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Babs, Donie, Len and Fr Tom give views on hurling past and present

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Babs, Donie, Len and Fr Tom give views on hurling  past and present thumbnailLen Gaynor was among the speakers at last week's forum. MT291052JOC

Described as "Legends of Tipperary all" by Noel Dundon of the Tipperary Star and author of Captains of the Premiership, Donie Nealon, Len Gaynor, Michael Keating and Fr Tom Fogarty provided plenty food for thought each recalling times past and present while looking at the future too with the zeal and determination that they had when they hurled and managed the various teams, club and county.
Addressing the start of a forum organised by Thurles Sports Festival 2018 (formerly Thurles Sarsfield's Festival of Gaelic Sport), Guest speaker, Tipperary Star journalist Noel Dundon continued:
“They managed to raise the profile of Tipperary elevating it to a different level, laying the foundations in place for others to follow. We all remember Killarney in 1987, the great day it was for the followers and I don't know if Babs and Donie really appreciate the impact it made on the public of Tipperary at the time."
Noel continued: "Len Gaynor managed Clare and Tipperary and led his own club Kilruane MacDonaghs to win many county championships and a club All-Ireland. His involvement in coaching with club and county brought enthusiasm, know-how and instilling a love for the game and wherever he went. Fr Tom Fogarty was a dual star with Tipp at minor and under -21 level and then came in as Manager of the Tipperary minor hurling teams and progressed to the under-21 and senior hurling teams. Fr Tom is one of the men I speak about in laying the foundations for others to follow on."
He added "I think I am right when I say that Donie Nealon is the most decorated living Tipperary hurler at the moment. Donie was involved in all of the Tipperary All-Ireland successes from 1958 to 1991 (won five 1958, '61, '62, '64, and '65 as a player and '71, '89 and '91 as a coach, runners up in 1960,'67, '68 and '88). I think twelve All-Irelands in total is an immense contribution for anybody to make. Then add in the fact he was involved as Munster Council secretary 1977 to 2004," said Noel.
Local man, Tommy Barrett, secretary of the Festival committee and grand nephew of the late Tommy Barrett, former secretary of the County Board, thanked the five guests for attending. He said there was no hesitation from the five once they were asked to attend.
Pity was only thirty people, male, female, young and old attended but they were the lucky ones and got full value from two and a half hours of entertaining snippets, laughs while at the same time there was no punches pulled either.
Tipperary Mid West presenter Stevie O'Donnell took on the role master of ceremonies and asked Donie Nealon about becoming a coach.
“I was still a player with Tipperary when I coached Tipperary to the first of three All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling titles in 1966. In 1970 my playing days with Tipp seniors were curtailed by rheumatic fever and I was nursed back to health after a three and a half week stay in St John's Hospital," recalled Donie.
Recovery was slow but he helped Burgess win the North Intermediate final that year but in 1971 a visit to his home in Newtown by Tipperary selector Jimmy Hennessy persuaded the Burgess man to coach the Tipp senior squad. After beating Clare in the Munster semi final the first real test was a Munster final tilt with Limerick at a very wet Killarney.
At half time Tipp looked in trouble but with an eighty minute final, Nealon saw the forty minute second half as another game. A little bit of help was required and Michael Keating scored a goal from a 21 yard free using a dry ball which Nealon introduced on the quiet. Nealon revealed he gave one to Len Gaynor as well.
"The first place I saw a dry ball used was a North final between Toomevara and Kilruane MacDonaghs in 1962 which I refereed. "It was an atrocious day and there was a '65' to Toomevara and with five or six minutes to go. Tom Ryan (R.I.P.) took the free and not only did he point it but drove it out into the next field," said Donie.
Tipp defeated Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final later in 1971.
In the mid eighties morale was low in Tipp and Nealon reluctantly returned to coach Tipp in 1984 to join Len Gaynor as selector along with John Kelly, Fr Ray Reidy (R.I.P), Pat Stakelum (R.I.P.), Liam Hennessy and John Kelly. Tipp reached two Munster finals in 1984 and 1985 but lost both to Cork. The 1984 final was hindered with injuries and hard luck.
"We were often blamed for losing the 1984 Munster final but we played Galway in Nenagh about thirteen days before the final. There were one or two fellows we were thinking of bringing on as substitutes (in the final) but a Galway forward scored six points on him. Pat Fitzelle also received an injury but we decided to play him in the final which was a mistake. He was replaced and then we lost Dinny Cahill and Bobby Ryan. We lost three defenders," said Donie who along with Len Gaynor won the B & I manager of the month in May 1985 after Tipperary defeated Galway in the Ford Cup, a competition introduced as an open draw in 1984 and lasted two years. Cork won the first competition in Centenary year.
Len Gaynor takes up the story "There was huge pressure. Everybody was picking teams, this should be the team and that should be the team and made it very difficult. I remember one paper, a Tipperary paper, saying you don't have to be an All-Ireland medal winner to be a selector which is true," said Len.
“It was negative all the way and very hard to get out of that groove and very hard to get the players motivated as well. Babs came then in 1987 and lifted the whole show. He got the Tipperary Supporters Club going. Bobby Ryan was a farmer and was milking many cows and they brought in a milker to help him out with the training and that. That was a huge asset at the time. I am sure they (Supporters Club) did a lot of other things we didn't hear about. It lifted the whole atmosphere around the team and they had huge success after that," said Len a three time All-Ireland medal holder.
Fr Tom Fogarty took over after Michael Keating to manage Tipp seniors 1995 and '96.
“When I took over, Babs had left a nucleus of a good team. We played Waterford in the first round at Pairc Ui Chaoimh and won (4-23 to 1-11) but paid a huge price," said Fr Tom.
There was schemozzle near the Tipp goal. Referee Terrence Murray took names and left it at that. Commentators on the Sunday Game that night didn't see it that way and Michael Ryan and Paul Delaney were suspended for the Limerick game.
“We had lost Paul Delaney and Michael Ryan. Not only were they good but they were experienced as well. We lost by a point to Limerick who went on to win the Munster final, beat Antrim in the All-Ireland semi final but lost to Offaly in the All-Ireland.
In 1996. "We had Waterford down in Walsh Park in front of an attendance of 15,000. It goes to show you how times have changed. We won that game by just three points. We were not surprised because Walsh Park is a tight pitch. Then we played Limerick in front 43,000 at the Gaelic Grounds. We were winning by quite a bit at half time. We got a great chance of increasing the lead but Joe Quaid made a superb save. The game ended up in a draw. The replay was in Cork and we lost by three points. Limerick lost to Wexford in the All-Ireland.
“Nicky English, Pat Fox and Ken Hogan were coming to the end of their illustrious careers but Brendan Cummins, Paul Shelly, Tommy Dunne and Liam Cahill came in and that started another era. Looking back in 1995 I think we would have gone on to win the All-Ireland and we would have fancied ourselves against Offaly but you can't change that," said Fr Tom.
In late 1986, Michael Keatingreceived a phone call from Michael Lowry, County Chairman at the time with a view to taking the job as manager. "I gave my ideas and the names of the guys I liked to work with me." Babs took the job and appointed Donie Nealon and Theo English both with five All-Ireland medals each, as selectors.
“I never saw myself as manager because I was with two men who had won more All-Ireland senior medals than me. We saw Cork as our main obstacle at the time. They had won five All-Irelands since we won last in 1971. I don't think Theo or Donie were ever beaten by Cork in a Munster championship game. It was a huge advantage and a confidence booster to the players often acknowledged by Richie Stakelum, said Michael.
Keating has huge respect for players from his own day such as John O'Donoghue, Michael Roche, Sean McLoughlin and Tony Wall. Both Babs and Wall were working in Cork and used travel together for training. Wall would advise Keating and one piece remained with the Ballybacon man forever. "Tony Wall once told me that nobody wearing a blue and gold jersey has a right to hit a ball unless he has a reason for it. That has stuck with me forever.
At the time of Keating taking over, the County Board was not flush with money and Babs saw the chance to create a Tipp supporters club.
“I was lucky enough to be living in Dublin and I saw the support outside the county particularly the support was in Dublin for Tipperary hurling. I was lucky enough to be in a position to harness it. There were other people who were not involved with clubs but were willing to put their hands in their pockets.

