Tipperary-man Jack Ryan recalls his heroes of hurling in the 1950s and how hens used to cause havoc with the radio aerial when his family were trying to listen to the big match.
My early years in Roscrea, County Tipperary were consumed with stories of great hurlers of the past. I remember sitting beside a wet and dry battery radio listening to Michael O’Hehir excitedly describing the scene and the players that were a favourite of his commentary.
The aerial of the radio had to protrude out the window, otherwise one would have no signal and on a windy day I could make several trips out the back to put the aerial back on its nail.
Con Houlihan once described a similar scene in his native Kerry when all the neighbours gathered around the wet and dry battery radio listening to Michael O’Hehir on the day of an All-Ireland final when suddenly in the middle of a very tight game, with a few minutes to go, the radio went dead.
Some of the men went down on their knees and took off their caps, the older men with their white hair flowing in the wind, fervently prayed to the Almighty to give them back their signal. One of the men eventually noticed that the hens had knocked the aerial when scratching for their food. Unlike the Kerry hens, our Tipperary hens were very well behaved when an important match was being relayed, because they would have sensed that a chicken dinner for the following two days was a distinct possibility.
There was an age gap of nearly 50 years between my father and I, because he married late in life. So I had the best of both worlds listening to him describe generations of great hurlers from the twenties up to my own generation of players. One player he spoke of very fondly of was the legendary Tipperary hurler, Martin Kennedy, who had some ferocious battles with the equally legendary Cork’s own, Seán Óg Murphy. These two fought their battles from the late twenties until the late thirties.
When my father watched the two of them from behind the goals in the first half, he then went around to the other end for the second half because he was so enthralled with their skill and their battles.
Seán Óg was the full back and Martin was the full forward.
Those were the days when the referees had an easier job than they do today because they allowed players take shkelps of each other, so the games were not for the faint-hearted.
Kennedy was born the same year as my dad, in 1898, and was feared by all full-backs for his goal scoring prowess. The great Limerick hurler, Garrett Howard, described his goal scoring feats as never scoring the same goal twice.
He was also a great admirer of Mick Mackey, of Limerick, because when he scored he nonchalantly ran back out the field to await the puck-out. However, his brother, John, when he scored used jump and dance, which irked Tipperary supporters, including my dad.
He was also an admirer of Waterford’s Seamus Power, who worked in the Roscrea Post Office, before moving back to his native Waterford.
He also played for Roscrea before moving home, and was a forward on the that great Waterford All-Ireland winning team of 1959.
My dad had a great love/hate relationship with another great, perhaps the greatest of them all, namely Christy Ring.
He loved his skills and technique but admiration went out the window when it came to playing against Tipperary because he seemed to relish playing against Tipperary, except when Tommy Doyle held him scoreless after 150 minutes of hurling in 1949.
However, it must be said that whatever medals he won, he earned them the hard way, because in his day the defenders showed no mercy towards any forward.
This leads me to my father’s second all-time favourite hurler after Martin Kennedy, the great goalkeeper Tony Reddin.
This man will never be forgotten as long as hurling is spoken of. The stories of his hurling exploits have been written in many pages in different books.
I personally never saw Tony in his heyday, when he played hurling as a goalkeeper for his adapted county of Tipperary, but I did see him in action for his club Lorrha in the late fifties against Toomevara. During the club game in Roscrea we as children ensconced behind the goal (right behind the net) that Tony was guarding.
I was simply blown away with the level of skills of the man.
Just like my father spent many years previously following Martin Kennedy, I followed Tony from one end of the pitch to the other end.
After his club game was over, I waited outside the grounds with half a dozen other kids for Tony to make his exit. He was driving a small van and I think there were players in the back as well as the front. I ran alongside the van on the driver’s side looking in awe at Tony for about a mile, just to be near the great man.
He never picked up speed and he had a permanent smile on his face, as if he was enjoying the attention.
It is strange looking back on that time so long ago. I had never seen Tony on TV, because he was retired before the advent of television. It was from listening to older people speaking so highly of him that we built up this super-hero image.
He was our Pele and Georgie Best rolled in to one. Although Tony was a great age when he died, nevertheless it was with a heavy heart I received the news of his passing.
The first inter-county game I attended was with my dad, the League final of 1956 between Tipperary and Wexford. It was a very windy but dry day in Croke Park, and Tipperary had the wind in the first half. They took advantage of the wind and racked up a sizeable score. However, it was not enough because that great Wexford team of the fifties inspired by the Rackard brothers beat Tipp by four points with a score of 5-9 to Wexford and 2-14 to Tipp.
Unfortunately, I was unable to see the game because I was too small; all I could do was watch the expression on my father’s face. During the first half I observed his very relaxed demeanour as his native county was playing well. However, his demeanour changed for the second half to one of positive anguish when Wexford scored five goals on our hero, Tony Reddan.
This result was of significant consequence for Tony because he lost his place for the championship later that year, rather unfairly, because Tony was not feeling well on the day, and should not have played.
That was a day when the Tipperary hens could have scratched the outside aerial all they liked, and they would have been saved from appearing on the dinner table the following day.