to it and they'd caught me, a high-profile player. I didn't speak at all. Just sat there. I felt all they wanted was for Joe and Frank to shut up. It's like they were brainwashed.

"Next thing, they just said: 'Our verdict is that the suspension stands!'. I stood up so fast that I knocked my chair over with the back of my knees. I was so annoyed with them.

"I just walked out of the room, Joe McDonagh trying to get a hold of me. 'Hold on a minute, Tony, we might talk more...'. I knew by the look of them we could talk for hours and hours and it would get us nowhere.

"Lynskey was waiting outside. I remember walking down the stairs in Croke Park, thinking: 'Why in God's name did I come home? To be suspended by five or six fellas that knew nothing about the game? Who weren't even from hurling counties?' It was absolutely heartbreaking.

"All the photographers thought we were going to come out the front door, but we slipped out the back. Luckily enough, no one said anything to me. Because you just don't know on the spur of the moment how you might react."

The severity of the suspension appalled many, not least Galway's looming semi-final opponents Tipperary. They sought to distance themselves from the actions of the club bearing their name in New York and would, when the opportunity arose, vote for the lifting of Keady's ban.

That opportunity came at an emergency Central Council meeting called for the Tuesday night of All-Ireland semi-final week.

This meeting was proposed by the Management Committee and interpreted as a panicked response to Farrell's threat to pull his team out of the game.

Incredibly, while Tipp would vote for Keady's reinstatement through their county secretary Tommy Barrett, it was subsequently revealed that four Connacht Central Council delegates voted against.

And, ultimately, the appeal was lost 20-18, Keady -- essentially -- let down by his own province.

He had trained away with the Galway team right up to that Central Council verdict, but now removed himself from the semi-final preparations. "I kept thinking the thing would be lifted," he recalls now.

"Up to that night, I was centre-back against Tipp. But now I just had to step away and let the lads get on with it. Now I was nobody. I was nothing. I was shell-shocked."

Sean Treacy inherited the No 6 jersey and Keady is quick to stress that his replacement would put in a storming performance against Tipperary. Yet too much that had gone before now settled over the game like a toxic cloud. It proved mean-spirited and fractious.

Linnane got the line after an incident with English that the Tipp star subsequently admitted in his autobiography 'Beyond the Tunnel' did not merit a sending-off. And, before the end, 'Hopper' McGrath was sent off too.

When the final whistle blew, Tipp were the victors, 1-17 to 2-11, but even Keating, the winning manager, would brand the game "a disaster".

There was particular fury in Galway at the performance of Wexford referee John Denton. Farrell was subsequently suspended for 'lack of discipline', but maintains to this day that had the normally exemplary McGrath not been harshly sidelined with 10 minutes remaining, Galway would have won.

He wrote in his autobiography: "The sending-off of 'Hopper' McGrath compounded our frustration. With McGrath gone, we felt that we had to beat Tipperary, the Games Administration Committee, the Central Council and the referee."

Keady watched the game from the dugout, battling to contain his own vexation.

He recalls: "There was a little grid over a drain in the bottom of the dugout. I had my fingers wrapped around the grid. When 'Hopper' got the line, a Tipp player came over in front of us and started cheering. 'Hopper' was just passing him and lashed out.

"I was absolutely boiling with anger. I walked across the pitch afterwards, fellas shouting at me. I felt like lashing out and I don't think people would have blamed me if I did. But I never lifted a finger to anyone. Just held it together.

"Whether 'twas going back to my father again, I don't know."

Tony Keady never did go back to America.

His friendship with Lynskey eventually developed into a business partnership and, together, they would open a pub in Galway city. He hurled on with the county for four more years, but it never quite had the same dynamic after Farrell's departure.

The All-Ireland final defeat in a high-scoring contest against Cork in '90 had done little to alleviate the frustration that still lingered from the year before.

So, Farrell stepped down after a heavy semi-final defeat to Tipperary in '91. He sensed an appetite for change in the county and, when Galway's U-21s won that year's All-Ireland, it seemed logical to promote their management team, led by Jarlath Cloonan.