Looking At Modern Day Hurling
Modern day hurling means many things to many men and it oft times creates difference of opinion. Some people curse the modern day preparations such as diet and body building and the biggest bug bear of all is the possession game.
“I wouldn't like to condemn it," said Len. "It's a different ball game nowadays and a much faster game and I want to complement today's players. They are much better skill wise than we were. They are absolutely terrific hurlers," he said before sounding a word of caution.
“Maybe they don't play the game or read the game the way they should. Hurling is a fabulous game. It's a game that has to be played by instinct and you have to know what you are doing and you have a free mind going out to play.
"The big thing is concentration. If you look at today's players when the ball is at the other end of the field I see players looking at the ground. Next thing the ball is shot up the field and then he is late. He hasn't read it in time to go," said Len who led Kilruane MacDonaghs to All-Ireland club honours defeating Buffers Alley in the 1986 club final.
Fr Tom Fogartyagreed it all about getting the balance right. There have to be tactics used in the game while adding that Tipp at times struggle in winning ball, said the Moyne man who brought them to the All-Ireland Under-21 final in 2008 when Tipperary were denied by Kilkenny after a replay.
“Newtownshandrum changed the face of hurling. It's about keeping possession and Clare are particularly adept at it," said Fr Tom.
“If someone asked me to sum up the difficulties with Tipperary hurling at all levels at the moment, I would say we lack pace and intensity. The intensity has been there occasionally but not often enough. It was there in 2016 and it was there against Galway last year in the All-Ireland semi final at Croke Park. It wasn't there in the league final against Kilkenny this year," said Fr Tom.
“Look at the ferocious intensity that Galway brought to the game last Sunday when they dismantled Kilkenny in the first twenty five minutes. We (Tipperary) don't bring that often enough at all levels.
"I think we have to look at the coaching element. We are producing very skilful players - good first touch players but when it comes to battling for the ground ball or winning the puckout, we have to look at that if we are to progress and to be up there with the Galways in the future," said Fr Tom.
Donie Nealon feels there should be a lot of emphasis on doubling on the ball as well as catching while forwards are not helped by the possession game.
“I know some referees will penalise you but now at least the defender won't be as keen in putting up his hand. We don't put enough emphasis in coaching players on the skill of doubling on the ball. We have players soloing and passing the ball but a forward needs a quick ball. I saw one example of true Tipperary hurling this year in the Under -21 game against Limerick. It was first time, in hard and at the opposition. We have to get away from all this possession stuff. We have to mix it up and get back to the basics and play with abandon," said Donie.
Michael Keating says Christy Ring was one of his heroes. "Ring was so perfect and gave me plenty of advice and his advice stayed with me every night I went to the field with Donie and Theo. Every player must be able to hit the ball as if the lotto numbers are on it," said Keating.
He finished off by saying it's time the GAA spent money on youth and coaches and not bricks and mortar. There is plenty people there to help the GAA if they were asked, he concluded.

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