Keady and Cloonan never became a compatible mix. Compared to Farrell, the new manager seemed a mite inflexible in his ways and the two caromed off one another like a couple trapped in a bad marriage.

In '92, Keady was suspended from the Galway panel for a reputed breach of discipline, though the reason was never actually articulated. A one-sentence letter was left behind the counter of the bar, declaring simply: 'A chara, you have been suspended from the Galway senior hurling panel until further notice.'

The almost mechanical coldness of the language (no mention even of his Christian name) encapsulated what Keady regarded as a complete absence of empathy from the manager.

As it happened, he went to training that evening in Athenry, unaware even of the letter's existence. It was left sitting by the till and Lynskey, now retired, decided to open it.

Keady recalls: "Lynskey sent a fella, 'Spot' Forde, in to Athenry to tell me. We're playing a training match and yer man is on the line, trying to catch my attention. Eventually, Justin Campbell -- who I travelled to training with -- breaks a hurl, goes over to the line to get a new one and comes back out with a grin on his face. 'Keady,' he says, 'I think you're suspended!'.

"Going in at half-time, 'Spot' hands me the letter and I nearly go baloobas. I walk straight into the shower and (a selector) Sean Kelly came in after me to talk. I asked him to leave because God knows what I would have done if he didn't.

"And I just dressed, walked down to the Shamrock Bar in Athenry, ordered myself a pint and waited for Campbell. Like, in all my years hurling, I never abused the manager's trust.

"When we were in Dublin, myself and Lynskey often had a couple of pints in the Hut on a Saturday night. Go down at nine, be home at 10.30. In bed, fast asleep by 11.0.

"And I did nothing any different with Jarlath Cloonan to what I did with Cyril Farrell."

In '93, Galway were back in Dublin for the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary. Pucking the ball around on St Stephen's Green, Cloonan put a hand on Keady's back and, essentially, told the Killimordaly man that he was surplus to requirements.

"He said to me: 'We're shortlisting you today'," recalls Keady.

"Sean Treacy was standing just next to me. I hadn't a clue what he meant. For a second, I actually thought he was making me captain.

"I togged in the dressing-room and put a jacket on me going out on the pitch. Boots, socks, togs, but no jersey. 'Shortlisting you!' That's how he put it. I'll never forget the words.

"And that was enough for me. I just thought this was bullshit. That's the way my Galway career ended."

Discarded at 29.

He still looks taut and trim enough to hurl today.

And the game continues to enchant him. Keady works as caretaker in Calasanctius College, coaching all the college hurling teams. He trains Oranmore with his old Galway colleague Gerry McInerney and looks after Abbeyknockmoy intermediates.

Some of the best friends he ever made in hurling were members of that Tipp team with whom Galway raged for national primacy in the late '80s.

Keady thinks especially of a benefit night held in Ballyfa for Eanna Ryan after he had been badly injured in a club game.

It took place on the night of a shocking storm, trees down all over the country. yet the entire Tipp squad travelled by bus, with a couple of chainsaws in the back in case a road needed clearing along the way.

And Bobby Ryan, Tipp's captain of '89, told the assembled that "nothing" would have stopped them travelling that evening.

Keady smiles at the memory, reflecting: "I suppose, at centre-back, I faced three of the hardest nuts you could ever come across against that Tipp team -- Declan Ryan, Donie O'Connell and Joe Hayes.

"I made some great friends with lads off that team, Bobby Ryan particularly. Eanna would have been marked by Bobby a lot.

"They were wonderful lads. If you go through the team they had, in every position, they were just on a par with us really."

Today, he is married to Margaret, a Meath woman, and the couple have four children -- Shannon (eight), Anthony (five) and the twins, Jake and Harry (three).

His life is full and enriched by thousands of small blessings. Sometimes, lost in the din of the workshop, he encounters moments of indescribable serenity.

When the twins were born, it felt like they represented gentle correspondence from the heavens. James Keady was a twin too.

The circle never breaks.

Irish Independent

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